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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona football looking for leadership in senior class

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Janice Biancavilla/Arizona Daily Wildcat

Before preseason practice started Wednesday, Arizona head football coach Rich Rodriguez met with his 20 senior players as a group to discuss leadership — or their lack of an established team leader.

Like any team sport, leadership positions are emphasized and needed in football. After a coaching change and the departure of three key senior NFL Draft picks, Arizona football is looking for the kind of leadership it had when Nick Foles manned the offense with Juron Criner for three seasons and Trevin Wade went from two-star recruit to a seventh-round selection by the Cleveland Browns in his time with the Wildcats.

This team lacks leadership in the same way that it lacks stable playmakers. Fifth-year senior quarterback Matt Scott is one of the only players on the team whose job is not up for grabs, automatically meaning the standards are raised for him on and off the field.

“He knows the leadership is forced upon him, it comes with his position, but he also knows that it comes with his position as a senior,” Rodriguez said. “We’re going to hold him to a higher standard and I think that’s what he expects.”

Scott will be expected to lead and manage the offense as well as remain in good health. The Wildcats have three true freshmen quarterbacks, two transfer quarterbacks and Richard Morrison, who converted from quarterback to receiver under former coach Mike Stoops.

“We’re hoping that, (junior transfer) B.J. Denker, or (freshmen) Josh Kern or Javelle Allen or one of these freshmen are going to emerge,” Rodriguez said. “So far, B.J. is progressing pretty well.”
That higher standard Scott is held to extends to all of Rodriguez’s veteran players, including fifth-year wide receiver Dan Buckner, who has been an Arizona athlete for two seasons, after playing for Mack Brown and the Texas Longhorns his freshman and sophomore seasons.

He said his experience with the Longhorns helped mold him into a better leader because of older players like Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley, who taught him the finer points of playing the game.

“(Former Longhorn receiver Jordan) Shipley was a fifth year senior when I got there and got his sixth year my sophomore year, so there was older guys,” Buckner said. “(Former Texas quarterback) Colt (McCoy) was the ultimate leader.”

Buckner is undoubtedly the Wildcats’ go-to receiver this season at 6-foot-4 inches, after sharing that role with Criner a season ago. Buckner caught 42 passes for 606 yards and two touchdowns a year ago, but the 22-year-old will be expected to produce more.

“This is my fifth year as a college player so I think I’m a leader,” Buckner said. “I remember when I was 17 looking for leadership and now I’m at the other end of the spectrum.”

For many Arizona football players, the awkward switch from unproven player to mature team leader has begun, but the way these players handle it will continue to unfold throughout fall camp.

“They’re hungry, they’ve bought in and they’ve done a great job with leadership,” Rodriguez said of his seniors. “I think when you go through things like they’ve gone through with the coaching change and working hard together, I think it bonds them together.”

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