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My wife comes home from work and asks \u201cIs Trier going to play?\u201d

She pronounces it TREE-are. She does not follow UA hoops.

But almost every day since Halloween she has returned from the medical center with the same question.

\u201cIs Trier going to play?\u201d

One of the internists wants to know. The trauma center nurse wants to know. The lady giving flu shots wants to know.

I shrug. \u201cIt\u2019s like Stonehenge,\u201d I say. \u201cNobody knows.\u201d

\u201cIt\u2019s your job to know,\u201d she says. \u201cWhat should I tell them?\u201d

And so before leaving for Wednesday\u2019s 85-63 victory over Texas Southern, I told her to expect Allonzo Trier to play in 2017.

\u201cFor Arizona?\u201d

\u201cEither Arizona,\u201d I say, \u201cor somebody else.\u201d

Do you have a better answer?

In what has become the most baffling case since D.B. Cooper, Allonzo Trier sits on the Arizona bench in a sweatsuit. Wednesday was Day 50 of Trier\u2019s forced idleness. The formula for Coca-Cola has been kept secret for 131 years; Arizona guards the reason for Trier\u2019s lack of eligibility with similar intent.

The school continues to list Trier in its game-day notes package. He is included in the \u201coff the bench\u201d group of nine players, but that list is misleading because it includes Talbott Denny and Ray Smith, both out for the year with knee injuries.

Because of the Mystery of the Missing Trier, Arizona\u2019s basketball season has essentially been shifted into neutral. Do these home games really matter? Sacred Heart one night, Cal State Bakersfield the next.

The Zona Zoo answered in absentia Wednesday night. It might have been the fewest UA students at a home game since the Kevin O\u2019Neill season. What is there to look forward to except an announcement of Trier\u2019s return or the latest bad news, the apparently serious ankle injury to point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright?

This month\u2019s home schedule is dreadful; do you realize only UC Irvine, Grand Canyon and New Mexico play at McKale Center in December?

Arizona had a better December home schedule 60 years ago, in December of 1956, when it played Hamline, NAU, Murray State, New Mexico State and Colorado State. Yes, Hamline, the Pipers from Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Nothing against Texas Southern, which is on its annual Tour Across America, an almost unprecedented 13-game series of consecutive road games, but Tigers coach Mike Davis told the Star\u2019s Bruce Pascoe on Monday that \u201cwe won\u2019t win.\u201d

It was only two years ago that Texas Southern, playing 13 consecutive road games to open the season, stunned mighty Michigan State 71-64 in East Lansing. And yet Davis put into perspective Arizona\u2019s dismal home schedule by admitting defeat before he arrived in Tucson to collect a $90,000 fee as a sacrificial basketball lamb.

Texas Southern didn\u2019t even have a radio broadcast team at the game. As far as can be remembered, for maybe 30 years, maybe 40, every visiting team at McKale has broadcast the game to their faraway fans.

Games at McKale Center this season are like something out of an Allen Iverson press conference. They seem like practice, man.

On Wednesday, for example, Arizona inserted sophomore walk-on Tyler Trillo in the first half, when the game was still somewhat contested. It became necessary for Trillo to play after Jackson-Cartwright jammed his ankle into a TSU opponent and spent the entire second half undergoing medical treatment.

Tyler Trillo? Ring a bell?

It does if you are a fan of Roger Williams University, a Division III team from Southbury, Connecticut. Trillo played for RWU in 2014-15 before transferring to Arizona to concentrate on academics but ultimately being awarded a non-scholarship spot on Sean Miller\u2019s injury-scarred roster. Not only didn\u2019t Trillo start for RWU, against teams like Johnson & Wales and Fitchburg State, he averaged just 1.1 points per game.

What many thought would be the Season of Trier has, by a series of misfortunate personnel losses, become the Season of Trillo.

I\u2019ve never seen Miller as somber as he was after Wednesday\u2019s game. Not even after season-ending losses to Bucknell and Wichita State. He was snippy and on edge, and he is rarely like that in a postgame media session.

Can you blame him?

Who will he lose next, Lauri Markkanen?

\u201cArguably our best player has never played,\u201d Miller said, referring to Ray Smith.

