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Gimino: Make camp annual trek

Fort Huachuca the perfect site for Wildcats

UA coach Mike Stoops talks with Sgt. Michael Macias at Fort Huachuca, where the Wildcats are holding practice.

UA coach Mike Stoops talks with Sgt. Michael Macias at Fort Huachuca, where the Wildcats are holding practice.

FORT HUACHUCA – Hard to imagine anyone at this Army post having a better day than Sgt. Michael Macias.

The Tucson native, Sunnyside High School grad, 10-year Army vet and Arizona football season ticket holder watched the Wildcats practice for the first time at what most definitely should become their home-away-from-home for fall camp.

Macias is such a UA fanatic – his word – that he even had season tickets last season when he was serving a year in Korea. The reason: “Because these guys are my team, and I want to give back in a little way what they give me.”

Macias, 28, watched from Korea last year when UA upset second-ranked Oregon 34-24.

“I was yelling so loudly in the building I was living in, other people thought something was wrong,” Macias said. “They came knocking on my door – ‘Are you OK?’

“I said, ‘Yeah, I’m perfectly OK.’ ”

Macias might be an extreme case – OK, he is – but he’s an example of how Arizona training here, even for a few days, is a win-win situation.

Good for the team. Good for the troops at Fort Huachuca. Good for the Sierra Vista community.

OK, make that a win-win-win situation.

After only one practice, UA coach Mike Stoops was ready to re-enlist.

“It’s a great place to come down to,” he said. “I really like the setup here and the way we’ve been treated. The atmosphere is pretty neat.

“We wanted to try it, see how we liked it. This is great. . . We’ll see where it takes us from here. Hopefully, they’ll want us back.”

Unless the Cats trash the barracks or something, the odds are somewhere between a sure thing and a no-brainer.

Asked about the fort’s official position on UA making this an annual trek, media relations officer Tanja M. Linton said: “No doubt, if they want to come, we’d love to host it.

“Any time we can host an event that the community gets excited about, that’s a good day for us.”

My only question: What took so long to do this?

It was regrettable when blue-blooded John Mackovic eliminated UA’s former camp home at Cochise College near Douglas in 2001. Previous coaches Dick Tomey and Larry Smith embraced the spartan environment and the all-football, all-the-time atmosphere.

The setup here at Fort Huachuca is better than Cochise.

The team practiced on a nice Field Turf surface, with ample space – a full football field and two 50-yard fields at each end. They worked in a temperature of about 80 degrees under overcast skies in the shadow of the Huachuca Mountains.


More than a dozen troops stood on the sideline at some points, with attendance expected to pick up later because Thursday is a big training day on the post.

“It is a beautiful thing,” Lt. Nigel Fraser said of the Wildcats’ visit. UA will return to Tucson on Sunday.

“It is always good for them to be a part of the military community, coming out to support the troops,” Fraser said. “It is not only good for the troops, but for the high school and the community.

“Sierra Vista is a small community, and any time you bring in an outside event such as this, it boosts morale.”

After practice, players were told that some of the Army personnel had related stories – like that of Sgt. Macias – about how they enjoyed following the Cats while overseas.

Talk about getting a quick lesson in the big picture.

“That’s crazy to know that when they’re all the way over there, they’re watching us play football and caring about us,” senior quarterback Willie Tuitama said. “Just the fact that they take time out of their lives when they’re going through a war . . . that’s insane.”

The players – the coaches, too – seemed to be enjoying the Army life, housed in barracks that got positive reviews.

Safety Nate Ness even raved about the Wednesday night meal.

“The spaghetti was good,” he said. “I mean, it was really good.”

That’s just something else to make Macias’ day. He is a cook – food service specialist, more specifically – who rearranged his schedule, with permission, to catch the morning practice.

“I made it a point to tell my boss last week that I was not going to go to work for a couple of hours Thursday and Friday in the morning – our busiest time,” Macias said. “But they know how big a fan I am. They said, ‘Yeah,’ and I’m here.”

Hopefully, UA will be “here” a lot more. Camp Huachuca would only get bigger and better.

The school can’t even promote the practices this season because of NCAA rules that prohibit publicity of a first-year off-campus camp. That’s to keep schools from moving camps to different locations in an effort to gain a recruiting edge.

For now, Macias is doing a pretty selling job all by himself.

He even got to chat with Stoops after practice.

“That was cool,” he said.

That’s true for the whole camp. Let’s already set a date for next year. And the next, and the next . . .

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