The Arizona media relations office brought in several football players for group interviews Monday. The player who spoke the loudest, most authoritatively … the one who was most at ease?
Nick Foles at Monday's press conference/TucsonCitizen.com photo
Quarterback Nick Foles
That’s the way you would want it, and for all the good stuff he is doing on the field, that’s only part of the story. He has been a starter for only four games, but this is his team.
“Nick is a leader,” said senior receiver Delashaun Dean. “Probably one of the best I have seen come through here. He keeps everybody loose. He’s just a guy you want to have as your general out there on the field. We just want to rally behind him.”
UA outside receivers coach Dave Nichol was at Baylor when he tried to lure Foles from Westlake High School in Austin, Texas. “I wrote him a million letters,” Nichol said, “which he never replied to.”
I asked Nichol what was it about Foles that he really liked in high school. “Just real sharp. His coach would say that he was the leader of the basketball team and he would organize seven-on-seven drills in the summer. Those guys at the quarterback position, that is what you look for. Obviously, he is big and he can throw it, but he just kind of has that savviness that says, ‘I’m a leader.’”
Foles said he didn’t remember those million letters from Nichol, but he did say that after he sent his letter-of-intent to Michigan State in February 2007, his dad told him that Baylor had come through with a scholarship offer for football and basketball. Before you get any ideas, realize that coach Sean Miller’s basketball team is plenty deep and Foles has absolutely no inclination to do any walk-on work with UA hoops, as quarterback Ortege Jenkins did about a decade ago.
“When you play quarterback at this level, it’s hard,” Foles said. “In the offseason, that’s your chance to become better — work on timing with the guys, go through film cut-ups. At this level, with this offense, you have to be studying your butt off in the offseason. So that is what I’m going to be doing.” …
Read more about Foles at our partner wildaboutazcats.com’s weekly Nothing but the Notes column.
The hallmark of this Arizona defense is speed over size, and that is especially applicable at linebacker, where the Wildcats have two outside ‘backers who are listed at 5-foot-11 (Xavier Kelley and Sterling Lewis) and a middle linebacker, Vuna Tuihalamaka, dubiously listed at 6-2. They are not major prospects from an NFL perspective. “I think maybe the knock on our linebackers this year is our overall size,” said linebackers coach Tim Kish. “I think everybody in the NFL would love to have 6-3, 6-4 linebackers because of the size of the offensive linemen they’re competing against. But nobody plays with as much heart as these three guys do. They’re students of the game, and I think all three will get a look (at the next level).” …
As far as linebackers of the future, Arizona is hosting Josh Shirley on an official visit this weekend. Shirley, from Fontana (Calif.) Kaiser High School, is rated the 117th-best prospect in the nation, and the seventh-best outside linebacker, as rated by Rivals.com. He has offers from a slew of schools, including USC, Tennessee, Notre Dame and Miami and Washington (which he visited in September). Another key recruit visiting this weekend is running back Jordon James of Corona, Calif. He is rated the 19th-best recruit in the country by ESPN.com, although he’s “only” No. 91 on the Rivals.com list. The Wildcats could end up being a finalist for James, who still has to visit UCLA but has said he could decide by the end of the month. … UA’s quarterback commit for next season — Matt Brown of Allen (Texas) High — is expected to be in town. In a 52-28 win over Plano East on Oct. 30, he threw for 260 yards and ran for 148. … For more football recruiting news for this weekend, check out Chris Bonney’s story at Wildcat Sports Report. …
In UA’s most recent game, Arizona guard Herman Hall went up against UCLA junior defensive tackle Brian Price, who is having an All-American kind of season, with a conference-best 12 tackles for loss, including four sacks. Has Price been Hall’s toughest competition of the season? Nope. “The toughest guy I have gone against this year is No. 54 from Oregon State,” Hall said. “He’s a big, strong kid — and a nice player, too.” No. 54 is Stephen Paea, who does fall into the underrated category. … Could Foles have a big game Saturday against Washington State? Consider that the Cougars have allowed five of eight opponents to gain at least 500 yards (and another put up 481). “Washington State is going to throw everything they have at us,” Foles said. “For a lot of teams, it’s easy to overlook games like this, but this game means as much as any other.” …
How good has Arizona been in the past two years? The Wildcats are 16-8 overall and 11-6 in the Pac-10 since Oct. 27, 2007 — which is a pretty remarkable turnaround since coach Mike Stoops likely was a whisker away from being fired before the Cats turned it around by rallying to win at Washington in late October 2007. Looking at how other Pac-10 teams have done in their past 17 conference games, USC has 14 victories, Oregon State has 13, Oregon has 12 and Arizona is next with its 11 wins. “We have played some awfully good football the last two years,” Stoops said.
Other national reading:
George Schroeder, the very fine columnist for the Eugene Register-Guard, wrote a piece for SI.com Thursday: Under-the-radar Arizona sitting pretty in Rose Bowl race
And there was this from Steve Megargee from Rivals.com: Arizona quietly making a move in the Pac-10
Anthony Gimino can be reached at anthonygimino (at) gmail.com