Linebacker Jake Fischer found a way to calm the butterflies fluttering in his stomach all week: Miss Rita's Nacho Dip.
Rich Rodriguez, the Arizona Wildcats' first-year coach, presented Fischer and cornerback Jonathan McKnight with bowls of his wife's famous dip and bags of tortilla chips following Wednesday's practice. The dip will be a weekly reward - a gooey gold medal - during the regular season, a perk for hard work and practice preparation.
"There were a bunch of people he could have given it to, since we all worked hard," Fischer said. "We really are excited to get back out there."
Fischer will play in today's annual spring game at Kino Stadium with a full stomach - and, probably, a case of cold feet.
After all, today's game marks an anniversary he'd rather forget.
Fischer tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee when he collided with offensive tackle Fabbians Ebbele in last year's spring game. The tear, confirmed by an MRI two days later, forced Fischer to redshirt season in 2011.
Now healthy, the Ironwood Ridge High School product said he's ready to put the injury - and long recovery - behind him.
"There's been a couple people who've brought it up," said Fischer, who will be a junior in the fall. "I'm not trying to think about it."
Fortunately for the Cats, they've managed to stay relatively healthy this spring.
Running back Daniel Jenkins, wide receiver Terrence Miller and defensive tackle Jowyn Ward are all expected to miss today's game as they recover from various injuries. A handful of rehabbing players, including McKnight, will be held out of contact drills as a precaution.
The Wildcats were due for some good luck. Three projected regulars - Fischer, safety Adam Hall and running back Greg Nwoko - suffered torn ACLs during a five-week span. Defensive tackle Willie Mobley and McKnight suffered similar fates over the summer.
"We've got to knock on wood, though. There are still two practices left," center Kyle Quinn said. "Guys are playing fast, and we're keeping each other healthy, which is good. We're playing smart."
Just not smart, or fast, enough for their first-year coach. Rodriguez said his first spring in Tucson has been "probably the same" as his previous stops at Michigan, West Virginia, Tulane and Clemson.
While he's been happy with his players' attitudes this spring, the Wildcats need to play faster - and crisper - if they hope to improve on last season's 4-8 mark.
"If I had taken notes from all the other four or five places, I probably would be laughing at how familiar it all is - the struggles and all that," Rodriguez said. "I've come to expect it. I'm probably a little more patient, though I probably need to be more patient in the future."
Today's spring game at Kino will look much like Arizona's first two public scrimmages.
The Wildcats will run about 100 plays, and keep score using a system that rewards touchdowns on offense and stops and big plays on defense. Rodriguez and his new staff will emphasize situational plays and use most of the available roster.
Just about the only change will be location: Arizona Stadium construction has forced the UA to look off campus for its spring scrimmages. The team worked out at Glendale Community College last month and took over Kindall/Sancet Stadium - the Wildcats' former baseball home - for a workout last week.
Rodriguez is a big believer in creating new - and intense - atmospheres. Fischer said he's looking forward to it.
"Sometimes, even if you are a big-time competitor, when you're in the same spot doing the same thing over and over, it wears you down a little bit," he said. "It's going to create a big atmosphere. It's going to be a little bit of an upgrade."
Five Arizona Wildcats regulars are recovering from knee injuries suffered last spring and summer. Here's a look at their progress:
• Linebacker Jake Fischer (injured last April) has been practicing at full-speed throughout spring drills. He's expected to start at middle linebacker in today's spring game at Kino Stadium.
• Safety Adam Hall (injured in March 2011) has also taken part in every spring practice this year. He'll start on defense today.
• Cornerback Jonathan McKnight (injured in August) has been participating in noncontact position drills and on special teams, but will not play in the spring game.
• Defensive tackle Willie Mobley (injured in May) is practicing full-speed with the team. He'll likely start or play with the second team today.
• Running back Greg Nwoko (injured March 2011) rushed four times for 43 yards in Arizona's last open scrimmage. He figures to serve as one of Arizona's big-back options, alongside Taimi Tutogi, this fall.
• Where: Kino Stadium
• When: 1 p.m. today
• Cost: Free