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Mike Leach: Tucson has the ‘troops’ to make college all-star game a success

casino del sol college football all-star game

Sports teams and events have come and gone in Tucson, so as a college football all-star game was officially announced Wednesday, the question was: Why will the locals treat this any differently?

“Because they’re tired of them leaving and those are all gone, so they’re not going to obstruct our effort,” said former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, who is a partner in the AZ Sports Group, which is bringing the game to Kino Stadium in January.

“I think the enthusiasm of a number of minds, people, effort is what really made it,” Leach added.

“It’s kind of like you charge up the hill and look around and the troops aren’t behind you. Well, every time you looked around on this Tucson deal, the troops were growing.”

The game last season was known as Eastham Energy College All-Star Game and played in Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. With a new title sponsor, the game will be called the Casino Del Sol College All-Star Game.

Last season, the game was fourth in the pecking order of four postseason all-star games. But with the Texas vs. the Nation game in San Antonio not holding an event this season, Tucson’s game moves up, falling behind the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Fla.

That will improve the quality of NFL prospects that come to Tucson. Invitations will begin to go out in a couple of weeks.

John Gray of the AZ Sports Group said 86 pro scouts attended last season’s game, evaluating 90 players. Gray said 85 of those players went to NFL camps, and about 18 are in the league.

“We’re never going to be No. 1, although I’m going to try to be No. 1,” Gray said at Wednesday’s news conference at Casino Del Sol.

Gray added: “Where would you want to go if you were a player or a scout? Tucson, Arizona, over any of those other two locations.”

Gray said he looked at various locations around the country, and even looked at Tucson’s Hi Corbett Field. Gray said a meeting with Mike Feder, the vice president/general manager of the Class AAA Tucson Padres helped get the ball rolling on a move to Kino Stadium.

“I walked into Mike Feder’s office not knowing the gentleman, and I feel like I have known him for 20 years,” Gray said. “That’s part of the reason why we’re here in Tucson.”

Feder had Gray contact city councilman Paul Cunningham.

“Paul literally said, ‘Whatever it takes, even if I have to stand on my head,’” Gray said. “Well, he’s done more than stand on his head.”

Cunningham said the all-star game could be worth about $1 million in economic impact, while also serving as harder-to-quantify exposure for Tucson. The game will be held Monday, Jan. 16, and are working with Fox Sports Arizona on a deal to televise the game.

Last season’s game drew 6,954 people to Sun Devil Stadium. Kino could hold about 12,000 for the game.

“There was an enthusiasm (for the game) in Phoenix, but Tucson overwhelmed it,” Leach said.

“We wanted to go to place where it would be an annual event, where it would be something that people circled their calendar around from one year to the next. I think this is the place. The enthusiasm is more than we expected. Of course, we need more help, but we want this to be a January cornerstone.”

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