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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Tuitama beefed up for 2006

    Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama drops back to pass against ASU in last seasons finale on Nov. 25. Expectations have risen for the sophomore since that 23-20 loss, a game that Tuitama couldnt finish because of injury. Crowned as the Savior, Tuitama hopes tomorrows season opener turns out differently than last seasons ending.
    Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama drops back to pass against ASU in last season’s finale on Nov. 25. Expectations have risen for the sophomore since that 23-20 loss, a game that Tuitama couldn’t finish because of injury. Crowned as the ‘Savior,’ Tuitama hopes tomorrow’s season opener turns out differently than last season’s ending.

    The changes that take place for most college students between their freshman and sophomore years are staggering. Growing both physically and mentally, the students can sometimes become completely different people.

    And though Willie Tuitama isn’t like most college students – how many guys in your classes have been mentioned in the same breath as “”Heisman”” by ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit? – he became someone else entirely in the summer between his freshman and sophomore years. He became a quarterback who relies on more than instinct, a quarterback who gained the ability to read coverages and blitzes.

    “”I think being in the system, a lot of offseason studying in the film room and going through spring ball really hitting it hard, watching the film, spending the time … he’s understanding what it takes to play the position,”” said Tuitama’s position coach and offensive coordinator, Mike Canales.

    “”I believe our whole football team has matured since last year, including Willie,”” added one of Tuitama’s favorite targets, receiver Mike Thomas, “”and it’s probably more important for Willie, because he’s the quarterback running the show.””

    After all is said and done, what a development it could prove to be.

    Tuitama, who completed 57 percent of his passes last season, broke teammate Kris Heavner’s UA freshman record for touchdown passes with nine (Heavner had eight) while playing in only five games.

    Had he played all 11 games at the rate he’d been going, Tuitama also would hold the school freshman records for completions (projected at 180) and attempts (projected at 312), and would have had a chance to break Marc Reed’s 1966 school record for touchdown passes in a season, which stands at 20.

    “”Just watching him play and the reads that he makes, it’s just natural,”” tight end Brandyn McCall said. “”He just has ‘it.'””

    The scary thing is that last year, Tuitama wasn’t nearly as complete a player as he is now.

    “”He knows where to go with the ball more, he’s understanding the coverages, and the timing is down with the receivers,”” Thomas said. “”So it’s all been coming together.””

    And, perhaps most importantly of all, the whole playbook is now at the disposal of the Stockton, Calif., native.

    “”Right now, I know the whole thing,”” Tuitama said. “”Sometimes we add in little things here and there, depending on who we’re playing and all that, but otherwise I know the whole offense.””

    But No. 7’s development isn’t entirely mental.

    “”You can see he’s bigger … he’s got a lot more muscle on him,”” said Canales, who estimated that Tuitama added 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason.

    There’s also the different kind of weight that has landed squarely on the shoulders of Tuitama this season.

    “”Just being the No. 1 guy, being around the guys, there’s a lot of people looking up to me to come up big,”” he said. “”I just got to go out every day and do that.””

    He’ll be the first to tell you that Willie Tuitama the student is a different person from Willie Tuitama the quarterback – “”Off the field, I’m a little more mellow, I make people laugh and all that,”” he said, “”but on the field, it’s business, and we’ve got to get it done, so that’s what I’m out there to do”” – but there are times the student merges with the quarterback.

    “”He’s got a real Peyton Manning attitude in terms of classroom studying, getting in there and watching film and trying to critique himself,”” Canales said.

    Still, contrary to popular belief, Tuitama the student does find time to relax, playing the latest NCAA football video game.

    “”In my dynasty,”” Tuitama said, “”my guy left as a junior.””

    Is it a sign of things to come?

    “”You know,”” he responded with a laugh, “”he won the Heisman twice.””

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