Greg Byrne's Wildcat Wednesday
Football Set To Kick 2004 Off Against NAU
By: Arizona Athletics
Release: August 30, 2004
Photo Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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Arizona On The Air

Radio: Wildcat Sports Properties/Host Communications (Flagship - KCUB, 1290 AM, Tucson, Ariz.) ?- Brian Jeffries (Play-By-Play), Lamont Lovett (Color), Sean Mooney (Sidelines), Ryan Radtke (pregame/halftime/postgame)?- Spanish Language Broadcast (XENY 760 AM in Nogales/KXEW 1600 AM in Tucson) ?- Francisco Romero (Play-By-Play)

Television: FSN AZ ?- Dave Sitton (Play-By-Play), Larry Smith (Color)

We Like Mike

For the third time in the last five years, the Wildcats will be taking the field on opening day under a different head coach. Mike Stoops was tabbed by athletic director Jim Livengood to the be the 28th head football coach in school history last November, taking over for the departed John Mackovic and interim head coach Mike Hankwitz. Since Stoops’ arrival last autumn, he has helped revitalize the players’ attitude toward the game and reinforced his dedication to winning, and winning now. The positive feeling originating with his hire has electrified the Tucson community and Southern Arizona, with new orders for season ticket sales surpassing the 4,000 mark prior to fall camp even opening.

Stoops’ Bio In Brief

Nov. 2003-Present Arizona Head Coach

1999-Nov. 2003 Oklahoma Assistant Head Coach/Def. Coordinator/DB

1998 Kansas State Assistant Head Coach/Def. Coordinator/DB

1996-97 Kansas State Co-Defensive Coordinator/DB

1992-95 Kansas State Defensive Ends

1988-91 Iowa Volunteer Assistant Linebackers/DB

1986-87 Iowa Graduate Assistant

1981-84 Iowa Player (1983 and ?'84 All-Big Ten DB)

Arizona Under First Year Head Coaches

The Wildcats’ 27 previous head coaches have enjoyed a fair share of highs and lows during the first season of their tenure at UA. The men who preceeded Stoops went a combined 100-102-8 in their first seasons and own a 15-10-2 record in the first game they coached. College Football Hall of Fame member Jim Young is the last UA head coach to post a winning season in his first year, going 8-3 in 1973, however, Dick Tomey, UA’s all-time coaching wins leader, broke even at 4-4-3 in his first year in 1987. Of Arizona’s last five head coaches (Tony Mason 1977, Larry Smith 1980, Dick Tomey 1987, John Mackovic 2001 and Mike Hankwitz 2003), only Mackovic won his first game.

Some Game Themes

The long-awaited culmination of nine months of anticipation for UA patrons, as Mike Stoops puts his first team on the field as a head coach... Curiousity about what the Cats will look like touch every aspect of play, as the program features 10 new coaches for the first time in more than three decades... The first demonstration of what is expected to be a rebirth of Arizona’s defense, after three seasons of emphasis on the other side of the ball... Will Arizona be a tougher team than the units that struggled to an 11-24 record in the past three years?... UA faces the first of a eight consecutive games against teams that played in the 2003 postseason... NAU, off a second-round I-AA playoff season, tries to beat the Cats for the first time since 1932, when the smaller school prevailed, 7-6, in a game played in Phoenix... The Cats work to break a three-game losing streak against non-conference opponents...

Getting off on the Right Foot

Despite Arizona’s recent struggles, the Wildcats have been very good in season openers. Arizona is 72-23-5 (.745) all-time on opening day dating back to 1899 and will enter the 2004 season with a four-game winning streak in the first contest of a year. Arizona has downed Utah (2000), San Diego State (2001), 2004 opening day opponent Northern Arizona (2002) and UTEP (2003) during the recent streak. The Wildcats last lost their first contest of the season on Aug. 28, 1999, when UA was defeated by Penn State 41-7 in State College. The school record for consecutive opening day wins is six straight, set four different times, most recently from 1971-1976. The 1899-1912 teams did not lose a season opening game for 12 straight years, but played to a tie twice during the stretch to break up winning streaks.

