Eye on the Ball Radio Show

Eye on the Ball: Arizona Wildcats Legend Ricky Hunley Goes Down Memory Lane of Storied Career


Eye on the Ball on KVOI (1030-AM) on Monday night featured Arizona great Ricky Hunley, who talked about a variety of topics including today’s current state of affairs in this country, his guidance from his mom Scarlette, his baseball background and his storied football career with the Wildcats.

The show started with Hunley mentioning his daughter Alexis, a photographer in Los Angeles, appeared in Time magazine with one of her photos of the George Floyd protests.

The photo had this quote from Alexis: “The love I have for every Black person who has marched, protested and organized, past and present, is what’s keeping me together.”

Alexis Hunley photo in Time magazine

Hunley also commented on his baseball past, drafted in the 26th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates as a pitcher who had pop in his bat following his senior season at Petersburg (Va.) High School. He came close to signing but spent only one day at rookie camp at Bradenton, Fla., because he was one of only two players who spoke English. He was out of his comfort zone.

“I love baseball; that was my first love,” Hunley said.

Baseball helped bring him to Tucson when former Arizona coach Tony Mason promised him the opportunity to play the sport for the Wildcats — something that Ohio State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia Tech did not offer.

Mason first learned of Hunley through a tip from former Arizona player Moe Odenwelder, who returned to his native Virginia after earning a degree at Arizona. He became a renowned high school coach in Virginia.

During his recruiting trip to Arizona, Hunley was watching a Wildcat baseball game when Mason approached him.

Ricky Hunley (Arizona photo)

“Coach Mason comes over and says, ‘Hey, you play baseball, don’t you?'” Hunley recalled. “I said, ‘Yes sir.’ He said, ‘Well, you can play here.’ I said, ‘No, I can’t play here because they say you have to go through (fall) ball in your freshman year.’

“He said, ‘Who told you that?’ Well, Jerry Claiborne at Maryland said I had to and Dick Crum at (North) Carolina said I had to and everybody else.’

He said, ‘No, you don’t have to do that. You can play baseball. You want to play baseball?’

I said, ‘Yeah.’

He said, ‘Okay.’

I said, ‘Can I use your phone?’

He said, ‘Sure.’

‘Can I call my mom?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Scarlette, cancel Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State. I’m going to Arizona.’

Hunley said his baseball dreams with the Wildcats derailed as a freshman because he broke his right thumb in a locker-room fight with former defensive lineman Al Pierce the week the Wildcats were to host ASU in 1980. Hunley hid Pierce’s sodas that were in his locker as a prank, Pierce approached him about it and they got into a fight. After Pierce landed a blow, Hunley threw a punch and hit a locker, breaking his thumb. He missed the game against the Sun Devils at Arizona Stadium, a 44-7 loss for the Wildcats. His brother LaMonte, was in Tucson on a recruiting trip.

Ricky Hunley remains active with his support of the Wildcats (Original Retro Brand photo)

Hunley was asked about his place in Arizona football history. Co-host Steve Rivera mentioned Hunley is the best to play football at the school. Jay Gonzales said he places Hunley on the Mount Rushmore of Arizona football with Art Luppino, Chuck Cecil and Ted Bruschi.

“Just to be in that company alone, makes me feel proud,” Hunley said. “I could forever be happy being second-best to any of those guys. They’re perfect gentlemen. They’re perfect citizens. They are loved by everybody and they will always be loved by everybody.

“And they’re class acts.”

That prompted Hunley to recall a quote from his former coach Arizona, Larry Smith, about class.

“I always remember this saying with Larry. He said, ‘Class is people who can walk with the kings and still keep the common touch,'” Hunley said. “When I hear that quote, I think about people like Chuck Cecil and Tedy Bruschi.”

Hunley also talked about the memorable speech given by fiery assistant Tom Roggeman, a former Marine, during halftime of the 16-13 win at Notre Dame in 1982 — winning in dramatic fashion on Max Zendejas’ last-second 48-yard field goal. The Wildcats were down 10-0 to the Fighting Irish at halftime.

“Coach Rogge comes in (the locker room) and says, ‘What’s wrong? You’re in the house that Knute Rockne built and you can’t give a little blood? You can’t give a little blood!?’ … Guys started looking for blood all over their clothes,” Hunley said. “Man, we came out of that place like our hair was on fire.”

Hunley has tried more than once in the past to return to his alma mater as a head coach and assistant and was never hired, a situation that makes him feel “brokenhearted,” he said.

“I was homesick as a freshman when I first got there, and I was brokenhearted as a senior when I left,” he said. “I’m even more brokenhearted now that I can’t get back there to coach.

“Those days have passed. Maybe my time now is to get into the athletic administration and help a program out. … I would love to be back there.”

Here is the interview, a memorable one (Eye on the Ball can be heard on KVOI.com through a live stream):


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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.

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