Arizona Wildcats freshman receivers Nate Phillips and Samajie Grant had never met until the first day of summer school in early June.
Less than four months later, they are best buddies, playing major college football and enjoying their new nickname, courtesy of receivers coach Tony Dews.
“After that first game, he came in and talked to us about anything we needed,” Phillips said. “He walked in and said, ‘Oh, we have the Mighty Midgets together.’ We just kind of kept it.”
For sure, Phillips and Grant aren’t tall by football standards. Phillips is 5-7, 177 pounds. Grant is 5-9, 173.
“I actually do like it,” Grant said of the nickname.
“Coach Dews bothers me and Nate all day. We were in a meeting and he was like, ‘Guys, on this route I want you to take three steps up the field. For most of you guys, it will be about seven yards.’”
Dews then turned to his diminutive receivers. For you, he joked, those three steps will be about four yards.
“I love it,” Grant said.
Arizona has depth problems at receiver, so Phillips and Grant have had to play, and they are physically mature enough to do that despite the lack of height. Grant has six catches for 60 yards and a touchdown. Phillips has four receptions for 40 yards.
That’s not a lot, but it does account for 10 of the 23 catches by Arizona wideouts through three games, when the passing attack has neither been dynamic nor particularly needed in a trio of blowout victories.
“The two young kids are starting to settle in a little bit more,” Dews said.
“Now, it goes to another level. The competition gets stiffer. It’s going to get harder for them. It was good having these out-of-conference games that we had to give them a chance to get some reps.
“Hopefully, we can hold our own when we get into the league.”
Arizona gets into the Pac-12 at Washington on Saturday (4 p.m., FOX).
Grant, from Compton, Calif., had five catches for 48 yards in the last game, vs. UTSA, including a 13-yard touchdown reception on a scramble drill. He adjusted to find an open spot between defenders as B.J. Denker was flushed from the pocket, rolling left.
Grant said he had 74 congratulatory text messages when he got back to the locker room after the game. And he’s starting to get recognized around campus.
“I’ve been in class and random people will walk up and say, ‘Good game, Samajie,’” he said.
“It’s kind of annoying, though. It’s in the past now. … People might think, ‘Oh, he got a touchdown, he can slack off.’ That makes me want to work waaaay harder.”
There is room in modern spread offenses for small, quick slot receivers who can wiggle in open space after making a short catch. Grant, because of Arizona’s lack of depth, is, for now, working more on the outside, where coaches prefer 6-4 guys to roam.
“He’s learned what we’re doing at three different receiver positions, which is hard as a freshman,” head coach Rich Rodriguez said of Grant.
“He’s got quick feet. He’s got good speed, good hands. I’ve been really pleased with him, and we’ve put a lot of his plate, having him move around different positions.”
Their common size, position and academic class forged a friendship.
“Ever since we found out we play the same position, we’re like clicking,” Grant said.
Phillips, from Basha High in Chandler, said they like to compete against each other to “see who’s the better small guy.”
Phillips, though, is unchallenged in the weight room. He stepped in before camp and bench pressed 225 pounds 16 times to set a UA receiver record.
“That dude is strong,” Grant said.
“It’s hard to keep up with him. But with him right there, I can’t just go throw on some light weights. I have to make myself stronger. … Honestly, Nate makes me better.”
That’s what friends do.
“We’re the two smallest dudes on the field,” Grant said. “We’re not going to do well unless we’re making ourselves better.”