Home Openers

For the third straight season, Arizona’s opening game is also its home opener. The Wildcats are 15-1 in home openers over the last 16 seasons, with the lone loss coming from Ohio State in 2000 (27-17).

The Cats and Jacks - The Series

Arizona and its northern neighbor NAU will meet up for the eighth time since 1931 ... The Wildcats own a 6-1 advantage in the series and have won the last five straight ... This year’s game will be just the second contest between the two in the last 56 years, but it is also the second game pitting the in-state schools against each other in the last three seasons ... Arizona defeated NAU 37-3 in the opening game of the 2002 season ... Arizona is a perfect 5-0 against the Lumberjacks in Arizona Stadium, 1-0 against NAU in Flagstaff and 0-1 in Phoenix.

Noting the Lumberjacks

Picked to finish third in the Big Sky Conference in 2004, the Lumberjacks are coming off a historic season that saw them go 9-4 overall and reach the NCAA I-AA quarterfinals for the first time in school history ... NAU shared the Big West Conference title with Montana in 2003, posting a 5-2 league mark ... Jerome Souers is in his seventh season as the head coach of the Lumberjacks. His seven-year run is the third longest in school history behind former Arizona assistant coach Steve Axman (8 years in Flagstaff) and all-time leader Max Spilsbury (9 years) ... Souers has a career 36-34 record at NAU, the third most for any head coach in school history ... NAU returns 10 starters (3 on offense, 6 on defense, 1 specialist) and 36 letterwinners from last year ... Highlighting the returning starters on offense is the 2003 Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year, QB Jason Murrietta ... A sophomore, Murrietta set a NCAA D-I AA record for touchdown passes by a freshman last season with 29, while also nabbing NAU single season records with 3,472 passing yards and 3,460 yards of total offense ... Joining him in the backfield is last season’s leading rusher senior Roger Robinson ... As a junior last year, Robinson rushed for 1,108 yards and eight TDs en route to earning All-Big Sky honors ... On defense, leading tackler Jeremy Thornburg returns to his starting safety spot after tallying 92 stops in 2003 ... Joining Thornburg on defense will be a solid group of linebackers led by 2003 All-Big Sky selections Bruce Branch and Ian Gunderman and a defensive line that returns just one starter from last season, John Perrigo.

Tucson Ties

Northern Arizona quarterback Keoni Akina is no stranger to Tucson or Arizona Stadium for that matter. His father, Duane, was an assistant coach at Arizona under Dick Tomey for 14 years ... The Lumberjacks also have a pair of players that call Tucson home. Senior offensive lineman Cisco Peralta is a graduate of Sunnyside High School and Pima Community College and junior running back Philo Sanchez is a fellow Blue Devil alum.

NAU and Arizona - The Last Time Out

Arizona opened the 2002 season with a 37-3 win over the Lumberjacks on Aug 31. The Wildcats posted 510 total yards on offense with a balanced mix of 41 rushes against 41 passes, while scoring on five of their first six possessions of the game. Junior quarterback Jason Johnson passed for 381 yards and three touchdowns to pace the Arizona offensive effort. Mike Bell, then a freshman making his first UA appearance, led all Wildcats with 59 yards on 13 carries (4.5 ypc). Freshman classmate Darrell Brooks led all defenders with six stops, one for a loss, and a pair of pass break ups The Wildcat defense limited the Lumberjacks to just 202 yards of total offense and nine first downs in the game.

Cat’s Picked To Finish 10th

The Wildcats have been picked to finish 10th in the Pac-10 this season, but that doesn’t mean Arizona has to like it. Head coach Mike Stoops made that point at Pac-10 Media Day in Los Angeles.

"Expectations here (at Pac-10 Media Day) aren’t high. As a staff and as a team, our expectations are much higher. When I think of the past seven or eight months, I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. When I took this position, I knew it would be a challenge in the beginning. The players have made it very easy for me and they’re excited about having some success on the football field again ... We feel we’re a stronger football team than we were back in December."

