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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

“Linebackers grow on, off field”

The University of Arizona football team takes part in morning practice Monday, Aug. 9, 2010, at the Rincon VIsta Sports Complex in Tucson, Ariz. The Wildcats will look to reach a bowl game for the third season in a row with quarterback Nick Foles at the helm.
(Photograph by Mike Christy)
Mike Christy
The University of Arizona football team takes part in morning practice Monday, Aug. 9, 2010, at the Rincon VIsta Sports Complex in Tucson, Ariz. The Wildcats will look to reach a bowl game for the third season in a row with quarterback Nick Foles at the helm. (Photograph by Mike Christy)

Junior college transfers Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo both came to Arizona with few relationships formed and zero experience as Division I linebackers.

But after five weeks of training camp, experience from practices and a blowout win, Earls and Vassallo have found stability in each other.

“”It’s always nice to know someone else is going through what you’re going through,”” said Vassallo, a junior transfer from Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif.

The pair of linebackers, roommates and now close friends are embarking on a remarkably similar journey.

“”It was weird, the first time we met was the first day I moved in,”” Vassallo said. “”So it’s like we were just thrown into the situation and it turns out we were a lot alike so it’s been a good situation.””

Both Earls and Vassallo leaned on each other during training camp and leading up to the Toledo game — a contest in which both shined, Vassallo with 10 tackles and Earls snaring an athletic one-handed interception.

After waiting in the balance for two seasons, the duo has finally made it to Division I football and has its sights set on relishing the opportunity.

“”We always say to go out and show what we can do and just have fun and do our job and it’s our time to shine and show them what we can do and why we came here,”” Earls said.

Before the Toledo game. Earls  had never played in a game with more than 1,000 fans before his transfer from North Dakota State College, .

The attendance for the Toledo game was 25,907.

“”I mean, North Dakota, not a lot of people out there,”” Earls said. “”Kind of a small town. Every once in a while we’d break maybe 500 or so.””

In a town with a population of less than 60,000 people in Rocklin, Vassallo experienced a somewhat similar atmosphere. The Reno, Nev., native walked on at Nevada before transferring to Sierra College, but still never played in front of a crowd with more than “”two or three thousand.””

Both Earls and Vassallo spoke of the tremendous atmosphere of Toledo’s Glass Bowl as it featured about 25 times as many fans as the transfers are accustomed to. But Arizona Stadium is an entirely different monster, and the sight of nearly 60,000 screaming fans the duo will see Saturday night at 7 against The Citadel is a far cry from the small-town feel of JUCO football.

“”I heard they get pretty crazy and pretty nuts so I’ll probably be a little nervous going into the first home game,”” Earls said. “”They get pretty rowdy which will help us get more excited, more pumped up to play for them.””

For most players in their situation, the bright lights of the first Wildcat home game could be rattling. But Earls and Vassallo have the comfort of taking on the challenge together, not just as fellow starting linebackers, but also as roommates and friends.

“”Our assignments are a little bit different but at the end of the day I have someone who I can just go knock on his door if I have a question about something and he can do the same thing,”” Vassallo said.

“”When we leave McKale, the night’s not over,”” he added. “”We can sit down and talk about it ourselves or go over everything. It’s good to have him there.””

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