Asked who now becomes the UA\u2019s eighth man \u2014 Trillo perhaps? \u2014 Miller bit off three words: \u201cI don\u2019t know.\u201d

No one outside of Tucson is feeling sorry for Arizona, and especially not Gonzaga, which, given Arizona\u2019s personnel situation, now comes off as Godzilla.

\u201cThis is big-boy basketball on Saturday,\u201d UA guard Kadeem Allen said.

You wonder if Tyler Trillo will be up to it.

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Over the last 25 seasons, 16 coaches have finished in last place in the Pac-10/12 with conference records of 0-9, 0-8, 1-8 or 1-7. Two of them survived and went on to better jobs: Washington State\u2019s Mike Price to Alabama, and Oregon State\u2019s Mike Riley, who left OSU twice, to the San Diego Chargers and later to Nebraska.","supportsComments":true,"commentCount":0,"keywords":[],"internalKeywords":["#top5sports","#editorspick"],"customProperties":{"label":"hansen"},"presentation":"","images":[{"id":"a1f4b491-6678-52ad-a1a9-c2a79b53e6d8","description":"Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre, right, chatting with Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez before their Nov. 12 game, got the Buffaloes to first place in the Pac-12 South without big-name players.","byline":"Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star","hireswidth":1651,"hiresheight":1254,"hiresurl":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/a/1f/a1f4b491-6678-52ad-a1a9-c2a79b53e6d8/583cbf326d74e.hires.jpg","presentation":"","versions":{"full":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"620","height":"471","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/a/1f/a1f4b491-6678-52ad-a1a9-c2a79b53e6d8/583cbf326c868.image.jpg?resize=620%2C471"},"100": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"100","height":"56","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/a/1f/a1f4b491-6678-52ad-a1a9-c2a79b53e6d8/583cbf326c868.image.jpg?crop=1651%2C928%2C0%2C55&resize=100%2C56&order=crop%2Cresize"},"300": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"300","height":"169","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/a/1f/a1f4b491-6678-52ad-a1a9-c2a79b53e6d8/583cbf326c868.image.jpg?crop=1651%2C928%2C0%2C55&resize=300%2C169&order=crop%2Cresize"},"1024":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"1024","height":"576","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/a/1f/a1f4b491-6678-52ad-a1a9-c2a79b53e6d8/583cbf326c868.image.jpg?crop=1651%2C928%2C0%2C55&resize=1024%2C576&order=crop%2Cresize"}}}],"revision":10,"commentID":"6a74b6b6-9902-5f92-91b7-545778a1ae02","body":"

Digging out of last place explained in seven not-so-easy steps:

1. Over the last 25 seasons, 16 coaches have finished in last place in the Pac-10/12 with conference records of 0-9, 0-8, 1-8 or 1-7.

Two of them survived and went on to better jobs: Washington State\u2019s Mike Price to Alabama, and Oregon State\u2019s Mike Riley, who left OSU twice, to the San Diego Chargers and later to Nebraska.

Eleven were ultimately fired: OSU\u2019s Jerry Pettibone, Colorado\u2019s Jon Embree, Cal\u2019s Tommy Holmoe, WSU\u2019s Bill Doba and Paul Wulff, Washington\u2019s Ty Willingham and Keith Gilbertson, Stanford\u2019s Walt Harris and Buddy Teevens, ASU\u2019s Dirk Koetter and Arizona\u2019s John Mackovic.

Three are still working on it: Arizona\u2019s Rich Rodriguez, Cal\u2019s Sonny Dykes and Colorado\u2019s Mike MacIntyre.

2. In pure numbers, MacIntyre\u2019s restoration of Colorado from successive Pac-12 seasons of 1-8, 1-8, 0-9 and 1-8 is unprecedented in Pac-12 history. People marvel at Pete Carroll\u2019s ability to turn a 6-6 USC program into a two-time national champ, but it\u2019s probably no more fulfilling than what MacIntyre has done at 10-2 Colorado.