Phillips Gets A Sixth Year

Senior Brandon Phillips asked for and was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after getting hurt in UA’s third game of the year last season. The sixth year of eligibility makes the big offensive lineman the only player on the team to have played for Dick Tomey, John Mackovic, Mike Hankwitz and now Mike Stoops. Phillips will have to serve a three-game suspension before he is allowed to take the field.

Cats To Face Tough Slate in 2004

After a 2003 season that saw the Wildcats play both national champions (LSU and USC) and seven other teams that participated in bowl games, the 2004 schedule couldn’t get any harder, right? Well the early forecast predicts another tough slate for the Cardinal and Navy. Right from the start the Wildcats will be tested as opening day opponent NAU has been tabbed third in I-AA for the preseason by Street and Smith’s, while Utah is the early pick to win the Mountain West Conference and is ranked No. 21 in the preseason USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll. The Big Ten does not list a preseason prediction outside of the top three, but Wisconsin, UA’s final non-conference opponent of the regular season, will open the year ranked No. 22 in the coaches poll. Once conference play begins, Arizona will face five straight games against 2003 bowl teams, including preseason No. 15 Cal and at No. 25 Oregon. Arizona’s final month features a road trip to Seattle to face the Huskies, a jaunt to LA to face preseason No. 1 USC and match up with rival Arizona State in the final game of the year for the Territorial Cup. Combined, Arizona’s 2004 opponents posted an 89-52 record last year, including a 5-3 record in bowl games.

Starting Line

The offensive line at Arizona has strung together a pretty impressive list of starts. Center Keoki Faser leads all Wildcat players on both sides of the ball with 29 career starts, including 23 straight. Joining him along the front five are tackle Chris Johnson (20 starts), guard Kili Lefotu (19 starts) and tackle Brandon Phillips (16 starts). Add in tight end Steve Fleming’s 11 starts, tackle Tanner Bell’s six and guard John Abramo’s four and the offensive line has combined for 105 career games started.

Watching You

The Sports Group in Dallas, Texas, has announced that senior Keoki Fraser has been added to the Rimington Award Watch List. The award will be presented to the top collegiate center in the country at the conclusion of the 2004 season. The award is named in honor of Dave Rimington, a consensus All-American at Nebraska in 1981 and ?'82 ... Fraser has also been named to watch list for the Outland Trophy. The award has been presented to the top interior lineman on either side of the ball by Football Writers Association of America at the end of the year since 1946, making the Outland the third-oldest award presented in collegiate football behind only the Heisman Trophy and Maxwell Award.

Bell Ready To Toll

One of the most pleasant surprises out of Arizona’s 2-10 season was the emergence of sophomore Mike Bell as a force running the ball. A junior now and the Pac-10’s leading returning rusher from 2003, Bell is coming off a season that saw him finish third in the conference in yards per game with 76.7. He finished 2003 with 920 yards on just 168 carries, a 5.5 yard-per-carry average, and was Arizona’s lone representative on the All-Pac-10 team with second team honors. His 222 yards in a 27-22 win over Washington were the fifth-most in a single game for any running back in school history. In addition to racking up an 8.5 yard per carry average against the Huskies, he scored three touchdowns in the game, including scoring runs of 69 and 67 yards.

Additional Running

While Mike Bell will be the primary ball carrier for Arizona in 2004, halfbacks Gilbert Harris and Chris Henry will figure prominently in the rushing rotation. Harris, a 6-foot-1, 222-pounder, is listed as a fullback, but will see time in the tailback spot and serve as a change-of-pace back when compared to Bell. Henry, a redshirt freshman, appears to have overcome the leg injury issues that limited him to just two games a season ago and will provide added depth for Arizona’s running game. Junior Pedro Limon, a sturdy 6-foot, 250-pounder, appears to relish the unsung fullback role, but will be a threat to both carry the ball and swing out of the backfield for passes.

