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Arizona football: The All-Stoops team

Who is your favorite player of the Mike Stoops era?
CB Antoine Cason: 21%
QB Nick Foles: 22%
TE Rob Gronkowski: 33%
LB Spencer Larsen: 8%
WR Mike Thomas: 7%
Other: 6%
500 users voted

Rob Gronkowski running after the catch was one of the best parts of the Mike Stoops era. Tucson Citizen photo

Mike Stoops was the football coach of the Arizona Wildcats for 7 1/2 seasons, during which time he brought in some of the program’s all-time brightest stars.

Cornerback Antoine Cason won the 2007 Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back and was a late first-round pick in 2008.

Wide receiver Mike Thomas is the Pac-12 career leader in receptions.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski was a beast — albeit, all too briefly at Arizona — before quickly becoming a star with the New England Patriots.

Senior quarterback Nick Foles is on pace to rewrite several school season and career passing records in the next six week.

There definitely were some high notes, but in putting together an All-Stoops team, a couple of issues emerge — the dearth of standouts on the offensive line and a lack of explosive playmakers at linebacker.

Here is a look at the best who played for Stoops — the All-Stoops team:

QB — Nick Foles
For now, Willie Tuitama has Arizona’s career passing record with 9,211 yards, and his early commitment for Stoops’ 2005 recruiting class was perhaps the first big sign that the program was moving again in the right direction.

But Foles is closing in on Tuitama’s record with 7,931 career yards. If he continues at his pace in the first half of the season (375.8 yards per game), he’ll finish the season with 10,186 yards.

RB — Mike Bell, Nic Grigsby
Stoops inherited Bell, who rushed for a combined 1,896 yards and 10 touchdowns in the coach’s first two seasons at Arizona. Grigsby battled injuries in his final two seasons and wasn’t able to replicate his sophomore season (1,153 yards and 13 touchdowns), but he did finish with 2,957 career rushing yards and 28 rushing touchdowns.

This is Mike Thomas scoring on a punt return vs. Washington in 2008. Photo by Gregory Shamus, Getty Images Sport

WR — Mike Thomas, Juron Criner
Thomas was a contributor from his very first game — seven catches for 92 yards and a touchdown at Utah in 2005 — and never stopped putting up good numbers. By the time his career ended with a catch on the final play of the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl, he had a Pac-12 record 260 catches.

Criner makes the list on the strength of his brilliant junior season (82 catches, 1,233 yards, 11 touchdowns). His 24 receiving touchdowns are tied for second in school history.

TE — Rob Gronkowski
He played in only 22 games at Arizona, sitting out 2009 because of back problems and then leaving for the NFL with two seasons of eligibility remaining, but he holds school season and career records for receptions, yards and touchdowns by a tight end.

Gronkowski, a third-team All-American in 2008, had 75 catches for 1,197 yards and 16 touchdowns in those 22 games. And UA fans will forever wonder if his presence in 2009 could have lifted Arizona past Oregon in a mid-November game. The Ducks won in double overtime, robbing the Cats of the chance to be in the driver’s seat for the Pac-12 title.

OL — Colin Baxter, Eben Britton, Adam Grant, Joe Longacre, Mike Diaz
Baxter, with a school-record 48 consecutive starts, is the clear pick at center. Britton was the only Arizona offensive lineman to earn first-team all-conference honors during the Stoops years.

Grant persevered through injuries and became a second-team all-league choice in 2009 and 2010. Longacre, a guard, provided stability with 40 career starts. Diaz started 20 games after transferring from junior college, the bulk of them at left tackle during 2009.

DL — Brooks Reed, Ricky Elmore, Earl Mitchell, Lionel Dotson
Reed and Elmore were high-energy ends for Stoops’ most recent teams. Elmore had 21.5 sacks in the past two seasons. Reed earned first-team all-conference honors last season and had 17 career sacks.

Mitchell and Dotson are the All-Stoops tackles. Mitchell was an anchor after moving from fullback for his final two seasons and developing into an NFL talent. Dotson’s senior season in 2007 — 50 tackles, including nine for loss and 6.5 sacks — was the best for an Arizona interior defensive lineman in several years.

Spencer Larsen

Spencer Larsen takes on USC's Joe McKnight in a 2007 game. Photo by Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images

LB — Spencer Larsen, Ronnie Palmer, Xavier Kelley
Larsen returned from a two-year church mission after playing as a freshman in 2002 and joined Stoops’ squad for the 2005 season. He made 131 tackles as a senior in an All-Pac-10 season, and his 312 career tackles were the most for a UA player in the decade.

Palmer, who started 41 games, led the Cats in tackles (85) and tackles for loss (11) in 2008.

The third spot is up for debate. Sterling Lewis? Vuna Tuihalamaka? Paul Vassallo? All were junior college transfers. Kelley — undersized but speedy — was a four-year player who was second-team all-league in 2009.

CB — Antoine Cason, Trevin Wade
Cason had 15 career interceptions, with highlight-making returns for touchdowns in a 2006 upset of No. 8 Cal and a 2006 upset of No. 2 Oregon a year later. Wade gets the nod over Wilrey Fontenot and others. Wade, a senior, has 11 career interceptions and 27 pass break-ups.

S — Darrell Brooks, Michael Johnson
Brooks was a leader on Stoops’ early teams and the coach’s first all-conference player, winning first-team honors in 2005. Johnson was a key junior college transfer, with 107 tackles and five interceptions in two seasons. Plenty of other solid candidates to consider: Cam Nelson, Nate Ness, Robert Golden.

P — Danny Baugher
A leftover from the John Mackovic era, Baugher punter for Stoops for two season and was leading the nation in punting in 2005 when his season ended in the seventh game because of an ACL injury. His average of 47.5 yards that season qualifies as the school season record.

PK — Nick Folk
Jason Bondzio was more accurate on field goals, but Folk had a big leg and went on to make a name for himself in the NFL. Folk, in 2006, also was the Pac-10′s first-team all-conference punter, averaging 44 yards per attempt.

AP — Syndric Steptoe
Steptoe was a versatile performer for the Wildcats, including two punt returns for touchdowns. He played briefly pre-Stoops in 2003, finishing his career with 1,584 receiving yards, 590 punt return yards and 1,757 kick return yards.

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