Athletic directors searching for new football coaches should pay close attention to the paths MacIntyre blazed. He took command of a bankrupt San Jose State program in 2010 and went 1-12, 5-7 and 11-2 before Colorado beckoned. Even at that, MacIntyre was not CU\u2019s first choice; it offered the job to Cincinnati\u2019s Butch Jones, who has a 14-18 SEC record at Tennessee.

3. MacIntyre\u2019s body of work rivals that of WSU\u2019s Mike Price, the greatest program builder in Pac-10/12 history.

Given the demographics and limited recruiting variables of southeastern Washington, Price seriously contended for the Rose Bowl in 1992 and 1994 and then broke through and coached the Cougars to the Rose Bowl in 1997. Then reality hit. WSU went 0-8, 1-7 and 2-6 the next three conference seasons. To its credit, the school did not get fatally impatient.

In 2001 and 2002, the Cougars went 10-2 and 10-3, played in another Rose Bowl. MacIntyre\u2019s burst to the Pac-12 South title this year is in the same ballpark.

4. Except for Price and Riley, many Pac-10/12 coaches who were part of one-win, last-place conference seasons have similar coaching backgrounds, and it doesn\u2019t suggest that Arizona will dig out of last place under RichRod.

Washington\u2019s Willingham had earlier been fired at Notre Dame. The Huskies\u2019 Keith Gilbertson had been fired at Cal. Mackovic had been fired at Texas. Stanford\u2019s Teevens had been fired at Tulane, which opened a job for an emerging young offensive coordinator, Rich Rodriguez.

The lesson for every AD: If you hire a coach who has been fired elsewhere, it might not be a good idea.

5. There is no get-rich-quick scheme for a last-place team. That\u2019s why Arizona\u2019s immediate future is unappealing.

Of the 15 most highly ranked freshmen in the Pac-12 this season \u2014 combining rankings of Scout, Rivals and Athlon \u2014 only one became a full-time starter, ASU receiver N\u2019Keal Harry.

The most highly ranked recruit, UCLA linebacker Mique Juarez, took eight weeks off for personal reasons and didn\u2019t play a down. USC\u2019s 5-star offensive tackle, E.J. Price, has already left school.

Of that remaining group of 15, only UCLA defensive lineman Boss Tagaloa, with 18 tackles, and Stanford linebacker Curtis Robinson, with 13 tackles, had a tangible impact.

6. MacIntyre did not build Colorado with 4- and 5-star big names, nor JC transfers. He built through accurate evaluation and skilled development.

His first three recruiting classes \u2014 2013, 2014 and 2015 \u2014 included a single 4-star recruit, receiver Shay Fields, according to Rivals.com rankings. Those classes had 38 3-star prospects and 21 who were 2-stars or fewer.

The Buffaloes\u2019 2016 defensive player of the year, Tedric Thompson, was offered scholarships by Hawaii, Fresno State, Minnesota and UNLV. Colorado\u2019s leading tackler, Chidobe Awuzie, got offers from Utah, San Diego State, Colorado State and San Jose State. Most of CU\u2019s program-changing players were 3-star recruits from the Class of 2013 in which Colorado was generally picked to have the 11th-best recruiting class in the league.

Plus, MacIntyre has recruited strongly in Texas, with commitments from eight Texas schoolboys already this year. Colorado now has the Pac-12\u2019s strongest recruiting presence in Texas, which seems preferable to picking up USC, UCLA and Stanford\u2019s leftovers in California.

7. Colorado enjoyed a piece of good fortune this season. Its Pac-12 schedule didn\u2019t include powerful Washington. But it played at Michigan in mid-September and, although the Buffaloes lost 45-28, they led in the third quarter in a game that seemed to build a \u201cwe belong\u201d belief inside the CU program.

The Buffaloes also were blessed by good health. Their 11 defensive regulars started 126 times in 132 possible starting spots. The CU offense started its regulars in 113 of 132 slots.

All of it led to a not-so-easy reversal of last year\u2019s 1-8 conference record to a division-winning 8-1.

The last time a conference team did anything like that was 1958, when Cal improved from 1-6 to 6-1, earning a spot in the Rose Bowl for the school\u2019s last time.