Ealy Out

Junior wide receiver Biren Ealy will miss at least the opening game of 2004 with a mending right foot. Arizona’s leading pass catcher from 2003 with 42 receptions and four TDs, his presence in the starting line up will be missed. However, the Wildcats still have a stable of capable returning receivers in seniors Ricky Williams (36 receptions in 2003) and Juan Valentine (5 receptions), sophomores Mike Jefferson (16 receptions) and Syndric Steptoe (9 receptions) and even senior tight ends Steve Fleming (24 receptions) and Clarence McRae. Redshirt freshman Anthony Johnson and newcomer Brad Wood add even more depth.

Fling It To Fleming

After snagging just three balls for 30 yards in his first two season, senior tight end Steve Fleming is coming off an impressive 2003 campaign that saw him record 24 receptions for 252 yards and two touchdowns. His reception total from last season was the third-most in a year for any UA tight end since the Wildcats joined the Pac-10. A duplication of his numbers from last year in 2004 would place him among the top tight ends in school history. Currently Mark Keel (1981-82) holds the school record for both receptions (59) and yards receiving (856 yards) by a tight end, while former Wildcat Ron Beyer (1975-78) holds the record for the most touchdown receptions by a TE with seven.

Feeling Blue

Fans catching the Wildcats for the first time in 2004 might not recognize the team when they take the field for the first time this season. The reason? Arizona has changed the color of its helmets from primarily all white to a solid blue. The "Academic A" remains on the side, but it has no other markings or stripes and a blue face mask. The change marks the first time since 1980 that UA will be wearing a helmet that is a different primary color than white.

The solid blue helmet is the first time in school history that Arizona will take the field with head gear so colored. In looking back through photos in Arizona’s Heritage Hall, it has been found that former Wildcat great Art Lippino, UA’s "Cactus Comet", and his 1955 Wildcat teammates took the field in a helmet that featured blue around the sides with a red top. All other color photos over the years have shown that the Wildcat gridders have donned either primarily red or white bonnets.

Costa The Chameleon

Nic Costa will play a number of different roles for the Wildcats this season. The speedy and athletic junior will line up in the slot as a receiver, as a running back and even take snaps as the quaterback. Whether serving as a decoy or as the primary threat, opposing defenders will have to take note when and where Costa takes the field this season. Evidenced by a 43-yard scamper against UCLA in 2003, Costa is an elusive and mobile runner. As the quarterback last season. he averaged 4.4 yards per rush, despite getting sacked six times.

Heavner Gets the Early Nod

After appearing in his first career game at Purdue on September 20 last year, quarterback Kris Heavner went on to start the final eight games of the season for Arizona in 2003. In doing so he was one of just six true freshmen to start at quarterback on the Division IA level last season. His efforts in 2003, and a strong spring and fall camp showing, have earned him an encore performance in the starting roll this year. However, should Heavner falter at any point, capable backups are in place in the form of Ryan O’Hara, Richard Kovalcheck and even Nic Costa.

Making A Change

Last season Arizona finished last in the Pac-10 in rushing defense, passing effiencey defense, total defense and scoring defense. Unaccoustomed to such rankings, head coach Mike Stoops has gone on record as saying "Those numbers are unacceptable in my eyes. If we are going to have success, we are going to have to cut those numbers down dramatically." With a track record like Stoops’ (Top 10 national rankings in total defense and scoring defense as the co-defensive coordinator at Oklahoma the last four straight seasons) it is safe to say that improving Arizona’s defense has been a major point of emphasis heading into the year.

A Crowded Corner

With the departure of 2003 senior starters Gary Love and Michael Jolivette, the Wildcats will have to find a new pair of cornerbacks in 2004. Fortunatly for defensive coordinator and DBs coach Mark Stoops, the UA roster has plenty of them to choose from. Returning from last season are Zeonte Sherman (1 start) and Luis Nunez (1 start), as well as redshirt freshmen Wilrey Fontenot and Michael Beach. Add in talented transfers Keil McDonald and Dramayne McElroy and true freshmen Antoine Cason and B.J. Dennard, and Arizona will surely find a pair of capable corners if not more.

