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You can count on them: Arizona Wildcats’ best football players by jersey number

Chris McAlister

There’s never been a better No. 11 in Arizona history than Chris McAlister, here intercepting a pass to seal the 23-20 win in the 1998 Holiday Bowl. Tucson Citizen photo.

Here is one Arizona Wildcats’ best-of list that Rob Gronkowski can’t make.

More than five years ago, I started researching the best Arizona football players to wear each jersey number. I figure it’s about time to update the results that were published in September 2007.

Since then, there are four new Wildcats on the list:

Willie Tuitama has taken over as the best No. 7, replacing linebacker Ray Wells in what had been a surprisingly bland group to wear such a popular digit.

Nick Foles is the new No. 8. It wasn’t easy to unseat Dennis Northcutt, the second-leading receiver in school history, but the top quarterback trumps the second-best pass-catcher.

Mike Thomas replaced quarterback Jason Johnson at No. 10.

–And, in another tough call, I installed Juron Criner at a competitive No. 82.

As for Gronk, his time at Arizona, while tantalizingly productive, was cut short by a back injury that wiped out his 2009 season before he turned pro and became an NFL star. His two years with the Wildcats don’t surpass the reigning No. 48 — linebacker Byron Evans.

It is a similar problem for two more recent high draft picks.

No. 42 Brooks Reed, an All-Pac-10 defensive end, runs into a UA Hall of Famer at that number, and I’m sticking with Hank Stanton. Offensive tackle Eben Britton is no match for defensive tackle Mike Dawson at No. 77.

Here then, with updated comments as needed, are UA’s best, Nos. 1 through 99 (with years as letterman in parentheses):

1. QB Bruce Hill (1973-75): Led the 1-2-3 offense, with Willie Hamilton (No. 2) and Jim Upchurch (No. 3) as split backs behind Hill.

2. RB David Adams (1984-86): Didn’t rush for as many yards as another No. 2 scatback (Ontiwaun Carter), but Adams was more thrilling and his numbers were good, too — 2,571 yards.

3. FS Tony Bouie (1991-94): All-American for Desert Swarm defenses; played four seasons with Tampa Bay in the NFL.

4. CB Darryll Lewis (1987-90): Was the 1990 Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top defensive back, and went on to All-Pro NFL career.

5. CB Antoine Cason (2004-07): UA’s second Jim Thorpe Award winner, taking home the trophy in 2007. As a senior, he returned two interceptions and two punts for scores. Cason finished with 15 career INTs.

No. 6 scores six at the end of his legendary 106-yard interception return vs. ASU. Tucson Citizen file photo

6. FS Chuck Cecil (1984-87): From walk-on to feared NFL headhunter, one of the most beloved Cats ever.

7. QB Willie Tuitama (2005-08): Tuitama burst onto the scene as a true freshman, leading the team to a November win over No. 7 UCLA and being carried off the field on the fans’ shoulders. That promise wasn’t fully realized, but he went on to pass for 9,211 yards (second in UA history) and 67 touchdowns (tied for first with Nick Foles).

8. QB Nick Foles (2009-11): The Michigan State transfer took the starting job four games into his sophomore season, becoming the only Arizona player to reach five digits in passing yardage (10,011). He set the school record for passing yards in a season (4,334 in 2011) before the Philadelphia Eagles selected him in the third round of the NFL Draft.

9. WR Terry Vaughn (1990-93): Waterbug of a receiver became the career receptions leader in the Canadian Football League.

10. WR Mike Thomas (2005-08): Money Mike is the Pac-12 leader in career receptions with 259, catching his final pass with 20 seconds left in the Las Vegas Bowl to break the previous mark of 258 held by ASU’s Derek Hagan.

