Arizona Wildcats 2018 countdown to kickoff: Mario Hampton

Ten days into the countdown now, we are at 90 days until the Arizona Wildcats kick off their 2018 season under new coach Kevin Sumlin.

When Arizona hosts BYU on Sept. 1, it will mark the 40th anniversary since the Wildcats joined the Pac-12 (went from the Pac-8 to the Pac-10 then) and also the 20th anniversary of the 1998 team with the best record in school history, 12-1, and the 25th anniversary of the 1993 team that went 10-2 with a win over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl.

To get ready for the upcoming season, All Sports Tucson offers another countdown, which will include memories from former Wildcats, history notes and a look ahead to the season. Think of it as a way to keep Arizona football on the mind in the summer months leading up to fall camp in early August and then kickoff against the Cougars marking the start of the Sumlin Era.

To catch up on the countdown click on this: Arizona Wildcats 2018 countdown to kickoff.

A look back

— With it being the 90th ’til kickoff, the best player to wear No. 90 for Arizona? That would be tight end Brandon Manumaleuna, who played on Dick Tomey’s last teams at Arizona from 1997-2000, including the 12-1 team in 1998. Manuemaleuna was talented enough to see extensive playing time as a true freshman. He spent 10 seasons in the NFL. As a rookie in 2001, he played with the St. Louis Rams — “The Greatest Show on Turf” — when they won the NFC championship. He is now an assistant coach at his alma mater, Narbonne High School in Harbor City, Calif.

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A look ahead

Wearing No. 90 for Arizona this season is fifth-year senior defensive lineman Matt Thomas, who walked on at Arizona in 2016 after playing at Marana Mountain View and then Wabash College in Indiana.

Matt Thomas starred at Marana Mountain View earning first-team All-Southern Arizona honors.

Former Player Interview: Mario Hampton

Mario Hampton played halfback for Arizona from 1988 to 1991. His best season was in 1989 when he gained 424 yards on 103 carries, averaging 10.3 yards per carry. He also caught 10 passes for 90 yards that season.

Mario Hampton was one of the most physical, bruising running backs during the Dick Tomey era at Arizona.

Favorite game as a Wildcat?

“My favorite game … hmmm there are so many of them. I would have to say our (28-10) loss to the Oklahoma Sooners (in Norman, Okla.). The reason is that was our first time playing them and it was no secret they carried such a mystique in college football. Yes, we lost but we beat them boys up in all aspects of the game — defense, offense and special teams. We made them respect ‘the’ UofA.”

Favorite Wildcat other than yourself and why

“Once again there are so many great ones to choose from, but for me it’s Chuck Cecil. His passion for the game, and his ability to change/impact a game with his monster hits was fun and an honor to be a part of and watch.”

One of Mario Hampton’s highlight plays at Arizona happened when coach Dick Tomey made the gutsy move of going for first down on a fourth-and-1 situation at midfield against Oklahoma in 1989. Hampton squeezed out a yard to keep the drive alive, which ultimately led to Doug Pfaff’s historic game-winning field goal against the Sooners at Arizona Stadium (Arizona Athletics photo).

Favorite play in Arizona history

“Cecil’s 106 yard interception return for a TD vs. them Sun Devils (in 1986).”

Favorite memory about your coach

“My coach I’m proud to say was Tomey, and I must say every memory of my coach is my favorite. When he praised you or when he scolded you he did it to better you and he did it out of love. Great, great man.”

What excites you most about the upcoming season

“What excites me most about this season is the same for every season for me. I’m eager to see these young men compete and perform like Wildcats and show that they are in my buddy Jay Dobyns’ words ‘OKG’ — Our Kind of Guys. That’s it, don’t lay down for no team, play like Cats and represent yourself, your family and our great school with pride and passion.”

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