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CATCH UP ON THE COUNTDOWN BY VISITING: ARIZONA’S TOP 100 INDIVIDUAL RECORDS
Only 14 days — two weeks from today — separate us from the start of Rich Rodriguez’s fifth season, when the Arizona Wildcats football team plays Brigham Young on Sept. 3 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.
As is customary on this Web site, we will count down the days with an interesting element associated with each day. This year the topic is the top 100 individual records in Arizona’s storied football past.
In past years, we have counted down the top games and highlighted players and some of the top plays in Arizona Wildcats football history. A couple of years ago in our top 100 countdown, we showcased the 1914 team that was responsible for Arizona becoming the “Wildcats”.
Back to this year’s countdown of the top 100 individual records in the 117 years of Arizona football:
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Chris McAlister has the distinction of returning two kickoffs for 100 yards in his career, against UCLA in 1996 and then against Hawaii two years later.
ARIZONA’S LONGEST KICKOFF RETURNS
|100||Chris McAlister||at Hawai’i||1998|
|97||Rick Stevenson||at Indiana||1968|
|95||Gary Kenley||at New Mexico||1962|
|95||Ricky Harris||at ASU||1963|
Longest kickoff return: 100 yards, Chris McAlister, vs. UCLA, Nov. 16, 1996; vs. Hawaii, Sept. 3, 1998; Travis Cobb, vs. Iowa, Sept. 18, 2010
Pac-12 record: Many players, most recently Charles Nelson, Oregon, vs. ASU, Oct. 29, 2015
NCAA record: Since 1941, 372 players have returned kickoffs 100 yards. The most recent is Quadree Henderson, Pittsburgh vs. Navy, Dec. 28, 2015
This is a photo of Travis Cobb when he returned a kickoff 100 yards against Iowa on Sept. 18, 2010, at Arizona Stadium.
For 61 years the longest kickoff return record in Arizona’s history took on a life of its own. The 98-yard return by Wallace Smith, a 175-pound fullback, against Whittier in 1935 seemed untouchable.
That was until Chris McAlister fielded a kickoff against UCLA two yards into Arizona’s end zone on Nov. 16, 1996. McAlister ran out of the end zone instead of downing the ball and raced 100 yards for the score, breaking Smith’s long-standing mark. Per NCAA rules, the return is recorded at 100 yards instead of 102 because only the field of play between the end zones is considered.
McAlister was barely touched during his return against UCLA. He broke through the wedge and raced down the right sideline. With about 20 yards remaining, he raised the football above his head in celebration, which drew the ire of coach Dick Tomey.
“When he did that, I said, ‘Whoooaaaa,'” Tomey said. “But that play was a real lift (in Arizona’s 35-17 win).”
McAlister matched the feat two years later in the season-opener at Hawaii, in the very first play of the game, serving notice that 1998 would be special for the Wildcats. They finished 12-1 that season.
He weaved through about five would-be Hawaii tacklers and raced through the middle of the field untouched for the score.
Travis Cobb joined McAlister atop the Arizona records chart with a 100-yard kickoff return against Iowa on Sept. 18, 2010, at Arizona Stadium. He fielded the kick and ran to his right toward the sideline untouched to the score.
The play was a serious momentum changer for Arizona in its 34-27 win over the No. 9-ranked Hawkeyes. Arizona’s fans were momentarily silenced by a 92-yard Iowa scoring drive that trimmed the Wildcats’ lead to 14-7 before Cobb’s return.
ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.