Turnering It On

Newcomer Johnathan Turner has been a difference maker on the defensive line, so much so that head coach Mike Stoops has said about him; "He is going to be an amazing, amazing player. He is as good a young D-lineman as I ever been around. I could not be more impressed with him."

The 6-foot-3, 254-pound true freshman has flexibility as a defensive end or tackle. A late addition to the roster, Turner joined the Wildcats in the middle of the summer from Corona, Calif., and will open the season on the two-deep up front.

On The Defensive Front

Along with Turner, the Wildcat defesnive line will also have some veterans to line up on the front. Senior defensive tackle Carlos Williams is second among all defenders with 16 career starts under his belt. Slated to start next to Williams is sophomore Paul Philipp. As a redshirt freshman last year, Philipp tallied 10 total tackles, forced a fumble and recovered two others. Joining Williams and Philipp up front will be the leading returning tackler along the defensive line from last season, DE Marcus Smith. As a sophomore in 2003, Smith posted a career-high 40 tackles, inclulding six for losses with four sacks. Filling the other defensive end slot will most likely be senior Andre Torrey. Joining UA in 2003 as a juniorm he recorded 22 total tackles, including seven for a loss. Others that will be in the mix in the defensive trenches are juniors Brad Brittain, DE Copeland Bryan, redshirt freshman DT Lionel Dotson and true frosh Turner.

The Linebackers

The Arizona linebacking corps will have a couple of familiar faces, as well as some new ones. Seniors Kirk Johnson (12 career starts) and Pat Howard (6 career starts) return after combining for 97 tackles last season. Joining them will be sophomore John McKinney who started one game last season and newcomers Sean Jones (a two-year letterwiner at fullback), redshirt freshman Dane Krogstad and JC transfer Randy Sims.

Kicking Game On Point

It’s no mystery that the Wildcat kicking game has struggled over the past couple of years. Last season Arizona managed just two field goals in 11 attempts, meaning that UA was more successful going for it on fourth down (3 for 11) then it was in converting field goals. The struggles appear to behind them however, as sophomore Nick Folk and true freshman Jason Bondzio have been one of the many bright spots during fall camp. The duo have consistnently put the ball through the up rights during practices and in scrimmage, hitting from distances from 45 or more yards.

Bootin’ Baugher

Hopefully the Wildcats won’t need to kick as many times in 2004 as they did last year when they led the Pac-10 with 98 punts. However, when the need arises junior Danny Baugher will be up to the task. Entering his third season as the starting punter, Baugher has already punted 114 times in the last two years and has amassed 4,672 yards (41.0 yds/punt). In 2003 he finished 30th in Division I-A with a 42.6 average.

Pointing A Finger

No longer will fans and coaches have to speculate as to whom the guilty party is on penalties. Beginning this season, officials will designate the players that are guilty of infractions on the field by calling their number along with the infraction.

Ticket Sales Soaring

The excitement and anticipation of Mike Stoops’ hiring and first season in Tucson has caused season ticket sales to boom. The day after the athletic director Jim Livengood announced the hiring of Stoops last November, the McKale Center Ticket Office phones began ringing with new season ticket orders. Prior to single game ticket sales, which began on Aug. 28, orders for season tickets have surpassed the 25,000 mark, including over 5,000 new orders. In addition, all 22 of UA’s corporate suites in the press box have been sold out for the year.

ALL ACCESS ?- Catch the Cats Live

Arizona and its website partner XOS have teamed up to allow Wildcat fans a chance to "Catch the Cats Live On Their Desktop". By subscribing for the All Access Pass, Wildcat fans will have a chance to listen to all audio broadcasts of Arizona athletics, as well as see some sporting events streamed in real time, watch home postgame and weekly press conferences live and view coaches’ shows on demand right from their computer. To subscribe for the service, fans can click here, or to see what features will be available please click here.



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