Arizona Wildcats 2018 countdown to kickoff: 80 days

We now stand at 80 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 80th day until kickoff, the most memorable player to wear No. 80 for Arizona? That would be the late Damon Terrell, who passed away in September 2005 following complications from a medical error, a month after collapsing in fall camp. Arizona’s team MVP award was named in his honor.

An autopsy determined an air bubble that formed during the removal of a dialysis catheter blocked the flow of blood to Terrell’s heart.

Damon Terrell

Arizona and the city of Tucson has unfortunately experienced a few times the grief of a fallen young athlete in the Wildcat program, most recently the sudden passing of Arizona offensive lineman Zach Hemmila before the 2016 season.

The most renowned of the inspirational fallen athletes is football player John “Button” Salmon. He brought both monumental pride and tremendous sorrow to the campus in 1926.

Before Salmon passed following an automobile accident, the untimely death of Leo Frederick Cloud stirred emotions in Tucson in 1915. Cloud was a multi-sport athlete who captained Arizona’s basketball team in 1914-15 and was a tennis champion. He died tragically in his junior year of accidental electrocution on campus on March 6, 1915.

Salmon passed away 11 years later. Before his last breath, as the story goes, Salmon uttered those famous words to coach J.F. “Pop” McKale, “Tell them … tell the team to bear down”, before Arizona’s game at New Mexico State.

Cloud, an electrical engineering student, met his fate while painting the water tower on campus. He fell back on to a high-voltage electric wire and was electrocuted.

Also captain of the Cadet battalion on campus, Cloud was given a military-style funeral. As a result of Cloud’s death, the Arizona state legislature appropriated funds to give the university a proper electrical system.

Other noted Arizona athletes who died while attending school include softball player Julie Reitan in 1997, women’s basketball player Shawntinice Polk in 2005 and football player McCollins Umeh in 2004.

Their ages — Hemmila 22, Salmon 22, Cloud 21, Reitan 21, Polk 22, Terrell 21 and Umeh 18. All gone much too soon.

Arizona Republic clipping published on Sept. 17, 1995, showing the tribute of Arizona’s players for fallen teammate Damon Terrell.

Reitan passed away from hypoglycemia. A diabetic, she died in her sleep.

Polk died from a pulmonary blood clot.

Terrell and Umeh each passed after collapsing in workouts. Umeh died the same day from an enlarged heart.

Hemmila’s death was ruled an accident, the result of a toxic combination of a painkiller (oxymorphone) and an anxiety medication (alprazolam).

A look ahead

In the Lindy’s College Football National 2018 Preview magazine, Arizona’s backfield is rated No. 9 out of a ranking of the top 10 nationally, largely because of quarterback Khalil Tate.

“The best thing about junior quarterback Khalil Tate in the spring: Teammates said they couldn’t believe how he was fitting passes into tight windows for completions,” the magazine states. “That’s the needed evolution for a kid with Lamar Jackson-type legs but raw passing skills. Meanwhile, running back is the best position group on offense, led by spin-master J.J. Taylor.”

In his third year of college football, Tate must be growing tired of the questioning of his passing skills, don’t you think? That has to be a chip on his shoulder.

Tate no doubt will field questions on this topic as Arizona’s representative at Pac-12 Media Day, which was announced yesterday.

They tweeted it

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