It wouldn't be University of Arizona Athletics without a bit of nail-biting drama. An unusual offseason for the Wildcats had continued to unfold with several players announcing their intent to enter the transfer portal following the uncertainty surrounding the Pac-12 and its 2020 football season.
It felt like things could not get any worse for Arizona after the losses of Colin Schooler, Tony Fields II, Scottie Young Jr. and Kylan Wilborn — but it did. Or at least it seemed like that.
Offensive lineman Donovan Laie was the latest Wildcat to reconsider his college career in Tucson, posting to his social media on Sept. 29 that he was looking to transfer to a new school before the start of the fall season. Later on that day, he deleted the post and announced his decision the next day to remain with the program for the foreseeable future, causing his teammates and coaches to let out a sigh of relief. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone celebrated the news by “thrusting his arms into the air.”
“It was awesome,” Mazzone said of his top linemen returning. “Donovan (Laie) is such an awesome guy and an awesome player … for him to make the decision he made, which I believe 1000 percent that he made the right decision, and he believes that too. It was not only the best decision for him but for this football team because he’s not only a good player but a well-liked person on this football team.”
Laie started all 24 games in his two years with the Wildcats, almost all of them being at the left tackle position. That role on the offensive line is particularly important as it’s the one that protects the blindside of the quarterback. But for the Arizona Wildcats, Laie means a whole lot more.
“[Laie] is a great football player. He’s a great person,” fellow linemen Josh McCauley said. “He’s someone everyone wants around and wants to be around. … When he decided that he was going to stick around, it was great to hear. I love playing next to him, he’s a great football player so I was really happy to see that.”
Laie’s initial decision to transfer even sparked a few of his teammates to reach out and recruit him back to the team, including McCauley and sophomore quarterback Grant Gunnell.
“When he did announce that he was thinking about leaving, it really hurt,” McCauley said. “We’re building a family here and that was something we wanted him to be a part of and lead us through so we reached out because we wanted him here.”
Laie will continue to be a part of what might now appear to be a reliable offensive line this season. The Wildcats are returning almost all of their starters from last season and have even begun to see the improvement from the newcomers as well. McCauley noted the progression of sophomore Jordan Morgan and redshirt junior Paiton Fears have played a huge part in the confidence of this position group.
“We’re starting to build an o-line that is actually pretty deep and that’s really good to see,” McCauley said. “This is the most guys I’ve ever had at an o-line since I’ve been here. I think we’re up to, like, 18 guys or something so it’s really good. Everyone is getting a lot of good work and everyone is progressing.”
Follow Jacob Mennuti on Twitter