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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    The ‘Future’ is now

    He was the catalyst for a struggling team, providing them with the spark they were so desperately searching for. He reinvigorated a fan base. He sent expectations soaring through the roof. And, perhaps most impressive of all, he did it all in less than five games.

    He is of course Willie Tuitama, the sophomore quarterback conceivably better known as No. 7, “”Savior,”” “”Future”” or the first “”T”” of the “”T’n’T Connection.””

    He’s the guy who has his own Wikipedia entry, the guy who returns more than 30,000 results in a search engine, the guy for whom so much rides on his shoulders.

    “”He’s throwing the ball as accurate as anyone I’ve ever seen,”” his head coach, Mike Stoops, said of Tuitama’s progress this fall. “”There isn’t a throw he can’t make.””

    After Willie was freed last season against Oregon – and narrowly missed leading his team to a comeback win – he gave thousands of fans a glimpse into the future on a warm November evening by engineering the dismantling of then-No.7 UCLA, 52-14.

    And nine months to the day after that monumental win, Tuitama stood and answered questions about his sophomore campaign from a mass of media members circled around him during the team’s annual media day.

    “”I know I only started four games last season,”” he began, “”but it doesn’t really bother me at all.””

    His quiet confidence began to shine through as the subject quickly changed to his leadership abilities.

    “”I’m trying to be more of a leader,”” he said. “”I try to take charge with the O-line, the wide receivers, the running backs – everyone.

    “”Basically,”” he added that day, “”everyone’s looking up to me because that’s the position that I’m in right now, and I’m just doing my best to try to do that the best that I can.””

    ‘A special relationship’

    When Tuitama first arrived on campus before the start of the 2005 campaign, he was a wide-eyed freshman, and at the team’s media day that year, he described his first experiences as a resident of Tucson – an account which, in hindsight, provides a window into the world of Tuitama’s work ethic.

    “”I got here in the middle of June,”” he said, “”and I just went straight to (offensive coordinator Mike) Canales’ office, to just try to learn the offense.””

    That day, he also spoke of a newly formed relationship with a fellow quarterback.

    “”Adam Austin has been helping me out a whole lot,”” he said of the current redshirt senior. “”I’m just trying to do the best I can to pick everything up.””

    The friendship would prove priceless – the duo that now rooms together would go over the playbook and “”the whole routine of things,”” according to Tuitama – as the Stockton, Calif., native went on to dazzle as a freshman, amassing 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns while completing 58 percent of his passes against only five interceptions.

    “”It’s just the personality of both of us,”” Tuitama said of the relationship now. “”The way that Adam and I feel is that whoever’s going to be on top, they’re going to lead this team.””

    “”I just wanted to help out the team,”” Austin explained after a practice this fall, “”so I just tried to help him along.””

    Oftentimes, there is a lot more than space on the depth chart between the starter and his backup, but you won’t find any animosity between Tuitama and Austin.

    “”We both know what we need to do for this team,”” Austin said. “”We know his

    abilities and mine, and we just try to help out each other as much as we can.””

    It’s a bond that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the coach who spends the most time observing the pair.

    “”It’s quite a special relationship,”” said Canales, who also serves as the quarterbacks’ coach, “”because Adam understands his role, and yet Willie understands that, ‘I’ve got to make sure Adam’s as ready as I am in every situation.'””

    Said Stoops: “”Adam’s been a great asset to have, and Adam’s got a lot of talent. He pushes Willie. We feel very fortunate to have two great quarterbacks.””

    The teacher and the student, Part II

    If Austin has proved to be Tuitama’s mentor, the same can be said of senior Kris Heavner – who returns to the program after transferring to Baylor for the spring semester of 2005 – to Tyler Lyon, a freshman from Newhall, Calif.

    After earning the starting job as a true freshman in 2003 under former head coach John Mackovic, Heavner went on to set the Arizona freshman records for yards passing (1,501), completions (101) and attempts (237), and also tied for the record for touchdown passes with eight.

    But after losing the starting job to Richard Kovalcheck in 2004, he transferred closer to his roots in Johnson City, Texas.

    “”I had a lot of stuff to figure out myself,”” Heavner said. “”But I grew up a lot, and I just realized that through hard times, you can’t – you’ve got to work through them.

    “”Football’s a tough game, but no matter what happens, you’ve got to work through it because it builds character in a person.””

    And now, back once again in familiar confines of Rincon Vista’s fall camp, Heavner said he better understands his role on the team.

    “”As a quarterback, you have to be a leader on the team no matter what,”” he said. “”If I’m first string, second string, third string, fourth string, I’m going to be the best at that position that I can be for the team.””

    It’s a role that has expanded to helping the new kid on the block in Lyon.

    “”Without him, I don’t know what I’d do,”” Lyon said. “”I’d be lost out here.

    “”He’s always just quizzing me sometimes. He’s helping me out, he’s telling me to bring out my playbook, telling me what time to be at meetings and all that stuff.””

    A special talent himself, the mere mention of Lyon – a 6-foot-5 probable redshirt with a cannon of an arm who plans to try out for Andy Lopez’s baseball squad as a pitcher – makes Canales’ eyes light up.

    “”Oh, I’m excited about Tyler,”” Canales said with a wide smile. “”He understands what we’re asking him to do.

    “”We haven’t given him a lot of reps yet because we’d like to redshirt him, and he understands that, but you can tell that the future’s bright for quarterbacks.””

    Willie Tuitama profile

    Nicknames: “”The Savior,”” “”Future”” Height: 6-foot-3 Weight: 218 pounds Hometown: Stockton, Californai 2005 Stats:5 dgames 82-145, 57.7% 1,105 yards, 9TDs 5 INTs QB rating: 136.99 Awards: Sporting News Freshman All-American Major: Communication Tidbit: Related to NFL start Junior Seau of the New England Patriots and San Diego Charger tight end Brandon Manumaleuna, a former Wildcat.

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