11. CB Chris McAlister (1996-98): Shut-down corner might be best athlete, ever, at Arizona.

12. QB Eddie Wilson (1959-61) and QB Tom Tunnicliffe (1980-83): You decide. Wilson, a UA Hall of Famer, was a third-team All-American in 1961 and an NFL player. Tunnicliffe was, until recently, the school’s career passing leader with 7,618 yards and the undisputed best QB of the Pac-10 years.

13. PK Max Zendejas (1982-85): Mr. Clutch made 13 field goals of at least 50 yards and beat Notre Dame and Arizona State (twice) with late-game boots. More fine UA kickers to wear No. 13: PK Lee Pistor, P Sergio Vega.

14. RB Eddie Wolgast (1945, 1947-50): At all of about 150 pounds, he rushed for 2,022 yards, including 133 in the 1949 Salad Bowl. Got extra year of eligibility because of World War II.

15. DB Jeff Hammerschmidt (1987-90): All-Pac-10 safety in 1989 later served as UA assistant under Dick Tomey and Mike Stoops.

16. QB Dan White (1993-95): Another No. 16, Ortege Jenkins, has the “Leap by the Lake,” but White has the Fiesta Bowl victory over Miami and was superb in three consecutive wins over ASU.

17. WR Richard Dice (1993-96): Tough guy with great leaping ability who is best remembered for playing — and playing well — with a torn ACL in a 1995 victory at ASU.

Thirty of T Bell’s 153 catches at Arizona went for touchdowns.

18. WR Theopolis “T” Bell (1972-75): Caught 30 touchdowns with the Wildcats; 10-year NFL career included Super Bowl rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

19. DB Allan Durden (1982-85): Started the run of UA’s all-conference safeties from San Diego’s Helix High, followed by Chuck Cecil and Jeff Hammerschmidt.

20. RB Michael Bates (1989-90): Amphi product left early and became an All-Pro kick returner in the NFL after earning a bronze medal in the 200 meters in 1992 Olympics.

21. CB Kelly Malveaux (1994-97): Played in NFL Europe and XFL, and was a 10-year veteran in the Canadian Football League.

22. RB Art Luppino (1953-56): UA’s most legendary player, the Cactus Comet led the nation in scoring, rushing, kickoff returns and all-purpose yards in 1954. He again led the country in rushing in 1955. A knee injury cost Luppino a professional career.

23. RB Kenny Cardella (1951-53): Two-time All-Border Conference and was UA career rushing leader (2,060 yards) when he was done.

24. RB Bobby Lee Thompson (1960-61): Teamed with Joe Hernandez (see No. 35) to form the “Touchdown Twins.” Still holds the school record for yards per attempt — 7.6 for his career.

25. RB Vance Johnson (1981-84): Cholla High grad was an all-league running back who gained greater fame as part of Denver Broncos’ “Three Amigos” receiving corps.

26. DB Dave Liggins (1978-80): All-Pac-10 safety intercepted Pitt’s Dan Marino twice in 1979 Fiesta Bowl.

27. LB Lance Briggs (1999-2002): Three-time first-team all-conference selection still helps lead the Chicago Bears defense. He has been to seven consecutive Pro Bowls.

28. PK Steve McLaughlin (1991-94): Won the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation’s top kicker, as a senior.

29. RB Fred Batiste (1949-50): From a legendary group of local athletic brothers, Fred was the first black football letterman at UA.

30. RB Trung Canidate (1996-99): Breakaway threat is UA’s career rushing leader, with 3,824 yards, including school-record 1,602 as a senior.

31. LB Mark Arneson (1969-71): Palo Verde High alum was an All-American in 1971 and went on to a nine-year NFL career.

32. DB Marcellus Greene (1979-80): Transfer from Cincinnati was second-team all-league both seasons at UA, and a fine punt returner, too.

33. RB Floyd Hudlow (1963-64): Two-time All-WAC halfback was also standout kick returner who played safety in the pros.

34. RB Lamont Lovett (1990-93): Solid player who can be heard as the radio analyst for UA games.

35. RB Joe Hernandez (1960-61): “Jackrabbit Joe” helped the 1961 team (8-1-1) be one of the best in school history. And he scored 12 touchdowns, seven by receiving in 1960.

