by Tyler Ortíz
The Arizona Wildcats entered the 2006 campaign with high expectations despite compiling a 6-16 record in the previous two seasons.
Optimism was rampant, and the ever-improving defense was one of the primary sources for this change of heart. The team battled injuries throughout 2005, which made it difficult to form any cohesion on the field.
The position most affected by the injury bug was undoubtedly the linebackers, where the starting unit was on the field together only once, in the season finale against
Juniors Dane Krogstad and Spencer Larsen, along with sophomore Ronnie Palmer, make up the Wildcats’ talented line-backing core, one that is expected to anchor the
“It’s been a long time coming, I think we can all agree on that,” said Palmer. “It’s good to have our defensive core back on the field as a unit.”
“We’ve all had our injuries in the past, so it’s nice to finally be healthy and get on the field together,” added Larsen. “It’s great being able to play and finally compete with each other again.”
Larsen, who plays the weak side position, is not fazed by the pressure that critics and fans have put on the team, rather using it as a source of inspiration and motivation.
“Regardless of how highly some people may have us ranked, we still think higher of ourselves and what we can do. We are pretty confident and we feel like we can play with anybody,” said Larson.
This confidence in themselves has helped the team restore some respect to the Old Pueblo that had been missing in recent years. The team has a winning record after three games for the first time since 2002, a year that also marked the last time that a linebacker led the team in tackles. All-Pro Lance Briggs of the Chicago Bears led the team that year with 98 stops, but the group sees that streak coming to an end this year.
“Spencer Larsen will do it this year,” said Krogstad. “I’m putting my money on that.”
“If we had a linebacker playing the whole year the last three years, it would have easily been a linebacker,” added Palmer. “It’s a good competition (among us) to see who can get the most tackles in a game.”
“There is a lot of competition all the time with us,” explained Krogstad. “Anything we do we find a way to make it into a competition.”
This friendly competition reaches far beyond the football field, and the three often compete in games ranging from racquetball and basketball to golf.
“Over the years we haven’t really spent a lot of time together, and this is the first year that the line-backing core has been able to spend some time together off the field,” said Larsen. “We had a nice little barbeque and they promise they are going to take me to play 18 holes with them one of these days. They might beat me at that, but once I get them out on the basketball court, it’s over.”
“That’s the best thing about college, making friends like these guys on the team,” said Krogstad. “I mean, we are going to be friends for life.”
The trio gets along well off the field, and this camaraderie has undoubtedly helped them on the field, where communication is a key component and they must rely on each other throughout the game.
Some brute force doesn’t hurt either, and the team has spent countless hours in the weight room getting bigger and stronger in preparation for the battle that they must endure every Saturday when they take the field. This was made readily apparent to Larsen last season when he returned to the team after spending two years on a Mormon mission.
“Before I left, I had helped recruit Dane, and he was about 195 pounds back then,” laughed Larson. “When I left, I was a lot bigger than he was, but when I came back, and I remember the first linebacker meeting, I met Ronnie who is about 250, Dane was up to about 250, and I walk in at something like 215. I was thinking, ?'there is no way I ever played with people like this.’ They had definitely gotten a lot bigger and a lot stronger.”
“I really didn’t know why everyone spoke so highly of him when I first saw him,” said Palmer. “I found out very quickly though why everyone was always talking about ?'Spencer Larsen this and Spencer Larsen that’.”
“He came back so skinny, and with a Spanish accent,” joked Krogstad.
Despite missing two years of training as a result of his mission in
“The mission was a great experience for me and it definitely made me a better person,” he said. “Now I’m just excited to get out there and help our defense any way I can.”
Now that the trio is finally at full strength, the team believes that they are ready to take the program to the next level. They know that each of them has a different responsibility on the team, and are all comfortable knowing that any one of them could lead the team in tackles on a given day. The team will need everything that it can get from its stellar Mike (Palmer), Will (Larsen) and Sam (Krogstad) linebackers if it hopes to contend for the school’s first bowl appearance since 1998.
“We aren’t looking for any individual accolades or anything this season,” said Larsen. “We just want to stay healthy and play hard all year.”