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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Football creates family environment

    Freshman defensive tackle Conan Amituanai walks by his cousin Maya Tuiasosopo, right, the daughter of defensive line coach Mike Tuiasosopo, and Becky Bowles Wednesday after practice at Jimenez Stadium. Family members gather after every Wednesday practice and hand out cookies to the players.
    Freshman defensive tackle Conan Amituanai walks by his cousin Maya Tuiasosopo, right, the daughter of defensive line coach Mike Tuiasosopo, and Becky Bowles Wednesday after practice at Jimenez Stadium. Family members gather after every Wednesday practice and hand out cookies to the players.

    At the conclusion of practice the Wednesday before the Arizona football team’s game at Stanford, players and coaches, as per custom, gathered in a tight circle around head coach Mike Stoops.

    After he went over the rights and wrongs of what he had seen over the past two hours, those players who didn’t stay to do extra drills with their position coaches sauntered over to a table flanked by the smiling wives of the Wildcats’ coaching staff.

    There, athletes got their pick from a basket overflowing with cookies and candy, and they rummaged through their selections as they left Jimenez Practice Facility toward their McKale Center locker room across the street.

    “”It’s not that big a deal – half the time, people don’t even eat the cookies because, you know, it’s not that good for you – but there’s something about it,”” defensive tackle Daniel Horton said.

    UA athlete families
    Football

    • Mike Stoops (head coach) and his brother Mark Stoops (defensive coordinator)
  • Mike Tuiasosopo (defensive line coach) and his nephew Conan Amituanai (redshirting freshman defensive tackle)
  • Tanner Bell (redshirt senior offensive tackle) and his brother Travis Bell (sophomore tight end)
  • Cory Elmore (redshirting freshman offensive lineman) and his twin brother Ricky Elmore (redshirting freshman defensive end
  • Men’s Basketball

    • Lute Olson (head coach) and his grandchildren Julie Brase (former women’s basketball player) and Matt Brase (administrative assistant)

    Women’s Basketball

    • Beatrice Bofia (junior center) and her twin sister Suzy Bofia (junior center)
  • Rheya Neabors (freshman forward) and her twin sister Rhaya Neabors (freshman forward)
  • Jessica Arnold (junior guard) and her father Mark Arnold (former baseball player)
  • Cross Country/Track and Field

    • Robert Cheseret (senior All-American) and his sister Irine Lagat (sophomore)

    Men’s Tennis

    • Jason Labrosse (junior) and his brother Alex Labrosse (redshirt freshman)

    Volleyball

    • Whitney Dosty (freshman outside hitter) and her
      father Robbie Dosty (former men’s basketball player)

    What’s a few tasty treats to a fatigued band of sweaty, blood-and-grass-stained warriors of the gridiron?

    They’re worth more than one might think for the team’s 100 geographically diverse student-athletes, for whom Stoops has tried to create a home-away-from-home atmosphere with this weekly ritual.

    “”They miss their families, some of them, and we like to give them a little taste of home and a little extra incentive,”” said Nicole Stoops, Mike’s wife. “”It feels like a long week to these guys.””

    Wednesday represents Arizona’s most important practice day, as the team goes through its most arduous round of repetitions before scaling back physically and mentally in the last two days leading up to home or road games.

    The scene described above occurred at a crucial time for the Wildcats, who had lost three straight Pacific 10 Conference games after an encouraging 2-1 start to the season and were readying to face a winless Cardinal team against whom a defeat would realistically end the team’s fading postseason hopes.

    Players said the positive environment after Wednesday practices – complete with wives laughing and chatting with one another and coaches’ kids giggling as they marvel at the behemoths before them – take the edge off otherwise stressful circumstances.

    “”It’s like they actually care about us,”” said defensive tackle Lionel Dotson. “”Having coaches and the family that care about us, it makes you want to go out and give it your all, 100 percent, and win, so we can win as a team.””

    Stoops brought the Wednesday ritual with him from his previous coaching stop at Oklahoma, where he served as an associate head coach and defensive coordinator until 2003 under his older brother, Bob Stoops.

    For the coaches, he said, the weekly routine gives them another opportunity to see their children, a rarity given work weeks that turn offices into homesteads from August to late November and sometimes beyond.

    “”We don’t get to see them as much, obviously, during the season, and family’s very important,”” he said. “”That’s the message always with our (players). To see us interact with our own kids and get our (players) involved with our families is very important.””

    It’s fun for the kids, too.

    Payton Stoops, AGE, one of Mike’s two young children, said one of the best parts about going to Wednesday practices are chatting and playing with her favorite players on the team: quarterback Willie Tuitama and cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Wilrey Fontenot, among many others.

    And, she added, “”I get to see my dad and watch him coach.””

    Sitting on a cart used to transport injured athletes, defensive line coach Mike Tuiasosopo named a number of benefits both he and the Wildcats have derived from coaches being able to welcome their wives and children to the practice field.

    “”The nice thing about working with coach Stoops is that he gives you a little opportunity to spend time with your family in the mornings,”” said Tuiasosopo, whose wife, Kathy, and three offspring are staples at Jimenez. “”We start a little bit later than most people I’ve worked for (about 8 a.m.). My favorite part of the day is bringing my son to school. I get to do that in the morning.””

    As he said this, Stoops’ son, Colton, ran up to the cart.

    “”What’s going on there, Colt?”” Tuiasosopo said. “”Give me a high-five there. Give me some knuckles. Some knuckles, buddy.””

    Tuiasosopo looked on as Colt, satisfied with his fist pound, ran back to his father.

    “”Any opportunity I get to be around my family, and have my family around us and our players, is priceless,”” Tuiasosopo said.

    The close environment Stoops has cultivated between players, coaches and their immediate families has also helped Arizona attract national top-20 recruiting classes in each of his first two seasons.

    One player from Stoops’ most recent haul, Long Beach, Calif., is defensive lineman Conan Amituanai, a nephew of Tuiasosopo who was sought after by Pacific 10 Conference schools California, Oregon and Washington, in addition to the Wildcats.

    “”He always told me all along that being around this family type of atmosphere, where your teammates care about each other (and are) about the same goals and things like that are very, very important to him,”” Tuiasosopo said. “”There’s no question.””

    Tight end Brandyn McCall, a native of Hawaii who joined the team for the spring 2005 semester, has been one of a number of players whose stay in Tucson has forced him to find extended family on and off the field.

    Although his father, mother and brother have arranged to each attend an Arizona home game this season, he, like many out-of-state team members, usually sees them only twice a year, during summer and winter breaks.

    In the meantime, he’s been happy to snack on some macadamia cookies every Wednesday evening – before dinner, that is.

    And he’s forged a few new familiar bonds in the process, particularly with co-offensive coordinator and tight end coach Dana Dimel and strength and conditioning coach Corey Edmond.

    “”Coach Dim is kind of like my dad now, because if I have a problem in school or anything, I go to him, or I go to one of the coaches (like) coach Ed,”” McCall said. “”It’s definitely more of a family environment when I don’t have that here. It’s nice.””

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