Last year, Cal\u2019s 1958 Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Kapp told the San Jose Mercury News \u201cI\u2019ve been to the Rose Bowl and I\u2019ve been to the toilet bowl.\u201d

Much like Kapp at Cal and MacIntyre at Colorado, Arizona now knows what it is to get flushed.

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Your house payment is late, there is a constant ringing in your ears, your feet hurt, you\u2019re 20 pounds overweight and a guy at the garage tells you your car\u2019s transmission is shot.

And then you spend your last buck to play the lottery.

Arizona 56, ASU 35.

Maybe the ringing in your ears doesn\u2019t go away but the pain is gone.

You drink from the Territorial Cup.

Arizona awoke Friday as potentially the worst football team in school history. By bedtime, it found someone worse: the Sun Devils.

With 8:29 remaining at Arizona Stadium, killing the clock with a 49-35 lead, UA fans reacted loudly when Bon Jovi\u2019s \u201cLivin\u2019 on a Prayer\u201d played over the PA system. The crowd sang a happy song for the first time all season.

\u201cOoooh, ooooh, we\u2019re halfway there. \u2026.\u201d

And then Samajie Grant ran 63 yards for a touchdown.

The Wildcats were all the way there. The football gods answered.

Arizona even got its celebration right. A team that finishes 3-9 can\u2019t get carried away; it can\u2019t loft Rich Rodriguez onto its shoulders, kiss the turf or dance for ESPN\u2019s cameras. Nobody did that. The Wildcats modestly lifted the Territorial Cup and passed it around before walking off the field.

They didn\u2019t go home champions, but neither did they go home losers. If you\u2019re going to win one game all year, make sure it\u2019s the game against Arizona State.

The Wildcats hadn\u2019t won a game for 69 days; they entered the Territorial Cup without knowing what it was to lead for 328 minutes and 12 seconds of game time dating to an Oct. 8 contest in Salt Lake City.

For the first time since RichRod and his seniors filmed a movie-parody video of \u201cThe Gladiator\u201d in August, the coach\u2019s words rang true: \u201cAre You Not Entertained?\u201d

The Wildcats swung a mighty sword when least expected.

All kinds of crazy, unexpected stuff has broken out during 117 years of the UA-ASU rivalry, and maybe someday football historians will remember Territorial Cup 2016 for its odd delivery.

I mean, the Sun Devils entered the game with the worst passing defense in college football history, allowing 383 yards per game. But in the X and O sessions at Arizona\u2019s Lowell-Stevens football plant, RichRod and his schemers thought a better way to attack the Sun Devils was to run on them.

The batter was expecting a fastball. Arizona threw curves.

The Wildcats completed just 3 of 8 passes for 77 yards, all the fewest totals in RichRod\u2019s 65 games at Arizona. UA coaches felt they could gash the Sun Devils with quarterback Brandon Dawkins\u2019 speed and elusiveness to the outside, thereby making ASU vulnerable and soft up the middle.

Soft? It was the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

Incredibly, Arizona rushed for a school-record 511 yards against the NCAA\u2019s worst pass defense team. It was almost like a video game, Pac-Man or Donkey Kong, with Arizona hungrily eating up yards the way you\u2019d ask for seconds (or thirds) at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

On Friday, dessert was served, too.

ASU completed its season (most likely) without a bowl game and a school-record worst 521 yards allowed per game. How bad is that? It\u2019s No. 125 of 128 FBS schools. In a season in which Arizona was widely criticized for a leaky defense, allowing 470 yards per game, it waited 12 weeks to find someone worse.

The offseason won\u2019t be much fun in Tucson or Tempe, and it could be the loser of next year\u2019s Territorial Cup will finish last in the Pac-12 South and its coach will get fired. But can you imagine the damage had Arizona lost again to ASU and finished 0-9 in conference?

Next season\u2019s ticket marketing campaign would\u2019ve been something like \u201cPlenty of Seats Available.\u201d

The rewards were small at Arizona this season but they were rewards nonetheless.

Seeing senior linebacker Jake Matthews on Senior Day, walking to midfield, embracing his mother and father. That\u2019s a win. Matthews wrecked his foot last year and it didn\u2019t fully heal. But on Saturday, he grabbed the Territorial Cup after the game and smiled the way someone who had gone 12-0 would smile.

