Earlier this week, Arizona Wildcats senior tackle Layth Friekh visited a local barbershop. By the time he left, most of the hair he had been growing since his freshman year was gone.
“I needed a restart,” the now clean-cut Friekh said.
He’s getting an extended finish too.
Arizona revealed Thursday that Friekh’s appeal for an additional year of eligibility had been granted by the NCAA. The Wildcats’ starting left tackle for the past 32 games will have to sit out the first two games of next season, but Friekh considers the ruling a clear victory.
“I’ve been wanting this,” Friekh said. “I think I need it. I’m stoked about it. I’m ready to do it.”
Arizona got more good news Thursday. Toward the end of practice, the UA learned that receiver Shawn Poindexter’s request for another year also had been approved. Coach Rich Rodriguez broke the news to Poindexter and the media. It was the perfect belated birthday present for Poindexter, who turned 22 Wednesday. “A little treat,” he said.
It’s a big deal for the Wildcats.
With Friekh and Poindexter coming back, 15 of 22 starters are slated to return for Arizona next year. That doesn’t include part-time starters such as tailback J.J. Taylor and receiver Tony Ellison, the Wildcats’ second-leading rusher and receiver.
“We have another year together to come out here and improve,” Poindexter said. “(My) first season was 3-9. This one was 7-5. So now we’ve gotta progress and hopefully bring home a Pac-12 championship next year. That would be nice.”
Arizona has a chance to finish 8-5 with a victory over Purdue in the Dec. 27 Foster Farms Bowl. The Wildcats won’t have longtime offensive line coach Jim Michalczik, who left earlier this month for a job at Oregon State. They faced the prospect of losing four of their five starting offensive linemen next season before Friekh’s appeal went through.
Now the Wildcats return Friekh and center Nathan Eldridge, an honorable mention All-Pac-12 pick as a redshirt sophomore, from a line that helped Arizona lead the conference in scoring, total offense and rushing.
Friekh became the starting left tackle about halfway through the 2015 season – as a true sophomore – and hasn’t come out of the lineup since.
“He’s a veteran. A good football player. And I think he’s still getting better,” Rodriguez said. “He’s gotten bigger and stronger every year. This will be a big year for him. We’re losing a lot of guys, so being able to get Layth back is a big plus.”
The one catch is that Friekh must sit out two games. He played a handful of snaps against Utah as a freshman in 2014, costing him his redshirt year. The NCAA determined that Friekh would have to miss two games for every one he participated in that season – a relatively small price to pay for a shot at a league title and a chance to grow as a player and pro prospect.
“I’m not totally happy about the two-game suspension, but I’m happy to be here another year,” Friekh said. “It’s worth it to me to come back, better myself and be part of this team one more year.”
While the outcome of Friekh’s appeal was considered uncertain, Arizona felt that Poindexter had a strong case from the start. After graduating in 2012 from Peoria Centennial High School – where he was teammates with Friekh – Poindexter signed with Cal Baptist to play volleyball. But he withdrew from school for family reasons and spent most of the next two years working odd jobs.
Poindexter joined the football team at Glendale Community College in 2015. He is just finishing his second season at Arizona.
Poindexter started all 12 regular-season games and caught 14 passes for 223 yards. He has excellent size — 6-5, 212 — and remains relatively raw as a receiver.
“Oh gosh,” receivers coach Theron Aych said when asked last week about the possibility of Poindexter getting another year. “Shawn has such a big upside. He’s got so much potential. He’s a long kid that is very physical.
“Another offseason to help him get physically stronger, develop, learn how to play the position, is only going to help him.”
Poindexter is still learning how to make the best use of his big body. He got better as the season progressed at winning contested catches. He still needs work at getting in and out of breaks.
“We’ve got plenty of time to clean that up,” Poindexter said.
He does now.
“It means everything,” Poindexter said. “I needed a year to grow and develop more as a player. This is only my third year playing at the collegiate level. It’s huge.”
Poindexter’s return means every Wildcat who has caught at least 10 passes this season will be back next year except one – senior slot receiver Tyrell Johnson.
- One side effect of Friekh and Poindexter coming back next year is that Arizona will have to recalibrate its scholarship count. The 2018 class could be anywhere from 18 to 25 players depending on a variety of factors. “The good thing is, we want them back and they want to be back,” Rodriguez said. “That’s all positive.”
- Purdue faced Louisville dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jackson in Week 1. Does that film provide a template for how the Boilermakers will defend Khalil Tate? “I think you have to look at it,” Rodriguez said. “But it was so long ago. Also, what Louisville’s doing with him is not exactly the same as what we do with Khalil.”
- Quarterbacks coach Rod Smith is not currently with the team while attending to a family matter. His father underwent surgery last week. Smith is expected to return Sunday.
- Rodriguez said he plans to hire an offensive line coach “by the bowl game.” In the meantime, substitute coaches Glenn Parker and Kyle Quinn “have done a great job,” Rodriguez said. Senior guard Jacob Alsadek also is helping out. Rodriguez described Alsadek as the equivalent of a student-coach.
- Parker, currently a staff analyst, has not campaigned publicly for the job. But senior tackle Gerhard de Beer would support the former UA lineman’s promotion: “Glenn’s a 12-year NFL veteran,” de Beer said. “There’s so much you can learn from him. His football IQ is incredible.”
- Defensive tackle Luca Bruno, recovering from a concussion, is limited in practice. He ran sprints Thursday and is expected to play vs. Purdue after missing the regular-season finale.
- Redshirt junior Trevor Wood continues to practice at defensive end and could start there in the bowl game. He played tight end most of the season (and for most of his UA career).
- Rodriguez said three players have the flu and did not participate in practice. Additionally, the team has shifted more toward game planning with the bowl game less than two weeks away.