Matt Scott spent the past three seasons wandering the football desert, such as it is, watching while Nick Foles rose from unheralded transfer to Arizona Wildcats star to NFL draft pick.
During his time away from the spotlight - two years spent as a backup and one as a redshirt - Scott slowly started to change. Gone was the sense of entitlement that followed him from Corona (Calif.) Centennial High School to Tucson; in its place grew a true work ethic.
The fifth-year senior will take the field against Toledo tonight as a new man.
"It's been a journey for me, growing every year, being better and more mature physically and mentally, just growing as a player and person," he said.
Scott said he learned two things during his time with the second-stringers.
"One, never take anything for granted. You never know what's going to happen or what could happen," he said. "And, two, always be prepared. As a quarterback, you have to be the most prepared guy on the field. I'm willing to put in the time and energy to be that guy."
That wasn't always the case. Scott's lack of preparation and his sensitivity to external pressures collided in the UA's Sept. 19, 2009, loss at Iowa. Making the third start of his career - the Wildcats won Scott's first two, against Central Michigan and Northern Arizona - the quarterback completed just 4 of 14 passes for 50 yards and was intercepted once.
Scott was wide-eyed and indecisive when he needed to be a leader; coaches replaced him mid-game. Scott called the performance "a big eye-opener for me," and not just because the Wildcats lost.
"I thought I knew what I was doing, but when I got out there, I felt a lot of pressure," Scott said. "I'll never make that mistake again."
Foles assumed the starting spot the following week, and - with the exception of two full games missed due to injury in 2010 - stayed at the top spot for the better part of three seasons.
Scott's time begins tonight, three years late but just in time. He can't wait.
"I'm glad I stayed here and it worked out," he said. "Now, I'm ready for the season to start."
THE LAST TIME
UA not as good, Toledo not as bad as 41-2 game in 2010 seemed to show
Date: Sept. 3, 2010
What went down: Arizona scored three first-half touchdowns and cruised to a 41-2, season-opening win over Toledo in the Glass Bowl. The Wildcats outgained the Rockets 518 yards to 183 yards in the blowout win.
How it read: Star columnist Greg Hansen wrote that the season-opening win was a tribute to coach Mike Stoops, who was fired up all offseason. Hansen wrote:
"When Arizona beat the Toledo Rockets 41-2 at the Glass Bowl, it was vintage Stoops. He does not know what it is to take a looser grip on a football game, even one played against the Mid-American Conference. His team responded not with a sloppy, opening-night, we-need-a-lot-of-work escape, but by crushing a MAC team the way a team with Rose Bowl aspirations should."
Turning point: Arizona scored two touchdowns in the final three minutes of the first half and took a 21-2 lead into the locker room. Nicolas Grigsby's 36-yard touchdown run capped a nine play, 91-yard drive; after UA linebacker Derek Earls intercepted Toledo quarterback Austin Dantin, Arizona's Nick Foles dived 1 yard for a score.
Stats that matter: Foles completed 32 of 37 passes for 360 yards and three touchdowns in his first season opener as a starter. Wide receiver Juron Criner finished with more yards (187) than Toledo's entire team (183). The Rockets' lone points came on a second-quarter safety.
It's history: The Wildcats weren't as good - and the Rockets weren't as bad - as they looked in their opener two years ago. Arizona went 7-6 with an Alamo Bowl loss to Oklahoma State; Toledo went 8-4 in the regular season before losing to Florida International in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
SPEED IT UP
Cats won't waste time by gathering for huddle
On the day he was hired as Arizona's new football coach, Rich Rodriguez declared huddles "a waste of time."
Plays still need to be called, however, which is why the Wildcats spent so much time this offseason working on signals. Arizona will call its offensive plays tonight using a complex system of hand signals that Rodriguez and his staff perfected over the years.
The Wildcats have spent their previous three scrimmages, including one Thursday, perfecting the art of play-calling on the fly.
"We have multiple signalers and multiple signals for every play," Rodriguez said. "We even see if our own guys who see it every day can pick it up, and they can't."
Here's a look at how it will look tonight:
1. Quarterback Matt Scott will sprint to the line of scrimmage after every complete pass or run and wait for center Kyle Quinn to line up over the ball. The quarterback will set up in the shotgun formation, and then…
2. Scott and the Wildcats' skill-position players will look to the sidelines, where a series of players - typically the backup quarterbacks, connected to Rodriguez via headsets - will frantically signal in the next play call. All but one of the players are decoys, a ploy to confuse opponents and thwart any possible shenanigans.
Hand signals aren't the only to way to call plays in a no-huddle offense: Oregon uses a series of flashcards featuring random images, from ESPN anchors' faces and pictures of animals to random words like "groceries." Rodriguez has used the card method before, but only as a backup plan.
"Our system's been pretty good," he said.
3. Scott will then call out blocking assignments and plays to his offensive linemen. Quinn will try to snap the ball as soon as the referee marks the ball and blows his whistle.
Ideally, the setup, signaling and snap should take 10 seconds or less.
"We'll see how that setup plays out on Saturday," Scott said. "It shouldn't be too bad."
CATS 14-1 AT HOME
Labor Day weekend very, very good to UA
The unofficial end of summer has been good news for the Arizona Wildcats.
Call them the Labor Day Weekend warriors.
The UA has played 15 home games over Labor Day weekend since 1979, winning 14 of them and 12 in a row; the only loss came to Fresno State in 1984. In road games, the Cats were 3-1.
The Wildcats have outscored their holiday-weekend opponents at Arizona Stadium 507-126 since '79; just one opponent, that same Fresno State team, scored more than 14 points.
Consider Arizona's opponents, though: The UA home wins have come over Colorado State (1979), Oregon State (1983), Stanford (1989), Utah State (1992), UTEP (1993, 1996, 2003), Pacific (1995), Northern Arizona (2002, 2004, 2011), BYU (2006), Idaho (2008) and Central Michigan (2009).
CDO GRAD STARTS AT RB
'Comfortable' Carey eyes breakout season
Running back Ka'Deem Carey showed promise as a true freshman last season, but - like any young star - he seemed to burn bright and hot for only short periods of time.
Carey ran for 425 yards and six touchdowns and had 203 receiving yards with two TDs in 2011. He will open his sophomore season tonight hoping for more consistency and durability as the team's newly minted starter.
"He's ready to go," coach Rich Rodriguez said.
The Star talked to Carey, a former Canyon del Oro High School star, about what he expects:
On how he's different this season: "I feel more experienced. The game has slowed down a lot. … I don't know what it is. I feel comfortable with these plays and my team. I've got their back and they've got my back."
On his anticipated workload: "Whenever the ball comes to me, I'll be good with it. I feel like I trained for this moment. I took extra reps so I can be in this situation, getting the ball a little bit more than last year. I worked extra hard to get to this point."
On when the Wildcats' spread-option offense "clicked" for him: "Probably while bonding up there in Fort Huachuca. I got to just learn this offense and bond with the coaches and players with no distractions, so I'm extra comfortable."
Toledo at Arizona • 7:30 p.m. • ESPNU • 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (spanish)
Game-day breakdown by Ryan Finley
Ka'Deem Carey, by the numbers
Total yards from scrimmage gained by Carey as a true freshman in 2011. Among Arizona's backs and receivers, only Juron Criner (956), Keola Antolin (765) and David Douglas (666) and had more.
Carey's yards-per-rush in 2011, second-best on the team behind Daniel Jenkins' 5.7.
Carey's rushing touchdowns in 2011, most on the team