A fear for most coaches and fans more than facing certain opponents is players, especially valuable ones, going down with injuries.
That leads into what some fans look forward to the most in 2019:
Good health and less injuries and wins! — Ursula Watson
The good news is the players have mostly remained healthy through the first 10 days of fall camp after some, including tight end Bryce Wolma (broken bone in right elbow) and JUCO transfer defensive lineman Myles Tapusoa (undisclosed injuries and conditioning issues), missed spring practice.
Aside from his arm and legs, the most watched part of Khalil Tate’s body in 2019 will be his bum ankle that limited him last season.
Shoulder problems affected him in the early part of his career. Last year, it was an ankle injury suffered in the second game at Houston that kept him from running loose the entire season like he did for a magical month in 2017.
“It was very frustrating,” Tate said during spring practice about his ankle injury. “It was definitely something different I learned to cope with.”
Senior cornerback Jace Whittaker, out most of last season with an elbow injury, has returned healthy to be a captain of the defense.
“I’m full go,” said Whittaker, who injured the elbow in the third game of last season against Southern Utah. “I’ve been making tackles, it’s been feeling real great.
“It feels great to be back. There are a lot of mixed emotions right now. I haven’t played football in a while, and so it just feels great to be back out there and running around.”
Who can forget the injury problems under Rich Rodriguez that made some fans wonder if Arizona should fire its strength and conditioning coaches?
After a promising 2014 season when Rodriguez coached the Wildcats to a Pac-12 South title, the wheels started coming off with serious injuries playing a part. The Wildcats finished 7-6 the following season, most of which was played without star linebacker Scooby Wright III.
The injury issues worsened in 2016, when Arizona lost its top two quarterbacks (Anu Solomon and Brandon Dawkins) and running backs (Nick Wilson and J.J. Taylor) at different parts of the season. At least 12 players lost significant playing time because of injuries. After starting 2-1, Arizona lost eight in a row. A season-ending victory over rival Arizona State helped ease the pain.
Injuries are a part of the game and keeping them to a minimum will be extremely important for Kevin Sumlin in his second season. The Wildcats’ schedule the second half of the season is very challenging with games at USC, Stanford, Oregon and ASU and a home game against Utah.
“I would say I’m physical, but I can give you a little bit of sauce.” — Arizona running back Gary Brightwell.
Brightwell is a junior from Chester, Pa., the same area that brought the basketball team Rondae Hollis-Jefferson a few years ago and Herman Harris (from the Fred Snowden years).
Brightwell is one of the best backup running backs in the Pac-12. He averaged 5.8 yards per rush last season totaling 525 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 91 carries. He posted 100-yard rushing games at Oregon State (113 yards) and at UCLA (121 yards). He had a season-high carry of 72 yards against the Bruins.
By the numbers
Khalil Tate needs only 128 yards rushing to become Arizona’s 17th career 2,000-yard rusher. And he’s a quarterback.[table “” not found /]
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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.