Seeing senior defensive lineman Sani Fuimaono recover a fumble that led to a 28-7 lead was a triumph.

He held onto the ball like it he would never let go. Fuimaono arrived at Arizona in 2011, in the Mike Stoops years, served a two-year Mormon mission, became a husband and father and watched helplessly as his position coach and defensive coordinator were fired.

He has seen it all, but on Friday night, Fuimaono went out a winner.

\u201cAin\u2019t no better feeling,\u201d he said.

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Dear Mr. Football: Have Wildcats and Sun Devils ever been friends?

A: This is the 50th anniversary of the 1966 Territorial Cup, in which two buses of ex-ASU football players trekked to Tucson and had a pregame lunch with ex-Arizona players at the old Tidelands Hotel (now the Sahara Motor Inn on Stone Avenue).

At the time, both Tucson newspapers referred to ASU as \u201cDemons\u201d as often as \u201cDevils.\u201d Either way, it wasn\u2019t a term of endearment.

The schools hoped to repair long-damaged feelings from a rivalry that had gone off the tracks. In the 1955 game alone, Arizona\u2019s Ed McCluskey, Max Burnett and ASU\u2019s Frank Bell all were kicked out of the game for \u201cungentlemanly behavior.\u201d

This is difficult to imagine now \u2014 Rich Rodriguez and Todd Graham do not often generate warmth, even within their own communities \u2014 but the rivalry had gotten so bitter that in 1958 hard-edge Frank Kush agreed to speak to the UA\u2019s Phoenix booster group, the Towncats, \u201cto promote greater harmony between the schools.\u201d

Dear Mr. Football: How did that work?

A: At the 1991 20-year reunion of the 1971 ASU team, one of Kush\u2019s key players, offensive lineman Roger Davis, displayed a tattoo on his left biceps that says: \u201c1971: Arizona State 31, Arizona 0.\u201d

Davis told the Phoenix Gazette he got the tattoo during \u201cThe Streak,\u201d the Larry Smith-triggered 7-0-1 era against ASU from 1982-1990. \u201cI wanted everybody to know we beat those guys,\u201d Davis said.

Dear Mr. Football: Who is the Greatest Territorial Cup Player ever?

A: Maximillian Javier Zendejas was 4-0 against the Sun Devils from 1982-85, and no player, any position, had a greater impact over 100 years. OK, maybe Chuck Cecil is close, with a game-ending interception 1985, a game-changing interception in 1986 and a game-altering fumble recovery in 1987.

Zendejas kicked a walk-off, winning field goal of 45-yards in a 17-15 victory at Sun Devil Stadium in 1983. A year later, he kicked three field goals, the margin of victory, in a 16-10 victory in Tucson.

The Max Factor\u2019s legend grew in his final Territorial Cup, in Tempe, in 1985. The Sun Devils needed to beat the Wildcats to go to the Rose Bowl; they were so good defensively that Arizona gained just 186 total yards. Zendejas kicked a 57-yard field goal to tie the game at 13 with 5:29 remaining.

A tie would get ASU to the Rose Bowl, but coach John Cooper, fearing a short punt and good field position for Zendejas, chose a risky third-down pass at his own 11-yard line on the ensuing possession. UA nose guard Dana Wells sacked Sun Devil QB Jeff Van Raaphorst and forced a fumble.

Zendejas kicked the winning field goal with 1:27 remaining. He was the football equivalent to Cubs relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman. Sooner or later, he was going to get you.

Dear Mr. Football: Who had a better career, Zendejas or ASU\u2019s Zane Gonzalez?

Gonzalez might be the most successful kicker in college football history. He has kicked 96 field goals. Zendejas: 79.

But for whatever reason, Gonzalez hasn\u2019t been put in clutch situations. He has but one career walk-off FG, an overtime win against Utah in 2014. As good as he is, he hasn\u2019t inspired football fairy tales.

But Zendejas had walk-off FGs (or the equivalent) to beat undefeated Notre Dame and two ASU teams. Max is history. Gonzalez is in the record books. Big difference.

Dear Mr. Football: How good is Gonzalez\u2019s nickname \u201cLegatron\u201d?