36. RB Gilbert Harris (2002-05): Fullback/tailback had a cup of coffee with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2006.

37. HB Bob Svob (1938-40): Later became a Wildcat assistant, a longtime UA administrator and was inducted into the Arizona Hall of Fame.

38. RB Kelvin Eafon (1996-98): Started as a UA basketball player, but he turned into the emotional leader of the 1998 team that went 12-1. He rushed for 16 TDs that year, too.

39. DL Pete Russell (1988-89): Also played fullback and tight end, and later became a UA grad assistant and NFL scout.

40. LB Marcus Bell (1996-99): Dick Tomey called the kid from St. Johns the best inside linebacker he had ever coached.

41. LB Mark Jacobs (1974-76): Was All-WAC as a sophomore, and later became football coach at Flowing Wells High School, his alma mater.

42. E Hank Stanton (1939-41): Nicknamed “Birdlegs,” the UA Hall of Famer caught college-best 50 passes in 1941, an NCAA record at the time.

43. SB Willie Peete (1956-59): Solid playing career, and he later became a UA assistant, and sent a son, Willie III, to the Wildcats. Another son, Rodney, went on to USC and the NFL.

44. RB Hubert Oliver (1977-80): Ranks fifth in school history with 3,096 rushing yards.

45. LB Antonio Pierce (1999-2000): JC transfer really hit it big after UA days, with a lucrative nine-year NFL career after being undrafted. He is currently an analyst for ESPN.

46. QB Fred Enke Jr. (1946-47): Tucson-raised athlete led the NCAA in total offense in 1947 and went on to a seven-year stint in the NFL. Still ranks as UA’s longest tenured quarterback in the NFL.

47. LB Steve Boadway (1981-84): Led the Pac-10 with 13 sacks in 1984, and that year knocked the ball loose from ASU QB Jeff Van Raaphorst, resulting in a late-game interception in UA’s 16-10 win.

48. LB Byron Evans (1983-86): UA Hall of Fame member ranks second on school’s list with 552 tackles. Played in NFL with the Eagles.

Sean Harris

Sean Harris was a fine No. 49. Photo by Otto Greule/Allsport

49. LB Sean Harris (1991-94): Tucson High product made 32.5 tackles for loss for Desert swarm-era defenses. Played in the NFL with Chicago.

50. C Paul Hatcher (1954-56):Two-time All-Border Conference and member of UA Hall of Fame. Another fine center who wore No. 50: Bill Nemeth (1966-67), who was All-WAC in 1966, All-Academic in 1967 and graduated from UA medical school.

51. C Tom Greenfield (1936-38): Was selected a Little All-American in 1938 and went on to play for the Green Bay Packers.

52. Joe Tofflemire (1985-88): Most accomplished center of UA’s Pac-10 era; All-American and three-time all-conference. Played for Seattle in the NFL.

53. C Roger Twibell (1970): Didn’t know the longtime TV announcer played at UA? Well, he didn’t, but he’s listed at No. 53 in the 1970 media guide and his sportscasting career started in 1972 at KGUN-TV. (Yes, this has been a thin number at UA.)

54. LB Donnie Salum (1988-89): Hard-nosed player became a walk-on success story who, as a prominent booster, donated about $800,000 in equipment to UA’s weight room.

55. RB Bronko Smiland (1936-38): All-Border Conference player inducted into UA Hall of Fame in 1980.

56. DT Joe Salave’a (1994-97): Never-say-die lineman became a stalwart in the NFL and coached the UA defensive line in 2011.

57. C Norman Katnik (1978-79): Was second on team in offensive “helmet stars” during his two years; son Norm played at USC and in the NFL.

58. DT Ivan Lesnik (1980-83): One of UA’s top scholar-athletes among football players, with 14 career sacks and two Academic All-America awards.

