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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Football ends spring practice

    Michael Ignatov / Arizona Daily Wildcat
    Michael Ignatov
    Michael Ignatov / Arizona Daily Wildcat

    The first spring football as defending bowl victors in over a decade is finally complete and much to the coaches’ delight, it went off without a hitch.

    “”It’s been kind of mellow,”” head coach Mike Stoops joked after the final practice on Wednesday. “”I think that continues to show the maturity of our team. We had a very productive spring and we have a pretty good idea of where we’re at.””

    As is the case with every spring session, inexperienced players had their chances to show the coaches that they deserve to be on the field, and this particular installment was especially critical considering the talent that must be replaced.

    One player who has stepped up in a big way is middle linebacker Vuna Tuihalamaka. Defensive leader Ronnie Palmer left some pretty big shoes fill after using up his eligibility after last season, but Tuihalamaka, with his exuberant love for the game, is ready for the challenge.

    “”I want to keep playing,”” the junior said when asked if he’s happy that spring ball is over. “”I wanted to go in more.””

    That enthusiasm will go a long way in guiding the defense the way Palmer did during his tenure as middle linebacker and fortunately for Tuihalamaka, he won’t have to worry much about the men to his right and left.

    “”This group is ready for the challenge,”” Stoops said. “”I think those three (linebackers) can be as good as a lot of people in this country.””

    It’s interesting to think that, after a year that saw such gaudy numbers offensively, the defense is what seems to be carrying the team at this point.

    Key questions on the offensive side of the ball still remain to be answered, but the coaches are pleased with the effort they’ve seen from the men competing.

    Of the positions that are still looking for starters, the offensive linemen turned in a gritty camp, leaving Stoops confident with his men up front.

    “”I like what they’re doing,”” Stoops said of his linemen. “”We’re going to have options as we go forward, but I think we have some offensive linemen that have a chance to be really good players.””

    One of the leaders of the line will be the versatile Colin Baxter, who echoed Stoops’ sentiments about his fellow linemen.

    “”It went pretty well,”” Baxter said of the spring practices. “”For the most part we got better every day.””

    “”We have to come out and crack a couple skulls,”” Baxter joked, when asked about his leadership role as one of the line’s elder statesmen, “”just make sure guys are working hard and getting better.””

    Baxter’s lighthearted intensity shows a theme carried throughout the spring season that has been absent from the Tucson gridiron over the years – the theme of winning.

    Rather than rest on the laurels of a bowl victory and a successful spring campaign, the Wildcats know that this is just another small step forward.

    “”The most critical time of any program is the summer,”” Stoops said. “”You’re bonding with the team, working out, and getting in a position to be bigger, stronger, and faster. We have a lot of work to do, but I think we have a team that can match up with most people.””

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