It doesn\u2019t compare to the Super Six nicknames in UA football history:

1. The Cactus Comet. Tailback Art Luppino, who led the NCAA in rushing in 1954 and 1955.

2. Jackrabbit Joe. Tailback Joe Hernandez was a key part of Arizona\u2019s 8-1-1 team of 1961, playing in the All-American Bowl all-star game.

3. The B&E. Linebacker Byron Evans, the Pac-10\u2019s 1985 defensive player of the year, caused a game-turning fumble for a touchdown that set up Zendejas\u2019 winning field goals in the \u201985 game that kept ASU out of the Rose Bowl.

4. \u201cThe Eel.\u201d Bill Hargis became Arizona\u2019s first 1,000-yard rusher in 1930, and set a then-record of 167 rushing yards in a Territorial Cup victory over ASU.

5. Two-Star Scoob. Scooby Wright\u2019s most enduring play as a Wildcat was forcing a fumble on a sack of QB Taylor Kelly in the 2014 Territorial Cup, returned for a touchdown, giving Arizona a 7-0 lead and impetus for the Pac-12 South title.

6. Button. Quarterback John \u201cButton\u201d Salmon, who created the \u201cBear Down\u201d legend, only played against ASU once, in 1925. Arizona won 13-3.

Dear Mr. Football: Is ASU coach Todd Graham a smoker?

A: Graham is featured on TV commercials for \u201cAshline,\u201d which encourages people to stop smoking. Graham said he had a devil of a time stopping a habit of chewing tobacco.

A front-page photograph of Arizona\u2019s 1957 coach Ed Doherty, who was also ASU\u2019s head coach from 1947-50, shows him smoking while on the sideline during the Territorial Cup. He\u2019s the last UA football coach who openly smoked cigarettes.

The Pac-12\u2019s most-known coach who had a smoking habit was Oregon State\u2019s local legend Ralph Miller, after whom OSU\u2019s basketball court is named. I once interviewed Miller after a practice at Gill Coliseum and he crushed his cigarette butt on the Beaver emblem at center court.

That\u2019s sort of how ASU and the UA would like to extinguish one another Friday night.

Dear Mr. Football: Is either team worthy of possession of the Territorial Cup?

A: Someone suggested that the trophy be changed to the Err-izona Cup.

Err-izona vs. Err-izona State.

Arizona has been so bad that Oregon State offensive line coach T.J. Woods disclosed that the Beavers\u2019 line had \u201c40-something knockdowns\u201d against Arizona last week. He said the Beavers, who were 2-8, hadn\u2019t gotten close to 30 knockdowns all season.

ASU has been so bad it allows 383 passing yards per game, the worst total in NCAA history, challenged only by Cal\u2019s 2014 team that yielded 341 yards per game (and gave up Arizona\u2019s famous \u201cHill Mary,\u201d a 47-yard TD pass to lose the game).

You might say there is an err of uncertainty about this game.

If it\u2019s close, the Sun Devils are apt to win on a Gonzalez field goal.

Do you realize that in 117 years only five Territorial Cups have been decided on walk-off type field goals: 1979, 1983, 1985, 2005 and 2009.

After Arizona walk-on freshman Brett Weber kicked the walk-off FG to win 18-17 in Tempe in 1979, he told reporters \u201cYou spell my name with two T\u2019s and one B.\u201d

This time, you\u2019re likely to spell the winner\u2019s name with one Z and two M\u2019s. The Wildcats win this game in the memory of their late teammate, Zach Hemmila.

Wildcats 44, Sun Devils 34

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For $60 a year, you can play golf for the Sunnyside Blue Devils. Coach Orlando Rodriguez provides travel to a dozen events per season, free golf balls and the best instruction a history teacher with a 10-handicap can offer.

Best deal in town, right?

Then it all changes. A modest set of starter golf clubs is probably $400. Out-of-season play at the cheapest muni is at least $30 a day. Have you priced a golf bag? What about golf shoes?

And can you find even one friend of similar skill (or non-skill) to fill out a foursome and help overcome the intimidation factor you\u2019ll feel at the first tee?

