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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Wildcats quarterback Grant Gunnell ready for the challenge of leading the offense

Amy Bailey
Arizona freshman Grant Gunnell (17) spirals the ball down to his wide receiver, fro another Arizona touchdown. During the halftime of the Arizona-Northern Arizona University game the Wildcats lead 51-13.

With the departure of Khalil Tate, all eyes will be on sophomore quarterback Grant Gunnell this season. After throwing for 1,239 passing yards and nine touchdowns to just one interception in limited playing time last year, the spotlight will be on Gunnell from game one, and he says he thrives off that pressure. 

“There is always pressure when playing football,” Gunnell said. “That’s not a bad thing to me. I see and feel pressure as something that drives me. If you’re not feeling pressure, like those butterflies in your stomach, you don’t love football. You can ask anyone, that is kind of what drives you. And what you love about football is that nervous feeling where you have butterflies in your stomach. There is definitely pressure, but I wouldn’t say it is a negative thing.”

It was a rather odd year, to say the least, during the last season for the Wildcats quarterback room. Gunnell came to Tucson from Texas a true freshman, sitting behind Heisman-hopeful Khalil Tate on the depth chart. Gunnell made his collegiate debut in the Wildcats in the second game of the season, a 65-41 win over NAU, where he completed nine of 11 passes for 151 yards and three touchdowns. 

Gunnell went on to see a lot more playing time in his freshman season than what was initially expected, which included three starts. He made his first career start against UCLA in a 20-17 win for the Wildcats, where he completed 29 of 44 passes for 352 yards and one touchdown. As Gunnell gets set to enter this season as the full-time starter, he says that he learned a lot from being in and out of the lineup last year. 

“I’d definitely say patience and definitely not to get down on myself,” Gunnell said. “I got to play in quite a few games, and being put back in, it really taught me how to prepare like the starter and how to watch film and always be prepared. I think coming off the bench some games and being pulled was the best thing for me confidence-wise because you know, that’s going to happen in the games. You’re going to have your downs and lows, and you have to learn how to get above them. With the offense, you can’t let anyone else see you down because then the whole offense will be down, so I feel like coming off the bench and getting pulled was the best thing for me last year.”

As Gunnell enters camp as the full-time starter, it also means he trains vastly differently preparing as the starter compared to the backup. 

“I mean, knowing the offseason as a quarterback, you’re not trying to work on one thing, you know, you’re just trying to work as a quarterback and work on everything at once,” Gunnell said. “I just feel like each day I’m getting better and better at the offense and having a better grasp of the defense and getting the ball out quicker, not taking sacks and knowing when to throw the ball away. I think that’s the biggest thing for me is learning how to do stuff like that, and all the little things are getting better each day.”

RELATED: Gary Brightwell: The message beyond the number on his back

As a young quarterback, it will be crucial for Gunnell to know when to throw the ball away and not to take unnecessary sacks. We often see younger quarterbacks with less experience always try to make something out of nothing, and that can sometimes pay off, but it can also sometimes lead to an unnecessary sack that leaves the offense further behind the chains.

Head coach Kevin Sumlin has also liked what he has seen out of Gunnell so far in camp, noting that he has been working hard, and it has paid off. 

“He has gotten more reps, and it has expanded what he knows,” Sumlin said. “He spends a lot of time studying the game, and he has been working his tail off.”

Sumlin also noted that Gunnell has been working hard in the weight room as well. 

As the Wildcats get set to open up the season against the University of Utah in a couple of weeks, Gunnell appears to be confident and ready to step up to the challenge in leading this team into this upcoming season. 

“All the little things are getting better and better each day that I wasn’t as strong at last year,” Gunnell said. 

High hopes for Gary Brightwell:

Gunnell and Sumlin both mentioned Gary Brightwell’s name and how impressive he has been in Saturday’s press conference, as he appears to be ready to take on the starting role following the departure of J.J. Taylor. 

“On the field, he’s just reliable,” Gunnell said. “He’s a guy I know I can just check down to. He’s going to get yards, and he might make a guy miss and take it to the end zone.”

Gunnell also noted the off-field connection he has garnered with Brightwell, seeing him as “family.”

“I love Gary [Brightwell]. He’s a really good dude on the field and off the field,” Gunnell said. “Off the field, this is a guy you can just hang out with, go eat, stuff like that, and you know he always has your back. I see him as family, and he sees me as family, I believe.”

Brightwell flashed in limited opportunities behind Taylor last season, taking 66 carries for 390 yards (5.9 YPC) and five touchdowns on the ground, while also adding in four passes for 59 yards and another score through the air. Brightwell is capable of all levels all of the game, and he will look to take advantage of that role this season. 

“Without a doubt, today [in the team’s scrimmage] he was a complete player,” Sumlin said. “If he continues, he could have a big year.”

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