Rich Rodriguez oversaw his first spring game at a half-full Kino Stadium on a rainy Saturday in 2012.
In 2013, the game moved to Kindall/Sancet Stadium in front of a few thousand people while new turf was being installed at Arizona Stadium.
On Saturday, Rodriguez and the Wildcats hosted the spring game on their home field for the first time since 2011 in front of 7,100 fans.
Progress — though maybe a little slower than the coach would like.
“I appreciate the crowd that was here, but I’d like to have at least half this place filled every spring game,” Rodriguez said Saturday. “The weather is going to be nice, and there are a lot of things surrounding it. We’ll keep working until it happens.”
And it will happen at some point soon, the coach believes.
In his three springs in Tucson, Rodriguez has replenished the UA’s roster with recruiting classes that improved in the national rankings each year. He’s seen the construction of a state-of-the-art football facility and a total overhaul of Arizona Stadium.
Through all that, the coach still managed to win 16 games in two seasons with a pair of senior classes that may not produce a single NFL draft pick.
Times are changing and things are going in the right direction.
“From a recruiting standpoint, from a development standpoint, from where everyone knows how we want to run practice, how we want to run the program, it’s night and day,” Rodriguez said. “Just how practice is run so much more efficiently now compared to what we did when we first got here. I feel really good with where we’re at.”
After a productive spring, Rodriguez thinks the right foundation is laid for an even better fall when his team reports in early August with a new recruiting class.
The coach estimated that at least half the incoming class could play as true freshmen.
“I think this recruiting class coming in, there will be some real talent added to the mix, and I think going forward, we’re going to keep getting better,” he said.
Rodriguez and his coaching staff won’t get to work with the Wildcats again until fall camp. Until then, it’s on the players to keep things going on their own.
When the coach showed up for the first day of fall camp last year, he was severely disappointed with the progress his team made on its own in the offseason.
This year, a new rule allows the coaches to work with their players in the film room and the classroom, but still not on the field.
So it’s on the upperclassmen to carry the momentum from a good, injury-free spring into offseason workouts and get to a point that pleases Rodriguez in August.
“We’ll all get together and keep working,” receiver Austin Hill said. “Spring was a good building block to work on toward the season. Now we’ll get ready for the next building block, which is camp, and get through that. We need to get our timing down and get everything ready for the season.”
Arizona hosted several class of 2015 recruits on Saturday for the spring game. The two most significant were four-star cornerback Dechaun Holiday and three-star offensive tackle Cade Cote.
Holiday, the cousin of current UA corner Devin Holiday, has offers from Florida State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas A&M, UCLA, USC and others. A product of Mission Hills High School in San Marcos, Calif., Holiday was on an unofficial visit.
He’s ranked as the 14th-best cornerback in the country by the Scout.com recruiting service.
Cote, from Gilbert Williams Field High School, holds offers from Arizona and Arizona State. He’s listed at 6 feet 4 inches and 270 pounds.
- Some of the incoming players that Rodriguez referenced after the game were also at Arizona Stadium on Saturday.
Linebacker Jamardre Cobb, who should compete for a starting spot at linebacker, was at the game and on the field after the game. So was running back Nick Wilson, who should compete with Terris Jones-Grigsby, Pierre Cormier and Zach Green for playing time.
Sharif Williams, a defensive tackle and high school teammate of Wilson, was also in town. Williams broke his leg early last season and will grayshirt in 2014, meaning he will work out on his own and join the team after the season.