Accountable ‘Cats: Arizona football focuses on improved leadership in 2019
UA football head coach, Kevin Sumlin drives towards the locker room in his golfcart.
The Arizona Wildcats football team hit the gridiron last week, with the beginning of spring practice underway. The start of a new season is welcome considering last fall ended with a 5-7 record and missing out on a bowl game in the first season under head coach Kevin Sumlin.
It wasn’t easy for the first-year head coach, previously in the SEC at Texas A&M, to implement his system in the Pac-12, and Sumlin admitted as much.
“Last year was a learning process, for the majority of the guys and both sides — to get to know them and for them [players] to get to know us,” Sumlin said.
This spring practice has a different feel for players and coaches, each with a better understanding of what is expected from both sides ,and focusing on building and improving what went wrong in 2018.
One of the biggest emphases for Arizona during spring practice has been understanding the value of leadership.
“The key for this football team is leadership and consistency. We just need leaders on this team,” defensive coordinator Marcel Yates said. “When you think about our road games, we lost four road games, and three of them weren’t even close. Your leadership, you need those guys to step up, help you out and get you going on the road.”
The Wildcats finished last season 1-4 away from Arizona Stadium. Compare that to the home record of 4-2, and it is a pretty big discrepancy in the realm of college football.
Players seem to agree, as junior linebacker Colin Schooler pointed out the struggles.
“It wasn’t characteristic of us to go out and play like that [on the road], and that falls on the leaders. We have a leaders council voted by players, and those players think you’re a leader on the team, and it’s a part of the leaders council to step up and be leaders,” Schooler said.
Although he viewed himself as a lead-by-example type of player in his first two years, Schooler said he’s focused on being more vocal this season, stating he feels “part to blame” for how things went last year.
Schooler, who accounted for 119 tackles a season ago, said holding other players more accountable when the situation dictates it can go a long way toward turning the losses into wins.
Arizona tight end Bryce Wolma echoed his teammate’s thoughts and said doing so would help keep everyone focused.
“We need a lot more vocal leaders on this team to hold people accountable, because sometimes when guys are getting yelled at, they yell back and get sensitive too,” Wolma said. “But if we hold each other accountable, it’s going to end up winning us games, and that’s what we need to do.”
Arizona is counting on a lot of upperclassmen to expand their roles, starting on the defensive side of the ball where coordinator Yates is expecting Scottie Young Jr. and Jace Whittaker to step up with the departure of Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, who was a four-year player and started 36 games.
“You have Scottie Young; this is Scottie Young’s first spring, and this is his first time going through spring ball since he’s been here. Jace Whittaker is a person that we missed last season, he was probably the leader of the defense out of everybody. He probably had the most starts out of anybody, so losing him hurt us as a unit,” Yates said.
Offensively, wide receiver Cedric Peterson and quarterback Khalil Tate are heading into their senior campaign, where more responsibility will be on their shoulders.
“After that ASU game, it’s now or never. I need to step up and be that leader in the receiver room,” Peterson said. “[Tate] has progressed a lot, even last year I thought he stepped up to the plate, and he just keeps getting better from there.”
Whether or not these players will live up to the calling remains to be seen, but finding players who can bring a positive influence to the team can help right the ship.
Follow Chris Vizcarra on Twitter