5 takeways from media availability with defensive line coach Iona Uiagalelei

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Heather Newberry | The Daily Wildcat Arizona's Kylan Wilborn (14) and Dereck Boles (99) walk off the field during the UA-Oregon State game on Nov. 11 at Arizona Stadium.

Conditioning is a top priority

Arizona defensive line coach Iona Uiagalelei has been responsible for about 15 players throughout spring practices thus far. While defensive coordinator Marcel Yates specializes teaching the studs technique and pass drops, Uiagalelei focuses on working with the ends and tackles.

What is Uiagalelei’s primary objective? Preparing his group for the up-tempo offenses that have taken the Pac-12 by storm. And, there’s only one way to do so — by flying to the football. 

Uiagalelei described his coaching style as, “aggressive, 100 percent full-go."

It is evident that the junior college ranks instilled a certain demeanor into Uiagalelei, one, which he believes, has already carried over to Wildcat country. 

Before spring practices had even started, Uiagalelei’s players had done their research on their new position coach. They knew what was on the horizon in terms of conditioning and working hard. 

Talking about his group’s overall mindset Uiagalelei said, “We set the tone. We’ve got to be the motor out there, the hardest working unit on every down. We have to set an example for this team.” 

The Polynesian pipeline will be resurrected

Uiagalelei has ties in Utah, Washington, Samoa, Tonga, Alaska and Hawaii, and plans to utilize each one to revitalize the Wildcats Polynesian connection. 

During his 17-year coaching stint at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California, Uiagalelei developed relationships with dozens of players, coaches, and prospective recruits. Now it’s a matter of getting out on the road and restoring Arizona’s name in terms of its affection for Polynesian players. 

“I get it. They want that pipeline to get going again. I told them that’s what I know how to do. That’s what I did at Mt. Sac, and plan to do at Arizona,” Uiagalelei said. 

When asked whether he’s had the chance to meet former Arizona head coach Dick Tomey yet, Uiagalelei responded, “Who doesn’t know Tomey; that’s a legend right there.” 

Helping hands will play a large role in elevating the Wildcats

Uiagalelei knows better than anyone the constant grind that players face at the junior college level. 

In fact, the biggest difference that Uiagalelei has taken note of since his arrival at Arizona is all of the extra support. 

From top-notch strength coaches, to a structured meal table provided twice per day to the numerous people organizing and cleaning up practice equipment, Uiagalelei believes that this is where the real advantage lays. 

“That’s one thing I’m not used to. Coming from a junior college I do everything myself. I’m a coach. I’m a realtor, helping my players find somewhere to stay. I’m a counselor, and sometimes I’m even a PO," Uiagalelei said.

Uaigalelei also mentioned how great it is to have ex-Wildcat Tevin Hood serving as his graduate assistant.

“Talk about a guy who is amped and has a lot of juice out there, he’s always flying around. Sometimes I wish I could just get a pint of what he’s got," he said. 

Now, Uaigalelei can put all of his focus on coaching the defensive lineman — he doesn’t have to worry about picking up the tackling dummies after practice anymore.     

His players are his family

Uiagalelei has five children of his own, from 2 years old all the way to 21 years old. However, if you include the dozens of kids who enjoyed dinner at coach’s house midseason while at Mt. Sac, then his family would be exceptionally bigger.  

“A lot of the defensive linemen I coached were out of state kids. They’re not used to a home-cooked meal, they’re stuck with top ramen," Uiagalelei said.

So, Uaigalelei did what he felt was right – invite his guys over for dinner every Thursday night. Eventually it became a ritual. 

“It started off as a just a couple players who were actually related to me. They came over, and next thing I know they’re bringing everyone else over,” said Uaigalelei. Before he knew it he was cooking chicken for the entire team. 

So expect a welcoming dinner at Coach Uiagalelei’s house at some point this offseason; he’s an expert on boiling, broiling and frying chicken. 

It’s a competition everyday

Coach Uiagalelei mentioned several returning starters as players who have stood out through a little more than two weeks of spring practice. 

“Obviously the guy that everybody was talking about when I got here was Dereck Boles. He’s progressing, definitely out there getting better,” said Uiagalelei. 

Redshirt junior defensive end Justin Belknap was another veteran with plenty of game-time experience who continues to push himself each practice. 

It will be interesting to see how certain players perform in year two of their college careers. Redshirt freshman My-King Johnson and Jalen Harris are both working on bulking up, and familiarizing themselves with the defense. 

Other players like junior college transfer PJ Johnson are already making an impact during the live portions of practice.

“We’re young, but we’re talented; we’ve got plenty of speed,” said Uiagalelei. 

He made a point of saying, “My guys know just because you start with the first group one day doesn’t mean you’re going to be there the next day. They’ve got to watch film, go over everything, most importantly they’ve got to compete.”  


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