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Arizona football notebook: On Tate’s return, DeMarco’s possible destination and the QB of the future

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Cyrus Norcross

Kevin Sumlin motivates his players during the UA vs Southern Utah game on Sep 15. 

The holidays are a time of rest and receiving presents, and Kevin Sumlin’s Christmas came a couple days early. The energized and well-rested head coach, who just endured a roller coaster of a first season at Arizona, got to show off his new gifts to the local media on Wednesday afternoon.

The incoming 2019 recruits were just one aspect of the press conference, as Sumlin also went on to confirm that Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate would be back next year, as well as commenting on the rumored interest of hiring former NFL rushing king DeMarco Murray as the new running backs coach. 

Here are the top things you need to know:

Khalil Tate

The big elephant in the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility has finally been addressed. Tate is coming back. The dynamic and often polarizing quarterback is returning for his senior season and now has an opportunity to leave Tucson on better terms.

Sumlin met with Tate and his parents the day before Signing Day and decided it was best for Tate to stay for his senior year, according the Arizona Daily Star. Rumors had been afloat since the Territorial Cup loss that Tate was exploring transferring or entering the NFL Draft. 

          RELATED: Growing Pains: Year one of the Sumlin Era

For Arizona, having experience at the quarterback position will be key to getting back over the .500 mark and into a respectable bowl. With a team that is relatively thin across the board and is relying on every single strand of experience to propel them, having Tate in the backfield with the ball in his hands gives Arizona the best chance to win in 2019.

Running Back J.J. Taylor (21) runs to grab the ball from quarterback Khalil Tate (14) during the game against ASU on Saturday, Nov. 24 at Arizona Stadium.
Running Back J.J. Taylor (21) runs to grab the ball from quarterback Khalil Tate (14) during the game against ASU on Saturday, Nov. 24 at Arizona Stadium.

Tate appears to be the favorite to remain Arizona’s starting QB next fall, but if there’s one guy that could change that:

Grant Gunnell

The 3-star, 6-foot-5, 220 pound, pro-style gunslinger is likely the Wildcats’ QB of the future.

Sumlin knows his quarterbacks. From coaching Heisman winner Johnny Manziel to recruiting 2018 Heisman winner Kyler Murray to Texas A&M, Sumlin’s resume is loaded, so to hear him get excited talking about his new 3-star quarterback from Texas means those words carry some weight.

“He’s the all-time leading passer in the state of Texas,” Sumlin said. “And last time I checked, there have been some pretty good quarterbacks from there. That’s a heck of a statistic.”

For a coach that held two head coaching positions in the state of Texas on college level, Sumlin is familiar with the state’s high school football exploits, and it looks like he can’t wait to see what Gunnell brings to the loaded Wildcat quarterback room.

Gunnell joins a crowded quarterback room alongside Tate, Jamarye Joiner, Kevin Doyle and Rhett Rodriguez. Should Tate experience any more injuries next fall, don’t be surprised if Gunnell is one of the first names called off the bench.

DeMarco Murray

The former NFL star had a career that recruits dream of having, and rumor has it that he might be the latest addition to Sumlin’s coaching staff. With All-American running back J.J. Taylor returning, the combination of Murray and Taylor could propel the Wildcat running back to even greater heights in 2019. 

          RELATED: 15-week 2019 schedule for Arizona football includes six home games, three byes

The biggest impact Murray could have is off the field. Murray would be a huge advantage for Sumlin in being able to bring something into recruits’ living rooms when selling an opportunity to play for Arizona and live in Tucson. Pedigree and stature matter in today’s recruiting, and having a recent star that just exited the NFL would help Arizona.

In-state priority

When asked about his connection with Texas and if he intends to make it a pipeline, Sumlin was quick to push the notion away. 

“There’s familiarity there, but we are going to start everything in state,” he said.

The quick and assured answer is one that comes from a coach that is looking to lay down roots in the talent-rich state of Arizona, where the Wildcats and their football program have played second fiddle to Arizona State for much of their existence. Sumlin intends to change that.

Kevin Sumlin coaches the team from the sidelines during the UA v USC game on Saturday, Sep 29 at Arizona Stadium.
Kevin Sumlin coaches the team from the sidelines during the UA v USC game on Saturday, Sep 29 at Arizona Stadium.

“I think next year is a big year in the state of Arizona, for 20s,” Sumlin said, who is looking to make his mark on the 2020 class after getting a late start on the 2019 class. 

With ASU also breaking in a new head coach in Herm Edwards, Sumlin has as good of a shot to establish the Wildcats as an exciting place for kids to play as ASU, while also trying to ward off out-of-state suitors who regularly raid Arizona to fill rosters of their own.


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