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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Football toasts 2009 season

Despite a sour ending to the 2009 Arizona football season, coaches, players and staff poured into the Westin La Paloma resort hotel Saturday to celebrate one of the best seasons in Arizona history.

Head coach Mike Stoops, after declaring that a poor showing in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl wouldn’t tarnish a season that saw the Wildcats finish second in the Pacific 10 Conference, thanked the seniors leaving the program for their hard work and dedication over the years.

“”You (the seniors) came to this program during some difficult times when we really hadn’t accomplished anything,”” Stoops said, referring to a time when the program was 6-18 to start his career. “”A lot of (recruits) can go somewhere where it’s easier, but you guys came here to be a part of something and to help us turn it around.””

The evening, hosted by former Wildcat and current KMSB Fox 11 reporter Brandon Nash, began with an eight-minute highlight film before interim Athletic Director Rocky LaRose welcomed the crowd.

“”I want to thank the team,”” LaRose said. “”We had a fabulous year. Congratulations to all of you and kudos to all of you, especially our seniors. We’re going to miss you, but I look forward to the future.””

Dozens of Wildcats were then recognized for various All Pac-10 Team awards and individual Pac-10 Player of the Week awards, followed by team awards.

Offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes awarded center Colin Baxter the Offensive Player of the Year Award, and an emotional defensive line coach Mike Tuiasosopo gave the Defensive Player of the Year Award to defensive tackle Earl Mitchell. Freshman Jake Fischer and senior Chris Gronkowski were recognized for their work in the classroom, and senior linebacker Xavier Kelley was awarded the Tedy Bruschi Award, given annually to the player that excels on and off the field both as a player and a leader.

After the awards, the focus shifted back to the seniors. They were commended for having back-to-back eight-win seasons, beating USC to finish second in the Pac-10, beating ASU the last two years in a row, turning the program around and being a vital part of Arizona football.

“”I remember Spencer Larsen, the great linebacker at the UA, and his speech when he talked about having no regrets,”” senior wide receiver Terrell Turner said. “”I stand up here today having no regrets at all.””

What’s next?

After putting the finishing touches on the 2009 season at the year-end banquet, the Arizona football program has officially moved on to 2010. The Wildcats will announce an already impressive recruiting class during the first week of February, and the team will start spring practices in March.

As for the Wildcats who are no longer with the program, three players are currently training for the NFL Combine in February.

Defensive tackle Earl Mitchell and cornerback Devin Ross will take part in the East-West Shrine Game to show off their skills to NFL coaches before the combine, and tight end Rob Gronkowski is going through rigorous rehab to be healthy enough for the NFL Combine.

All three of those players, as well as others, including H-back Chris Gronkowski, will show off for scouts in both Arizona and individual Pro Days sometime between the NFL Combine in February and the NFL Draft in April.

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