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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Freshman receiver takes advantage of unlikely opportunity

    Arizona wide receiver Juron Criner was not on the path to college as a student, much less as a football player.

    In fact, when Arizona receivers coach Michael Smith first saw him, Criner was playing basketball on Lute and Bobbi Olson Court as a prep player.

    Crinerÿ- an impressive small forward during his prep years – was competing in McKale’s annual Cactus Classic basketball tournament with his team, the Las Vegas Rebels.

    Despite his 14 point per game average for the tournament, his dunks were what caught Smith’s eye.

    Not yet fully aware of Criner’s ability as a receiver, Smith and other Arizona coaches yearned to get a better look.

    “”When I saw him out there playing I was like, ‘Goodness gracious, this guy can jump,'”” Smith said of Criner. “”He was just really athletic, a big guy, could move around, and we just fell in love with him.””

    Already an impressive basketball player at Canyon Springs High School in Las Vegas, Criner’s future in football began to take shape in his junior year when he hauled in 36 receptions for 788 yards.

    That 2007 season turned out to be a life changer as recruiters suddenly began taking notice and talks of scholarships began coming Criner’s way.

    “”College was never really in my future until I started playing football,”” Criner said. “”It’s just real exciting to be here, and to get the opportunity to come to college is a great experience.””

    Arizona football head coach Mike Stoops and his staff’s interest in the 6-foot-4, 205-pound wideout solidified during the 2008 season when Criner appeared all the more impressive.

    The receiver’s production increased to 58 receptions for 1.63 yards, along with 25 trips to the end zone during his senior year.

    His efforts that season earned him a second straight all-state honor and a nomination to the All-Sunrise Region first-team.

    “”We really recruited (Criner) hard his junior and senior year,”” Stoops said. “”He’s a very physically and mentally mature kid, and you can see that since he was a good basketball player. That tells a lot about his hand-eye coordination and his ability to jump. He’s really been impressive and seems to get better and better.””

    Because of his limited football experience prior to being recruited by Arizona, Criner has been a marvel to both his coaches and teammates throughout the summer and fall camp.

    After observing his potential during the first few weeks of practice, the Arizona coaching staff continued to give the freshman opportunities throughout fall camp.

    Despite not catching a pass in the team’s first scrimmage, Criner got more looks in the second and brought down a pair of passes for eight yards.

    “”The game seems to come naturally to (Criner) and he understands it pretty well,”” Stoops said. “”You would never know that he’s only been playing (football) a short time.””

    Because of his strong camp, Criner has moved up on the Wildcats’ depth chart to the point where Smith says he can expect to see action this Saturday in the season opener against Idaho.

    “”He’s going to get his opportunity this Saturday night,”” Smith said. “”He’s been awesome. I would be tremendously disappointed if he doesn’t play well, because he practices the way he should and has really done well in this offense.””

    Smith went on to describe Criner as “”the complete package,”” saying he can see his receiver competing for a starting position at some point this season.

    In the meantime, Criner’s focus is primarily on Saturday night when he will get to run through the lane of fireworks into Arizona Stadium for the first time.

    For Criner – who described receiving his first Division I scholarship offer as “”the biggest thrill in the world”” – Saturday will only amplify that excitement as his unlikely journey to college culminates in front of thousands of screaming fans.

    “”All that excitement has gone to a little bit of nervousness so now I’m feeling a little bit shaky,”” Criner said of Saturday’s game. “”But those nerves turn definitely into adrenaline. I just need to keep my head on straight and I’ll be all right.””

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