59. LB Ransom Terrell (1971-73): Amphi High graduate twice earned All-WAC honors.

60. OG Rick Warren (1989-90): Will always be remembered for his fumblerooski runs.

61. OG Ed Brown (1954-57): A stalwart on UA’s lines of the era — offense and defense — Brown became a fixture in local high school athletics. The ex-Marine was the first black head coach at a Tucson school when he was hired to be football coach when Cholla opened in 1969.

62. OL Roger Myers (1964-66): Selected All-WAC as a senior.

63. OG John Brandom (1986-89): Teamed with OT Glenn Parker to make a formidable right side of the line, and is now a successful high school coach in Corona, Calif., sending starting DE Johnathan Turner to UA.

64. OG Jim Donarski (1950-52): Three-time All-Border Conference guard — and a second-team All-American — gets the edge here over more-recent standout Warner Smith (1991-94).

65. DT Ken Hakes (1986-89): Made big career improvement and led UA linemen with 72 tackles in 1989.

66. RB Walter “Hoss” Nielsen (1936-38): The greatest UA runner of the first half of the 20th century, Nielsen was a Little All-American and the school’s first first-round draft pick, 10th overall by the New York Giants. His teammate, John Black (1938-40) is another UA Hall of Fame member who wore No. 66.

67. OG Charlie Dickey (1983-84): Served the Wildcats well as a player and a 12-year assistant coach, through 2002.

Tedy Bruschi

Tedy Bruschi was one of the faces of Arizona’s Desert Swarm defenses. Photo by Otto Greule Jr./Allsport

68. DE Tedy Bruschi (1992-95): The most beloved Wildcat of any era. With an infectious personality, he tied the NCAA record with 52 career sacks and then launched into NFL stardom at linebacker with the New England Patriots.

69. C John Briscoe (1962-64): Was the WAC lineman of the year in 1964.

70. OT John Fina (1988-91): One of the most intelligent football players to come through UA, and one of the most successful — the Salpointe Catholic grad was a first-round pick who spent 11 years in the NFL, 10 in Buffalo.

71. DT Chuck Osborne (1992-95): Had 18 sacks in final two seasons, a huge number for an interior lineman.

72. OG Yusuf Scott (1996-98): Affable big fella won the Pac-10′s Morris Trophy in 1998 as the league’s best offensive lineman, as voted by the defensive linemen.

73. OG Bill Lueck (1965-67): The second first-round pick in UA history, he went 26th overall in 1968 to the Green Bay Packers.

74. OG Glenn Parker (1988-89): Big, strong JC transfer represented UA well with 12-year NFL career, followed by local and national broadcasting gigs, including this season with the Pac-12 Networks.

75. OL Mike Freeman (1981-83): Sahuaro High alum was second-team all-league as senior; played in the NFL with Denver.

76. OL Bill Jensen (1977-80): Starter for more than three seasons; second-team All-Pac-10 in 1980.

77. DT Mike Dawson (1972-75): Tucson High kid had 15 tackles for loss as a senior, earning second-team All-America honors. He went 16th overall in 1976 draft.

78. OT Rob Woods (1986-88): Late bloomer ended up as a fourth-round pick in 1989 draft.

79. DT Joe Drake (1981-84): Weighing way north of 300 pounds, he was one of UA’s all-time bests against the run, and he had two safeties against ASU in 1982. Died at 31 of a heart attack.

80. TE Damon Terrell (1994): Team’s MVP award was named in his honor (from 1996 to 2003) after he died in September 2005 following complications from a medical error.

81. WR Brad Anderson (1981-83): A favorite target of Tom Tunnicliffe, he finished with 97 career catches.

82. WR Juron Criner (2008-11): Hard to compare eras, especially when it comes to the passing game, but Criner has the numbers over Derek Hill (1985-88), who led the Cats in receptions in each of his final three seasons. The highlight-making Criner holds the school record for TD catches (32) and is fourth in receptions (209) and receiving yards (2,859). Another very good No. 82: TE Ron Beyer, UA’s first All-Pac-10 player.

