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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Senior LBs looking to make name for themselves

Michael Ignatov
Michael Ignatov / Arizona Daily Wildcat Arizona Football summer practice Aug. 21, 2009.

If career statistics defined players, then the Arizona linebacking corp wouldn’t look like much. On paper, the squad enters the 2009 season with only three players who have competed in an NCAA Division I game and have just 13 starts between them.

Luckily for the Wildcats, stats don’t tell the whole story.

Arizona is expected to start three seniors at the linebacker position: Sterling Lewis, Xavier Kelley and Vuna Tuihalamaka. While none have significant starting experience, all three have impressive athletic ability and are expected to fill the shoes of graduated counterparts Ronnie Palmer and Adrian McCovy.

“”I’m excited about the linebackers this year,”” said defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. “”Maybe they didn’t play too much last year, but they’ve been in the mix. They know what they’re doing, and they’re explosive players, so I feel good about them.””

The most seasoned veteran on the squad is Kelley, who has seen game time in each of the last three years. His playing time significantly increased in 2008 when he started in eight games, racking up 51 tackles and a trio of sacks.

Kelley is the only player in Arizona’s linebacking corp with three years of Division I experience. The other two seniors, Lewis and Tuihalamaka, joined the Wildcats following junior college stints.

For both players, last season was their first exposure to Pacific 10 Conference football, but that did not stop either from making immediate impacts.

Despite not starting a single game, Tuihalamaka played in all 13 contests and made 23 tackles, mostly in special teams duty. Meanwhile, Lewis started five games last season before being sidelined with an ankle injury late in the year. Prior to his injury, Lewis made a tremendous impact on Arizona’s defensive unit by making 59 tackles in 10 games — including a team-high 12 in the Wildcats’ 41-16 blowout win against Toledo when he replaced an injured Kelley.

While the trio of seniors may not be the most experienced unit in the Pac-10, 2008 showed that each player brings a lot of talent.

“”(As seniors) it means that everyone’s looking up to us. We can’t make any mistakes; there’s no room for that,”” Lewis said. “”Each of us have our own set of attributes and we work around them, but we all have the ability to go out and do some good things this year.””

One question surrounding the Wildcats’ linebackers this year will be depth. Each of the remaining seven linebackers are in his first year with the team and six are freshmen. The only non-freshmen on the squad is C.J. Parish, a transfer from Blinn College. The 6-foot-2, 235 pound junior is expected to bring speed to the middle linebacker position with his 40-yard dash time at 4.5 seconds.

Outside of Parish, freshman Jake Fischer earned accolades from his coaches throughout summer and fall camps and has been mentioned by head coach Mike Stoops as one of the underclassmen expected to earn playing time early this year.

Other freshmen will likely see game action as the season moves along and depth becomes a factor. Thus far, the young linebackers are already maturing, hoping to add to Arizona’s defensive success.

“”I think (the younger guys) are coming along really well,”” Parish said. “”Everyone’s talking to each other and trying to find time to watch film and figure out the different (defensive) schemes and things like that.

“”We have some great linebackers in front of us right now, and we get to learn from them all year,”” he added. “”We’re just looking to soak that up and be ready to go when we get that call.””


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