A former Arizona football media relations staffer is now a fan because of a different occupation, so he is grouped with those of us on the outside looking in.
Blair Willis was the media liaison for the football program at Arizona for 12 years full-time and 15 overall. He is now the communication specialist for the Arizona Cancer Center.
Being a fan now — who can attend games and not have to work at them — Willis offers this input to our series of what Arizona fans are looking forward to the most heading into next Saturday’s game at Hawaii.
Seeing more physical talent and skills on the field than in recent seasons. Last year’s freshman crop, including the redshirts, combined with this year’s newcomers are a definite physical upgrade. The 2-deep will be more capable of holding up over course of season — Blair Willis
Willis obviously knows of what he writes having seen first-hand that influx of physical talent in Kevin Sumlin’s first couple of recruiting class. Sumlin has coached at schools and locales with physical, meat-and-potatoes backgrounds — Purdue (his alma mater) and Oklahoma. He coached in the SEC at Texas A&M. He knows you can’t win at a Power 5 school with a majority of finesse players. A team requires a quality mix.
A total of 58 players this season — true freshmen, redshirt freshmen, sophomores, transfers and junior college transfers — have joined Arizona’s program since Sumlin was hired.
Of those 58, there are 33 players listed with heights of at least 6 feet and weights at least 200 pounds. Of that group, 14 weigh at least 250 pounds and seven are at least 300 pounds.
The Wildcats have 13 players who are at least 300 pounds and the heaviest four are Sumlin recruits — defensive lineman Myles Tapusoa (junior college transfer who is 6-foot-1 and 330 pounds), redshirt freshman offensive lineman Mykee Irving (6-3, 320), JC transfer offensive lineman Josh Donovan (6-3, 317), and sophomore offensive lineman Donovan Laie (6-4, 315).
But it’s not all about size. It’s about playing physical and using that size for leverage.
“Game week is a little bit different (from fall camp) so guys are used to ‘Hey, here’s the opponent, here’s how we’re going to introduce the opponent, here’s what the film study of the opponent looks like. Because you have some young guys who (haven’t done that).” — Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin, whose team is in game week now with a trip to Hawaii next weekend.
By the numbers
Arizona’s record in road openers. Saturday’s game at Hawaii will be the first season road opener since 2010, when Nick Foles and the Wildcats won at Toledo 41-2. Including when Arizona won at Hawaii in 1998 to open the 12-1 season, the Wildcats are 4-3 in road season openers from then until now. Arizona had a span of five consecutive seasons with road openers from 1997 to 2001 and went 3-2. One of the losses was the 41-7 drubbing by Penn State in 1999.
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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.