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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Coaches taking notice of LB trio

Michael Ignatov
Michael Ignatov / Arizona Daily Wildcat University of Arizona meets Central Michigan University in an NCAA men’s football game in Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., Sept. 5, 2009.

No big names, no size and minimal starting experience; this season’s linebacker class could have been a disaster for Arizona football, a program that has produced NFL stars like Tedy Bruschi, Antonio Pierce and Lance Briggs.

But this group of linebackers has already shown that it has the potential to be one of the best units in school history.

“”I’m proud of all three of them getting off to a good start,”” said linebacker coach Tim Kish. “”They’re hard workers, and we raise the bar pretty high for those guys and we’re hoping that we just get that continued improvement each week.””

Out of the trio of seniors — Xavier Kelley, Sterling Lewis and Vuna Tuihalamaka — only Tuihalamaka stands taller than 6 feet, but all three use their above-average speed to make up for what they lack of size.

“”The one thing they can do is they can run things down,”” Kish said. “”You’ve got to learn how to play fast. It isn’t just your 40-yard speed and that type of thing, you’ve got to know how to play fast and that’s just by understanding what’s going on in front of you and being able to react. All three of them passed the test the first game.””

The starters displayed their speed against Central Michigan on Saturday, when they combined for 15 tackles and put relentless pressure on CMU quarterback Dan LeFevour.

Tuihalamaka led the Wildcats with 10 tackles and an interception, but it was his leadership that set him apart from the rest of the group.

“”I think Vuna has a passion for the game and he has an excitement and will to play the game,”” Kelley said. “” … He knows what he’s doing. He helped out a lot in the spring and now he’s starting full-time now, so that’s good for him.””

Tuihalamaka has the same natural intensity and long, flowing hair of recently graduated USC superstar Rey Maualuga, but he is nowhere near the media darling that the now-Cincinnati Bengal once was.

He couldn’t care less, though, because the only thing that matters to him is getting better.

“”I think (my performance against CMU) was subpar; I think I could have done a lot better.”” Tuihalamaka said. “”(I could’ve) made more tackles, we watched film (on Monday) and, just technique-wise, I think I could have done better and it would have led me to more tackles.””

Tuihalamaka is the consummate team player, shying away from talking about his personal success and opting to praise the team as a whole.

“”We’ve got to give big credit to our coaching staff. They prepared us for a long time,”” Tuihalamaka said. “”The D-line was wrecking shop the whole night so it freed up me, Xavier and Sterling and (nickelback Corey Hall) and it gave the (defensive backs) a shorter time to cover, which helped them a lot. All around, I think everybody did their job.””

The trio may not have a future NFL star among them, and Tuihalamaka, Lewis and Kelly might not be the household names that past UA linebacking corps may have been, but as a whole, they are becoming known across the Pacific 10 Conference.

And they’d rather be one great unit than three good individuals.

“”There’s a little harmony and chemistry amongst the three of them right now which is pretty cool,”” Kish said. “”They all really have good instincts, so them being able to diagnose and react just helps everybody be more efficient.””

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