Greg Byrne's Wildcat Wednesday
All Eyes on Tuitama
By: Arizona Athletics
Release: October 01, 2006
Photo Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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By Kelli Park

Arizona Athletics Media Relations


While quarterback Willie Tuitama only has a total of nine full collegiate games under his belt and less than one year of experience, it is certain that the 19-year-old true sophomore has made quite an impact on Arizona football in only a short amount of time.


After stepping out of a planned redshirt late in the 2005 season and making his off-the-bench debut against Oregon, Tuitama quickly reached all-star status on campus, completing 18 of 34 throws for two scores, thus becoming the new starting quarterback for the Wildcats. 


From that moment, Tuitama changed the program’s outlook and finished the season with the sixth-best pass efficiency rating in school history, completing 58 percent (82-142) of his throws for nine scores and starting the last four games of the season.


That was a large amount of success in a short period of time.


“It (coming out of my redshirt and playing for the first time) was wild,” Tuitama said. “I remember when I first went into the game the whole crowd was cheering my name and it was so loud. I remember my first pass was horrible but after I was in there for a while I got confident and just did everything that I was coached to do.”


Tuitama admits that it was not an easy task coming into the game as late as he did, but he quickly adjusted to team and made his mark on the field.


“The hardest part about (taking over) was that I didn’t get a lot of reps, so I was kind of throwing off-target. It basically just took a lot more effort from me to go in and meet with Coach Canales; we’d even meet late nights. Doing that almost every day helped me a lot (in getting comfortable playing.)”


However, Tuitama is no stranger to making large changes, as the Stockton, Calif. native left the comforts of his small, Catholic high school of around 1,300 people for a large University of over 37,000 students.


“The transition was big from high school,” Tuitama said. “I came here and there were people all over the place, which was very different than what I was used to, so it was an adjustment. I was intimidated because I didn’t know what the other guys thought about me. But when I got here everyone was nice, so that made the transition easier.”


Today, Tuitama knows his role on the team, and his anxieties of being ?'the new guy’ are all in the past.


“Now, because I know that I am the starting quarterback and have the position, my nerves have sort of left. Coming up as a freshman and having to work my way up was a lot of pressure, but now that I know that I’m the guy, I have a high confidence that I know what I’m doing.”


However, along with his sudden glory, Tuitama is still learning how to deal with the added pressures of being in such a high-status role. As one of the most recognized faces in Arizona football, he continues to humbly progress himself and his team forward one day, one game and one play at a time.


“I’m having fun with (the attention),” he said. “I feel the same way I did when I first got here because if I ever got cocky my dad or Coach Canales would take care of that real quick. I was always brought up to not think about myself (concededly), so basically I’m the same old me. I enjoy the spotlight, but sometimes it gets kind of old, but it’s nice when we go to restaurants and people notice us and say, ?'hi’. It’s kind of nice when people know your name.”


As a former star student-athlete himself, head coach Mike Stoops understands what it means to be under pressure and step into the limelight in a way such as Tuitama has had to do.


“He’s learning how to deal with (the pressures),” Stoops said. “It’s something that all young quarterbacks have to learn to get used to. People always coming at him from different angles and wanting something, he has to learn how to deal with his time and still manage himself on and off the field. It’s a tough thing for a true sophomore, but he’ll get better as he goes on.”


Yet pressures of being the star quarterback don’t stop at the constant fan and media attention, as Tuitama finds himself dealing with the added pressures of being a young team leader as well.


“I was chosen as one of the team captains for this year, which is really cool because I’m only a sophomore and I only played a little bit last year,” Tuitama said. “For the guys to choose me as one of their leaders is really nice, but then again I have to take that role (seriously) and if I see guys not doing what they need to do, I have to get on them. Even though it’s not really my personality (to be like that), I still have to do it for the sake of the team.”


However, Coach Stoops has confidence in his quarterback and says he has what it takes to be a true leader for this team.


“He brings all those qualities that a quarterback would need to play, such as his competitive spirit his toughness,” Stoops said. “This especially showed in the LSU game when (he was hurt) and wouldn’t pull himself out. He really fought through it like a leader would do. Tui definitely possesses a lot of very strong qualities that you would want in your quarterback.”


While some college students have trouble handling their time and priorities, Tuitama has a large support system he relies on to keep him on the ball...literally.


“My family is definitely my support system,” he said. “I talk to my sister once or twice a week. She lives in Pasadena and plays volleyball at Cal-State Los Angeles, so she has been through a lot too. My parents are great. My mom is a travel agent so they come to almost every game.  It’s always nice to see them, and my dad will always call me during the week to see how I’m doing, so I know I can rely on them to be there for me at all times.”


Tuitama also has a support system away from home that he attributes to keeping him on task when his family cannot be there.


“Coach Canales helps me out a lot; he’s like my father away from home. He makes sure I’m doing all my school stuff and that I’m on top of my classes, basically just a lot of small things that he knows my parents would want me to do.”


While he is only five games into his sophomore year, Tuitama’s modest personality certainly does not show on the field, as he has some very immodest plans for his team and the future of U of A football.


“I want to take this team as far as we can every year. My main goal is to go to a national championship, but that’s probably everyone’s goal. I just have to work as hard as I can day in and day out to get to that point. Individually, I don’t really care as long as the team does well. As long as we get to where we want to be, I’m happy. I just want to do what I can to help.”


However, according to Coach Stoops, Tuitama has only scratched the surface of the player he is capable of becoming, and Arizona football fans can continue to expect great things from the young quarterback.


“I think Willie’s best football is in front of him,” Stoops said. “He needs to have a lot of in-game experiences as a quarterback because it is a very complicated position, but his talent is unlimited.”
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