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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Learning how to win…as a team

    Ryan Caseyassistant sports editor
    Ryan Casey
    assistant sports editor

    It’s not so much a secret around these parts anymore. In just three short years at the helm of Wildcats football, Mike Stoops has caused expectations around the Arizona football program to go through the roof.

    Gone are the days of three straight losses by more than 30 points and players lining up in university presidents’ offices to complain about coaches. In other words, gone are the antics seen under former head coach John Mackovic, because once Stoops stepped foot on campus on Nov. 29, 2003 – nearly two months to the day after Mackovic was fired – things changed.

    Kris Heavner, who started at quarterback for Mackovic as a freshman in 2003, paused for a second as he reflected on that season.

    “”Things are a lot more disciplined,”” he said finally. “”Guys are more responsible for their actions, and there’s more maturity.””

    Added redshirt senior quarterback Adam Austin, who endured two years under Mackovic: “”We put so much time into it now, and once you put time into something, nobody wants to let it go. It becomes personal, and everybody feels that this season is going to be personal for everybody.””

    But the biggest difference?

    “”Oh man,”” Austin said. “”My freshman year, I really didn’t know what was going on. I thought the way the organization was, I felt like everybody was every man for themselves.””

    “”I thought, ‘OK, this is college football? Everybody’s an individual,'”” he said later. “”So I was just like, ‘OK.’ You know, you just went with it.

    “”You really couldn’t yell at people, because

    There were so many things that we needed to change about ourselves … (and) each year it gets a little bit better.-Mike Stoops,
    head coach

    they would get on you, because they didn’t really care, all they really cared about were themselves.””

    It’s a sentiment echoed by Heavner.

    “”Individually, guys just wanted to succeed for themselves,”” he said. “”Whereas now, the team that we have, you have to work together as a unit for the whole offense or the whole defense to work.

    “”We understand that now for a certain play to work, the lineman has to do a job as well as the receiver,”” Heavner continued. “”You can’t be an individual, you have to put your (personal) expectations aside for the team, and then when the team succeeds, that’s when all the accolades come.””

    Said redshirt senior kicker Nick Folk, who was around for the final two seasons of the Mackovic era: “”Guys were focused on themselves, not on the whole team. … Now, it’s a lot different, and a lot better.””

    Stoops mentioned a simple reason behind the change: “”You can’t win until you become a team.””

    “”When you lose, unfortunately, everything becomes very individual, the people worry about themselves, and not the team,”” he said later, “”and that’s something that you have to overcome, and it takes time in developing, and a lot of hard work.

    “”There were so many things that we needed to change about ourselves … (and) each year it gets a little bit better,”” Stoops added. “”The kids understand that they are a much closer team, and that’s the biggest thing. We have to be together, or you can’t win in this game.””

    Winning. It’s a word that wasn’t commonly associated with Arizona football during the Mackovic years. But it’s a word that Stoops has drilled into his players’ heads.

    “”When he came in, right away, he was talking about ‘championship,’ ‘championship, ‘ ‘We can win a championship,'”” Heavner said. “”And before that, we didn’t really have that.””

    “”He told us when I got here, (Stoops) said, ‘You know what? We have a chance to win every game,'”” said linebacker Spencer Larsen, who played under Mackovic in 2002 before leaving on a two-year Mormon mission. “”If you look at last year, we had a chance to win basically every game. That’s really the expectation.””

    To give his team a chance to meet that expectation, Stoops did one of many things.

    “”He brought in the coaches we needed to turn the program around,”” Austin said, “”and the attitude where if you don’t jump on the boat, then you’re off. ‘You’re either on or you’re off,’ that’s what he always says.””

    Added Larsen: “”Coach Stoops brings intensity that’s really – you can’t match it anywhere else. He expects perfection, and he … expects to win.””

    But how much difference can one coach really make?

    Said Austin, simply: “”A whole lot.””

    “”He’s going to put you through some things that you never thought you could do,”” Austin said. “”He makes you push through adversity every day. It just helps you grow stronger as a person and as a team, everybody becomes closer, so it really helps out a lot.

    “”When Stoops came,”” he added, continuing his earlier thought about his perceived experience of college football, “”that’s when I was like, ‘Yeah, this is what it’s supposed to be like.'””

    With all the passion he brings, “”It’s really hard not to be motivated”” under Stoops, Larsen said.

    “”If you come out here not motivated, you’re not going to perform to his expectations, and then you’re going to hear about it,”” he added.

    “”If he brings his game every day, we have to bring ours, or it just doesn’t work.””

    In other words, like parts to a machine, everyone has to be in gear. This machine is known as Arizona football, and you can bet 15 of your old “”Fire Mackovic”” T-shirts that Stoops will be sure everything’s well-oiled come Sept. 2.


    Ryan Casey is a journalism senior. He can be reached at sports.wildcat.arizona.edu

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