Then comes a bigger question: Where can you practice enough to go from shooting a 60 (that\u2019s over nine holes) to a 40 or even a 35?

For 50 years, in which the Blue Devils have almost always finished last, the answer to those golf questions has been \u201cno\u201d and \u201cnowhere.\u201d

So Rodriguez asked the school district to fund a practice facility that would cost about $100,000. They didn\u2019t even say no. They really didn\u2019t say anything.

\u201cThey didn\u2019t even put my request on the agenda,\u201d he remembers. \u201cSome people laughed at me for asking.\u201d

When the Sunnyside school district passed an $88 million bond issue five years ago, it designated $10 million to sports, mostly for big-ticket items. Two basketball gymnasiums and the school\u2019s historic wrestling facility were re-done. The tennis courts were resurfaced and made safe. The football stadium got a new scoreboard and bleachers.

Golf? C\u2019mon, man.

Rodriguez persisted. He presented data showing that the district would ultimately save about $50,000 in transportation costs. The student golfers would not spend two hours a day on Interstate 19 traveling to their \u201chome\u201d course in Green Valley. That time could often be spent on school-related projects.

Rodriguez, the Star\u2019s 1997 All-Southern Arizona place-kicker who earned a teaching degree at the UA while spending four seasons on Dick Tomey\u2019s football team, would not go away.

\u201cI\u2019ve heard all the supposedly funny lines about the south-side kids, and that it\u2019s impossible for them to learn how to play golf because it costs too much,\u201d said Rodriguez. \u201cWhen I became the golf coach (10 years ago), I wasn\u2019t about to be a babysitter or a chauffeur. Our kids have pride, too.\u201d

Finally, last weekend, the Blue Devils unveiled their little piece of golf paradise, a 5,600-square foot practice facility, a five-iron from Del Moral Street almost hidden behind tennis courts and a football practice field. Cost: $99,000.

Happy day.

The district believes it is one of just two golf facilities serving high-minority, low-income students in the United States.

It will be used by golfers from Desert View High School, by district middle-schoolers, by the Special Olympics and maybe even by the First Tee of Tucson program.

\u201cThis was all Orlando\u2019s baby,\u201d said Sunnyside teacher Nick Duddleston, the assistant golf coach. \u201cHe did all the work from beginning to end.\u201d

Present and future Blue Devils and Desert View Jaguars will now be able to hit every conceivable shot, from wedge to driver, into a 30-foot high netting with five artificial turf tees. The chipping and putting facility is as good as those at Tucson\u2019s top golf courses, and better than those at Randolph North and all five Tucson city courses.

It can be a game-changer.

Sunnyside\u2019s mission isn\u2019t to turn out golfers, but it is to provide a broad-based education for its students. At the beginner\u2019s level, golf might be the most intimidating, expensive and time-intensive sport on the planet. That\u2019s why so few Blue Devils played golf.

A lot of times the Blue Devils would ask one of Southern Arizona\u2019s golf courses if it could get low-cost access during the prep golf season, August through October.

\u201cYou\u2019d get, \u2018Sunnyside? Sorry, we\u2019re full,\u2019\u201d Rodriguez said. \u201cMany of those doors have been closed to us. I wanted them open. Our kids didn\u2019t have a chance to get better than the players who were already better than them. I wanted to change that.\u201d

This year, when Blue Devil students were made aware of the new golf facility, interest and participation grew. Freshman Derek Ozbirn, a lefty who had rarely played golf, opened the year shooting 56 for the Blue Devils. In the season\u2019s last meet, he shot a 38 at El Rio.

Freshman Genesis Cuellar, who doesn\u2019t have her own golf clubs, opened the year shooting near 70. At year\u2019s end she shot a 48.

\u201cI\u2019m asking my parents for woods for Christmas,\u201d she said. \u201cAnd I\u2019m going to ask them for irons for my birthday.\u201d

At Saturday\u2019s grand opening, as part of a class project, Cuellar gave a speech to the district leaders about how golf is changing her life and her personality.

\u201cOur goal now is to qualify our teams for the state tournament,\u201d said Rodriguez. \u201cNo more excuses.\u201d

Happy Thanksgiving.

"} ]