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Arizona legend Ricky Hunley has a message for the current Wildcats

Ricky Hunley talks to the Wildcats after practice Friday. Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics.

Ricky Hunley talks to the Wildcats after practice Friday. Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics.

The image of Ricky Hunley, the legendary No. 89 for the Arizona Wildcats, looms over the team’s practice field and the team’s new weight room.

On Friday afternoon, the All-American linebacker from 30 years ago came to life.

Hunley was in Tucson and he spent the afternoon with coach Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats, watching practice and addressing the team afterward.

“I know he was one of the hardest-working guys to come through here,” senior linebacker Jake Fischer said.

“He said that we have the talent, and that’s coming from a legend. And if we work hard enough, anything is possible.”

Rodriguez, entering his second season at UA, has done a nice job of incorporating Arizona’s football past into his program.

Tedy Bruschi wowed the team in the spring with a talk about “football truth.” The lobby of the new Lowell-Stevens Football Facility honors the history through interactive touch screens. The practice field’s old baseball centerfield wall was redone in the offseason, with a mural depicting the program’s 11 consensus All-Americans.

Hunley is front and center.

So the players should know who he is.

“We have a nice life-size poster of him in the weight room,” Rodriguez said. “If they don’t know who he is, they haven’t been in the weight room enough.”

Hunley was a consensus All-American in 1982 and 1983, when the program thrived on a chip-on-their-shoulder way of playing.

“This program was built on a lot of tough, hard-nosed football players for many, many years,” Rodriguez said. “That ‘hard edge,’ that’s not something we invented; that’s been the culture here for many years.”

Hunley said he tried to bring home that message to the current Wildcats.

“Opportunity comes disguised as hard work,” he said.

“When I got here as a true freshman, I was No. 6 on the depth chart. … I was like, ‘I’ll never play here.’ You have to win your way to the top. And I fought my ass off.”

The way to do that, he said, is one play at a time.

“Can you give me everything you’ve got for three to five seconds?” Hunley said. “If I can get you to do that play after play, we’ve got a great player. Now, if I can get the whole team to do that, it goes from a tidal wave to a tsunami.”

After watching practice, Hunley noted this about junior running back Ka’Deem Carey — “Ka’Deem, that’s a man. He’s not going to be here long. You better use him up” — and had this to say about Rodriguez:

“I love Rich. He makes football fun. … I love the tempo. They practice like it’s a game. Guys get used to the same thing over and over, so when you play the game, it’s routine.”

Hunley, who has coached at USC, Missouri, Florida and in the NFL, is not coaching this fall so he’ll be watching the Wildcats.

“The guys here have a great opportunity to do something special,” he said, “if they embrace the buy-in of playing with a sense of urgency.”

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