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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Stoops’ 1st recruits losing legacy

    Linebacker Spencer Larsen in a 48-20 win over Washington State on Sept. 29. The last four games of the year signify the last chance at a bowl for footballs seniors.
    Linebacker Spencer Larsen in a 48-20 win over Washington State on Sept. 29. The last four games of the year signify the last chance at a bowl for football’s seniors.

    As the Arizona football team winds down another season that will likely end without a postseason appearance, the phrase “”There’s always next year”” starts to become more relevant with each passing day.

    But for the seniors, there is no next year. If the Wildcats can’t miraculously win out and somehow qualify for their first bowl berth since 1998, yet another group of players will move on without tasting the possession.

    With that distinction comes the frustration of realizing if a bowl was ever going to happen, it should have been this year.

    “”I don’t know what we’re supposed to learn from this trial,”” said linebacker Spencer Larsen following Saturday’s loss to Stanford, which dropped Arizona to 2-6 on the season.

    “”I feel exactly how all the seniors before me felt,”” he added, “”starting with Lance Briggs and that group, and the group after that and the group after that. I don’t know where I’m at now.””

    There are 18 seniors on Arizona’s roster – two starters on offense and eight on defense – and for all but a select few, playing professional football after college is nothing but a dream.

    UA head coach Mike Stoops’ first graduating recruiting class – sans Larsen, a redshirt senior – will most likely not finish as expected. In four short games, life as a student-athlete will be nothing but a memory, and life outside of school will be the next hurdle to overcome.

    But not so fast, says cornerback Antoine Cason – the Wildcats still have some unfinished business to attend to in their remaining four games.

    “”We have four games. I’m not dead. I’m living,”” said Cason, possibly the team’s best NFL prospect. “”I think we’re all living. We’ve got to keep fighting and get up. …I’m still in the Arizona colors still playing.””

    With four games remaining, including two against teams that currently rank in the top five of the Bowl Championship Series rankings, the Wildcat seniors are still out to prove what they have been capable of all season.

    But to get in the position to showcase their abilities, they will need to rely on their younger teammates to get them there.

    Junior quarterback Willie Tuitama – possibly the most important factor in the Wildcats’ success – has shown flashes of excellence throughout the year but has struggled at times to put it together.

    But regardless of the plays he makes or the mistakes that plague him in certain situations, Tuitama’s teammates rely on him despite his class standing.

    Stoops has said he wishes at times that Tuitama was more of a vocal leader, and Tuitama recognizes his laid-back personality could need to change when he’s on the field.

    “”I’ve never really been on the losing end of a team like this,”” Tuitama said. “”Just growing up I’ve kind of always been on top and now we’re kind of in the doghouse.””

    “”There are definitely a lot of times where I am (a vocal leader) when the (coaches) aren’t around,”” he added.

    Stoops said he also sees leadership abilities in freshman running back Nicolas Grigsby, who leads the team in rushing with 481 yards.

    With the offense struggling the way it has the past few games, Grigsby is someone the team – and especially the seniors – will turn to for help redirecting the season.

    “”I know everybody wants to win,”” Grigsby said. “”It hurts a lot. I know everybody is out there going 100 percent like I am.””

    Larsen said losing is a frustrating thing and that, though it can’t be ignored, the seniors need to focus on the remaining games and work towards the goal of finishing strong.

    “”You play for just the game, the pride you bring to the game,”” Larsen said. “”You want to perform well every week. You don’t really necessarily have to have a bowl game or whatever to play for. You play for yourself and the character you are.

    “”You’re not going to give up and you’re not going to lay down for anybody, and those are the things you have to play for.””

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