All-for-one Wildcats ready for final stretch (with poll)by Anthony Gimino on Nov. 13, 2009, under Sports
An Arizona assistant coach once told me that he thought one of the worst things that could have happened to the program was running back Chris Henry being selected in the second round of the 2007 draft.
It was good publicity for the team, but the coach worried about the message. It was all wrong, he thought. He feared players would think that you didn’t have to work hard, you didn’t have to do all the right things, in order to be rewarded.
That was an interesting take, but he didn’t have to worry.
The Arizona program under coach Mike Stoops has evolved from a me-first outfit into, by most accounts, an all-for-one group that is 6-2 overall, 4-1 in the Pac-10, and has to rely on no one else to get to the Rose Bowl. That process resumes Saturday at Cal.
The earlier days of the Stoops era stand in the starkest contrast to the moment at hand. Defensive tackle Donald Horton, a fifth-year senior who arrived for Stoops’ second season in 2005, laughs when contrasting this team to early ones.
“Oh, shoot. Way different,” he said.
“When I first got here, it wasn’t necessarily about the team, or necessarily about winning. Guys were doing their own thing to try to get to the next level. It was kind of like a lost cause. It was the end of their road and they couldn’t see us winning any time soon.
“They were just trying to get as many good stats as they could to get to a good spot at the next level.”
The players are still talking about the next level, but in a larger sense. It’s about taking the team to the next level. It’s about the potential for this team to earn the program’s first Rose Bowl appearance.
“You feel like, man, if we can just knock off Oregon and USC, we can really be in a good spot, but what it all comes down to, you have to take yourself back to ‘one game at a time’ as far as the preparation,” Horton said.
“You can get beat anytime, but every now and then you start to wonder in your mind, ‘Man, if we can do this and that, we can put ourselves in a great position.”
Stoops, since the beginning of fall camp, has talked about this team’s maturity, which has helped breed winning, which has helped breed confidence, which has helped breed this very exciting final month of the season.
Stoops says there isn’t a sense of dread or doom that the Cats’ toughest tasks are still at hand. They have to play three tough road games — Cal, ASU, USC. They have to play Oregon at home on Nov. 21 for control of the league race.
There are no guarantees there. Some games look tougher than others, but, really, it’s a series of coin flips the rest of the way. Even against offensively challenged ASU.
Worry? Not Stoops. He says that while others might fret about who Arizona has to play, there is a sense among his guys that “they gotta play us.”
Mark Stoops, the defensive coordinator, added: “There is not a lot of fear in our players or coaches.”
Back at the beginning of his career, Horton said he hated going to practice, because “it was so gloomy. It seemed like every day was cloudy, even though it was Arizona.”
Now, even practice is fun.
That’s what happens when you work hard and do the right things. Maybe the Wildcats are about to get rewarded for that.