Greg Byrne's Wildcat Wednesday
Football Outlook - Quarterbacks
By: Arizona Athletics
Release: March 30, 2006
Photo Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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Cats Set for Big Year at QB

In his first start, true freshman Willie Tuitama took the field on the road on a rainy day in the northwest and put an exclamation mark on his off-the-bench debut a week earlier. His poise alone belied the fact it was eight games into the season, but the numbers were remarkable. Thirteen completions in 22 attempts for 336 yards and two scores. Arizona beat Oregon State, 29-27, in a complete performance by not only Willie, but the whole team.


That leadership, from a young player, helped define Arizona's 2005 season far more than its eventual 3-8 record. It showed the promise of the future, and showed what high-level play at one key position could do for the program. It showed that Mike Stoops and quarterbacks coach Mike Canales knew what they had in Tuitama, and showed that the time had arrived to take off the wraps.


A week later before a Homecoming throng in Arizona Stadium, the young signal caller from Stockton, Calif., underscored the decision with more verve, flooding the entire squad with a confidence and demeanor that translated into a dominating victory over undefeated No. 7 UCLA. The Cats buried the Bruins, 52-14, and Tuitama again tossed for a pair of scores. He was 14-for-24 with a highly complementary 204 yards to go with the Cats' bruising 315 yards rushing. The Bruins' hopes for a BCS berth were shattered.

Chronologically, a week later the cart got put before the horse and UA stumbled in what Mike Stoops called the worst game in his two seasons, a 38-14 nightmarish loss that gave Washington its only league victory of the year. Tuitama played like a true freshman, tossing three interceptions, although he did notch his fourth straight two-TD game and throw for 235 yards.

Suffused by his play, the Wildcats are a different team, and a program that looks to 2006 as a break-out opportunity. Tuitama finished with the sixth-best pass efficiency rating in shool history, completed 58 percent of this throws, tossed for nine scores and now has game experience. He showed he can use the deep ball, use touch to hit shorter routes, and move in or out of the pocket -- he was only sacked four times in his four starts.

Behind Tuitama (6-3, 218),  the Cats have a pair of seniors in Adam Austin (6-3, 217) and Kris Heavner (6-2, 230).

Austin's a fifth-year journeyman who had all the work in spring a year ago when probable starter Richard Kova

Austin (above), Heavner (below)
lcheck was out with a sore back, then saw action in two games a year ago. He's a student of the game who Canales considers game-ready and who, in fact, has been a travel-squad player for three seasons. Heavner, who did not play last year, was a 14-game starter in 2003 and 2004 for UA -- the first his true freshman season when he got the nod half way through the year not unlike Tuitama. Their overall talent and knowledge of UA's system helps continuity in spring ball and will provide a solid corps for 2006. "We have a young guy who we feel can take this program to new levels, a guy like Adam who will push Willie and who we feel very comfortable playing, and then a guy like Kris Heavner who started six games for us our first year. We have quality depth at quarterback That's something we've never had," Stoops says.

"Willie will be a stronger player mentally and physically than he was a year ago," Stoops says. "He made a lot of young mistakes -- totally natural -- last year, but I look for him to be a much more polished player. He played a lot on adrenalin and instincts last year, and I look forward to him being a much more complete player. He was able to rally the team around him and help our numbers jump when he came in."

Stoops' recruiting success, notably in this case by signing Tuitama in the 2005 class, makes partisans excited about the prospect of incoming freshman Tyler Lyon, from the noted quarterback factory at Hart High School in Newhall, Calif.. His fall arrival will add even more to what coaches feel can be a strong position for Arizona.

"We feel that we have guys that can take us to new heights," Stoops says.

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It appears that the Cats will have an opportunity to give Tuitama the reins and let him break a three-year standard for UA -- switching quarterbacks in mid-stream. Heavner (2003, game five), Kovalcheck (2004, game 7) and Willie (game 8) each got the starting nods late in the year as freshmen. (Kovalcheck was a redshirt.)  No one expects Tuitama to let go this time around. 

QB Quickies... Tuitama, like linebacker Ronnie Palmer -- a guy who played only part of the season -- earned honorable mention Freshman All-America honors from The Sporting News in '05...   Heavner was one of only six true freshmen to start for a Division I-A team in 2003, and earned Pac-10 All-Freshman honors from The Sporting News. He set the UA true freshman records with 101 completions, 237 attempts at 1501 yards in nine games... He has not redshirted and has 2-for-1 eligibility...  Austin completed three passes in five attempts in the season opener at Utah a year ago while still in contention with Richard Kovalcheck for the job... Kovalcheck left the program in the off-season... Combined, Tuitama, Austin and Heavner have a completion percentage of .550 for 3,475 total yards, not bad for 18 total starts by underclassmen... The last full-year starting quarterback for Arizona -- Jason Johnson in 2003 -- is a world champion. Johnson was the No. 3 QB for the Grey Cup Champion Edmonton Eskimos last November... Matt Stone, a redshirt freshman from Tucson, is the No. 4 QB in camp... Jason Argos, a redshirt fresman reserve quarterback on the squad last year, is a holder for placekicks and a reserve wide receiver this year in spring camp... The Cats will scrimmage Saturday at 11 a.m. in Arizona Stadium -- open to the public.

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