By Matt Park, UA Communication Services
At the age of seven, senior offensive guard Chris Putton immigrated to Arizona from Germany. For anyone around that age, adapting to a new environment can be difficult, as it was for Putton.
“I came to Arizona from Germany in the summer before my eighth birthday,” Putton recalled. “I didn’t really speak English. I knew a few words but that was about it.”
Seeking a way to grasp the language, Putton found sports as a bridge to blend into American culture.
“In order to help me,” Putton said, “my mom thought the best way to pick up a language was by playing sports. She signed me up for flag football when I was eight, then I played basketball, baseball and went to pop warner when I was 12.”
Now 22 and with a full-grown beard, Putton has come a long way since his early days of flag and Pop Warner football.
Saturday’s game against Washington State marks Putton’s 28th start on the Arizona offensive line, and it will be the third season where Putton will have at least started nine or more games. In those three seasons, Arizona’s offense has compiled a total of 16,553 yards, ranking them among the best in the nation and second in the Pac-12.
There are only two other current players that have started as many games on offense as Putton – junior left tackle Fabbians Ebbele and junior right tackle Mickey Baucus. Together, these three players have been key figures to Arizona’s offensive success in recent years.
Picking up blitzes and opening running lanes weren’t the only responsibilities that Putton faced. In his time at Arizona, Putton has experienced three coaching changes for his position. From Bill Bedenbaugh in 2009 to Robert Anae in 2010 to current offensive line coach Jim Michalczik, along with a complete offensive makeover in 2012. Putton’s consistent playing time reflects his willingness to welcome new opportunities and take advantage of the resources provided.
“You have to go with the flow,” Putton said. “Whatever that coach needs you to do, you have to do it because you also need to help him since he’s transitioning, too. I’ve had three offensive line coaches since I have been here, and all of them have been unbelievable.”
As a result of his positive outlook, Putton has become one of the key offensive leaders on the team, and following the footsteps of his previous mentors, Putton has stepped up to the pressure.
“The offensive line as a whole is just a close group of guys,” Putton said. “We do a good job helping the new players learn what they need to do, and by teaching them, it helps us remember what we were going through at that time. When I was a freshman, one of the offensive linemen that stuck out to me was Colin Baxter. I looked up to him, and since he left, I tried to take that role on the offensive line.”
In addition to the coaching changes and integrating new players, Putton has also protected for three different quarterbacks in the past three seasons. In 2011, Putton helped quarterback Nick Foles to pass for 4,334 yards and 28 touchdowns, and in 2012, quarterback Matt Scott threw for 3,620 yards while rushing for 632. This season, quarterback B.J. Denker is on pace to throw over 2,000 yards and rush over 900, as well.
“I definitely take it to the heart when our quarterback gets hit,” Putton explained. “We take pride in blocking our man so he never reaches the quarterback. I think it’s the same with a lot of quarterbacks, in that when you get sacked, you’re going to remember it. In the next play, it’s going to be hard making reads because you’re focused on not getting hit.”
Arizona’s offensive line has allowed 12 sacks this season, which is third-lowest in the Pac-12. And the passing statistics only paint half the picture.
Arizona’s rushing attack during head coach Rich Rodriguez’s tenure is staggering. Following the 2012 season where running back Ka’Deem Carey led the nation in rushing yards, he sees himself back in the ranks with the best backs in the country and is inching closer to become Arizona’s all-time rushing leader and all-time touchdown scorer. Putton, Baucus and Ebbele have been leading the way for Carey since day one of his Arizona career.
While the spotlight for an offensive lineman is rare, Putton doesn’t mind the lack of attention for his position because he sees it in a perspective that is only fitting for an offensive lineman.
“When you’re younger, you always want to score touchdowns,” Putton said. “You want to be the guy that gets the big interception or scores the game-winning touchdown but once you’re on the line, it’s probably not going to happen 99 percent of the time. I believe that without the offensive line, the other players aren’t going to get that glory. When I see them get that glory, it means we did our job and that’s our glory, as well.”
Whether it’s seeing things through the eyes of a new coach, freshmen, the quarterback or the running back, Putton possesses the trait essential for a good offensive lineman, the ability to be selfless for the greater good of your team. As the common phrase goes, everything starts on the offensive line, meaning the execution of a play heavily depends on Putton and his fellow linemen.
His selfless approach for his teammates can be found in other areas of his life, and one is his relationship with his father.
“My dad and his side of the family still live in Germany,” Putton said. “I don’t get to see him a lot. He doesn’t really speak any English, and since German was my first language, I didn’t want to lose it because of not being able to speak to him and but also for myself. After a while, if you don’t speak a language, it goes away really fast. When I was younger, I felt myself losing the language, so when I came to college, I thought about what I wanted to minor in and figured why not stick German and keep it up.”
Like how football opened doors for Putton when he was young, he is doing the same on the line and off the field. His unselfish personality speaks through his desire for his team to win, even if that means moving over to play tackle or center. So, the next time that the Wildcats score a touchdown, look for Chris Putton jogging towards the end zone and looking to lift the scorer because to him, when Arizona scores, No. 62 scores, too.