The hiring of head coach Rich Rodriguez last fall was like a sign from above for receiver Garic Wharton.
“When I first heard he was here, I felt almost like the Red Sea parted,” Wharton said. “I felt like that was my calling.”
Wharton had a good feeling about Rodriguez because of what he remembered of the coach from West Virginia, when he ran fast-paced offenses, emphasizing speed. Wharton was right to have such a hunch.
Rodriguez moved Wharton from inside receiver to outside receiver this spring, gambling that the sophomore’s speed — he could be the fastest player on the team — will lead to big plays.
“He’s a talented guy. I think his time has come,” Rodriguez said.
Every coach is looking for speed, of course. The former Arizona staff was no exception, but other than putting Wharton back on kick returns last season, there wasn’t a lot of room for him in the offense.
Now that Juron Criner, David Douglas, Gino Crump and David Roberts have graduated from the receiving corps, Wharton can race right through the open door of opportunity with a new coaching staff.
“They like speed a lot, and I do that,” Wharton said.
“Last year, (receivers) coach Dave Nichol told me I would probably be an outside receiver, but he never moved me. I don’t know why.”
Wharton, who ran 100 meters in 10.39 seconds in high school, returned 14 kicks last year but didn’t have a catch. Wharton (5-11, 163) said he likes being on the outside.
“There’s not as much contact,” he said. “Since I’m a little lighter than everyone else, when I have to go around a safety or an outside linebacker, it kind of makes it hard for me. But now I’m able to run more freely.”
He has still been working as a kick returner in spring practice, but added that he never developed an appetite for punt returns.
“I’m honestly a little skeptical of it,” he said. “I’m not into looking up when somebody is coming at me like that. So I just left that one alone.”
Rodriguez and his staff are working without anything resembling a firm depth chart this spring while they continue to evaluate their new personnel, so it’s hard to say where Wharton stands in the pecking order at wideout. The Wildcats have Dan Buckner, sophomore Tyler Slavin, sophomore Austin Hill (who has been out this spring with a neck injury) and Wharton, among others.
“So far, I’m taking advantage of it, just working hard and doing what they tell me,” Wharton said.
Fans will get a chance to check out Wharton and the Wildcats on Saturday in the spring game. It will be held at Kino Stadium, beginning at 1 p.m.