Ask Paul Vassallo about the biggest game of his life, and he tells a story about the Galena High School Grizzlies.
Vassallo was a junior at Reno's Bishop Manogue High School in 2006 when it took on Galena with a chance to advance to the Nevada state playoffs.
Things didn't end well.
"We had six turnovers," Vassallo said, "and we lost by a field goal."
This week, Vassallo (pronounced vuh-SAH-loh) will get a chance to make up for it. Arizona's starting "Will" linebacker will anchor the defense Saturday when it takes on No. 9 Iowa at Arizona Stadium. Through two games, Vassallo, a junior transfer from Sierra College, leads the 24th-ranked Wildcats with 14 tackles. He recovered a fumble in last week's 52-6 win over The Citadel.
It'll take an ever better effort for the Wildcats to upset Iowa, and Vassallo knows it.
"This is, by far, the biggest game of my life," he said.
The Star talked to Vassallo, 20, this week about Arizona's hot start, his early-season success and, of course, Saturday's game against the Hawkeyes.
Here's what the Wildcats linebacker said, in his own words:
On Arizona's 2-0 start: "Our offense is playing well - we're averaging 40-something points a game - and our defense is playing well, too. The biggest thing is, we're coming together as a team and we're confident with the guys that are around us. We're confident we can get the job done."
On the UA defense's surprising play: "Everything you read about in (training) camp and stuff, we were the question mark. We were the inexperienced group, replacing seven people. It would be natural to say we were a little surprised, but toward the end of camp, when we started to come together, we saw the potential there. We've started to tap into it."
On when the defense started to improve: "Our third scrimmage, when we gave our offense a good run for their money. At that point, we felt good about what we could do. … Whenever you can shut these guys up a little bit, you're doing something right."
On his history with Iowa: "Growing up, I think I saw a couple games early on Saturday mornings because they were on Midwest time. But other than that, I don't know much."
On what he's seen from the Hawkeyes on film: "They like to run the ball right at you. If you're not tough enough, if you're not in your spot, they're going to win. That's what we're preparing for - matching their physicality and bringing our speed."
On Iowa's simplistic offensive approach: "They're confident with what they do. They feel as if they can line up with whoever and beat you at that. They're going to do that."
On whether that's comforting: "It does simplify things in a way, but you still have to know all the checks. They motion tight ends, wings and fullbacks and stuff. All that plays a role, but it does simplify the game plan."
On leading the Wildcats in tackles through two games: "I guess it's flattering. I did work hard to get here. I wasn't shocked."
On preparing for a physical game: "If you don't come to work, especially this week, you're going to pay for it. It's nice, all the accolades, but whatever. You have to come to work every day."
On playing at Arizona Stadium: "There's not really a word to describe walking out in front of that many people. Especially this week, it should be amazing."
On StarNet: See Ryan Finley's latest Wildcat Insider and see video of coach Mike Stoops at azstarnet.com/video