83. DE Bob Crum (1970-72): Son of UA standout end Hilliard Crum (1946-47), Bob was an All-WAC lineman and third-round NFL draft pick.

84. LB Kevin Singleton (1986-88, 1990): Twin of Chris Singleton and a fine player, too. Diagnosed with leukemia in 1989, received a marrow transplant from Chris, returned to the field in 1990 and later served as a graduate assistant coach.

85. E John Fouse (1962-64): Remarkable two-sport athlete threw 40 consecutive shutout innings for the baseball team and was inducted into UA Hall of Fame.

86. WR Jon Horton (1983-86): Sunnyside High grad ranks seventh in career catches (136) and sixth in receiving yards (2,415).

87. LB Chris Singleton (1986-89). Leader of late 1980s defenses went eighth overall in 1990 draft, second-highest ever for a UA player.

88. TE Mike Lucky (1995-98): Three-year starter for some of UA’s most prolific offenses.

Ricky Hunley was the first Arizona player inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Tucson Citizen photo

89. LB Ricky Hunley (1980-83): No. 1 all-time Wildcat? The two-time consensus All-American is the school’s career tackle leader (566) and was picked seventh overall by Cincinnati in the 1984 draft.

90. TE Brandon Manumaleuna (1997-2000): Had as much raw talent as any Tomey recruit, Manumaleuna spent 10 seasons in the NFL.

91. DE Eli Wnek (1998-2001): Did whatever was asked (DE, TE, FB) and was nationally recognized for his community service and academics.

92. DT Rob Waldrop (1990-93): The centerpiece of Desert Swarm won the 1993 Outland Trophy and the inaugural Football Writers’ Defensive Player of the Year award. Was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame last year.

93. DT Jon Abbott (1974-77): All-WAC as a senior and a three-time Academic All-American. Is an orthopedic surgeon in Tucson.

94. DT Anthony Smith (1989): Alabama transfer made his one year with Cats count, with all-conference honors before being a first-round pick by the Raiders.

95. DT Cleveland Crosby (1978-79): Purdue transfer had 13 sacks in two years.

96. DT Brad Henke (1987-88): JC transfer had 90 tackles in 1988 (a big figure for a DL) … and you might have seen the actor in about 70 appearances on TV and in movies. As IMDB.com notes: Has played Maggie Gyllenhaal’s brother in two films: “World Trade Centre” and “SherryBaby.”

97. DT Jim Hoffman (1991-94): Unsung key to Desert Swarm but was part of SI cover in 1994.

98. LB LaMonte Hunley (1981-84): Ricky’s brother was a third-team All-American as a senior and finished with 400 career tackles.

99. DT Dana Wells (1985-88): Two-time winner of Pac-10′s Morris Trophy, signifying the league’s best DL, as voted by the conference’s offensive linemen.

* * *


Research for University of Arizona football 1 through 99 included Arizona media guides (1958 to the present), Tucson Citizen archives, UA athletic department archives and yearbooks. Thanks to Tom Duddleston of the athletic department’s communication services.

Because records turn sketchy around 1935 and 1936, no player before that era is included.

That’s not to say that players such as Ted Bland, Martin Gentry, Michael “King Kong” Nolan, Harold “Nosey” McClellan and Orville “Speedy” McPherson are forgotten.

They, and others of the era, are in the UA Hall of Fame and you can read their framed bios on the walls of McKale Center.

But not even UA sports historian Jon Alquist knows what number – if any – John Button Salmon wore in the mid-1920s before he uttered his famous words on his deathbed, “Tell them … tell the team to bear down.”

The list naturally gravitates toward more recent times, when mass media coverage and TV made players identifiable by number as well as their name.

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