We have reached only 10 days until the Arizona Wildcats kick off their 2018 campaign under new coach Kevin Sumlin. The season begins when Arizona hosts BYU on Sept. 1 at Arizona Stadium.
To get ready for the upcoming season, All Sports Tucson offers another countdown, which includes 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.
The season marks some substantial anniversaries. It is the 40th anniversary since the Wildcats left the WAC to join 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 catch up on the countdown — which included in-depth analysis and reader polls on The Great Debate of which team was better — 1993 or 1998 — click on this: Arizona Wildcats 2018 countdown to kickoff.
Top 25 developments in Pac-10/12 era
Over the last part of the countdown we are ranking the top 25 developments of Arizona’s Pac-10/12 existence that started in 1978 when it arrived with ASU from the WAC. The ranking will include player highlights, team accomplishments, coaching moves and other off-field developments. If a player is involved, the ranking includes happenings only during the course of that athlete’s time at Arizona.
The ranking up to now:
Chuck Cecil’s career
Selected as the top defensive badass in Arizona’s Pac-10/12’s existence by All Sports Tucson, Chuck Cecil is one of the most legendary figures in the program’s history.
In 1983, When Stanford did not offer a scholarship to Cecil — 6-feet and a scant 150 pounds out of San Diego Helix High School — that helped fuel the fire for the “Heat-Seeking Missile” to succeed with the Wildcats. The Cardinal coaching staff at the time reportedly told Cecil he was too small for major college football.
Cecil, who waited on Stanford’s decision with great anticipation, opted to follow the advice of former Arizona assistant Moe Ankney and walk on to the Arizona program. His wait for Stanford cost him a chance for a scholarship with Arizona as a freshman because the Wildcats used their allotment of grants.
“He and his parents took a gamble,” Ankney told the Toledo Blade in 1987 when he prepared to coach against Arizona as the Bowling Green head coach. “They paid for his first year of college and I made a commitment to them that I’d get him grant-in-aid as soon as possible.”
Cecil, a three-time Pac-10 All-Academic selection as a safety, dedicated himself to earn that scholarship but his goals went far beyond that. A bookworm does not get the nickname “Heat-Seeking Missile”, given to the vicious-tackling Cecil by a North Carolina assistant coach after Arizona beat the Tar Heels 30-21 in the 1986 Aloha Bowl, their first bowl win in 65 years.
Former Arizona assistant Duane Akina scouted that game for the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. Akina told Anthony Gimino of TucsonCitizen.com in 2009 that he was in awe of Cecil’s hits on North Carolina’s receivers and running backs. Cecil was responsible for causing two fumbles in the game.
“Chuck had some great hits. I remember sitting in the stands going, ‘God, I wonder who that kid is?’ ” Akina said. “When I got to Arizona (in 1987 as an assistant under newly-hired coach Dick Tomey), everyone was talking him up. And then when I saw him, I was like, ‘That’s him? This scrawny 180-pound kid?’ I thought I was going to see Ronnie Lott.”
Lott, a legendary NFL player nicknamed “The Intimidator”, may have been bigger than Cecil, but he had nothing on Cecil when it came to being a badass. In his sophomore season, Cecil played with a left thumb so badly broken that a doctor reportedly later said it looked as though it had been smashed with a hammer. His trademark was his bone-crunching tackles.
“He’s just like Chi Chi Rodriguez hitting a golf ball,” Tomey told Sports Illustrated in a 1987 interview. “Everything he has is there at the right time.”
Cecil, who maxed out at 6’1″, 185 pounds, had the best season for an Arizona safety when he was a senior in 1987, recording 136 tackles, breaking up 12 passes and intercepting nine. He finished his Arizona career with a record 21 interceptions, which still stands as the school record.
His hard-hitting style drew plenty of fines from the NFL, which considered his style a detriment to the league. Sports Illustrated ran an article in 1993 of Cecil, who was on the cover with the title: “Is Chuck Cecil too vicious for the NFL?”
“They’re saying what I do is dirty and cheap, but I’ve played this way forever,” Cecil told SI. “I signed a million-dollar contract because of it. People cheer when I make a big hit. I mean, that’s what I do.”
Cecil’s legendary status at Arizona was solidified in the Cats’ 34-17 victory over Rose Bowl-bound ASU in 1986. That’s when he returned an interception for 100 yards in what is the greatest play in the history of the program.
“I would say Chuck had the most dynamic personality of anybody I’ve coached,” Akina told Gimino. “He probably affected his teammates more than any player I’ve had. That is true leadership. I have never coached another like him who could carry the classroom to the field and who was so damn tough.”
The best to wear No. 10 …
The best to wear No. 10 in Arizona history? That honor goes to “Money” Mike Thomas who became the Pac-12 leader in career receptions with 259, catching his final pass with 20 seconds left in the Las Vegas Bowl to break the previous mark of 258 held by ASU’s Derek Hagan. Colorado’s Nelson Spruce (294 receptions) and Washington State’s Gabe Marks (316) have since passed Thomas. Thomas was selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the fourth round of the 2009 NFL Draft. Thomas played in Jacksonville for his first two-plus NFL seasons before moving on to the Detroit Lions. He was a member of the Cardinals’ practice squad in 2013 and the Texans’ practice squad in 2014.
Wearing No. 10 now …
Two players wear No. 10 now and one of them — freshman quarterback Jamarye Joiner — is one of the best ever to play locally while at Cienega High School. Joiner, who was recruited by Alabama late in the recruiting process, was also a track and field standout at Cienega competing in the 100-meter dash, 110-meter hurdles and long jump. He holds Cienega records for most passing yards, most overall yards and the school long jump mark. He led the Bobcats to a 12-1 season as a senior and a spot in the state semifinals. He threw for 2,196 yards as a senior with 26 touchdowns to seven interceptions while rushing for 1,399 yards and 18 touchdowns. He threw for 3,909 yards his final two seasons with Cienega. The following tweet shows that he knows Khalil Tate is ahead of him in the pecking order but he can challenge for the backup spot and the starting role in the future.
Have Patience🙇♂️ pic.twitter.com/teQLP6CLcs
The other No. 10 is fourth-year junior cornerback Malcolm Holland. He played in all 13 games as a reserve at cornerback and key special teams contributor. He totaled five tackles, including one for loss, last season.
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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.