ARIZONA FOOTBALL

Big pain, little gain

Key injuries have put a dent in many a UA season over 32 years
2010-10-22T00:00:00Z 2014-09-15T09:17:13Z Big pain, little gainRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 22, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Nick Foles' knee injury is many things: Grisly. Unfortunate. Ill-timed.

But rare? Naw.

The Arizona Wildcats' football program has endured countless devastating injuries since joining the Pac-10 in 1978. By comparison, Foles' dislocated right kneecap is merely a blip in history.

In the previous 32 years, UA stars have had their seasons marred by major injuries. In each case, the seasons were compromised - whether it was a .500 season, a bowl game or a shot at the Pac-10 championship.

Here's our picks for the 10 biggest injuries in modern UA football history, how they happened, who they affected and how the players bounced back.

Try not to wince:

THE FIVE BIGGEST

1. Rob Gronkowski's bad back

Year: 2009

What went down: The UA's All-America-caliber tight end and the focal point of its spread offense injured his back while lifting weights before the season and underwent a microdiskectomy in September. Doctors removed a small portion of Gronkowski's spine to relieve pressure on his sciatic nerve.

Time missed: Gronkowski missed the entire season while recovering from surgery.

Road to recovery: A healthy Gronkowski left the UA a year early for a shot at the NFL draft. The New England Patriots took him with a second-round (42nd overall) pick and signed him to a four-year, $4.4 million contract in July.

2. Arizona's series of unfortunate events

Year: 1991

What went down: The Wildcats were snakebit by injuries throughout the season and finished 4-7. Only two Cats - tackle John Fina and cornerback Darryl Morrison - started every game at the same position.

Time missed: Defensive end Tedy Bruschi (thumb) missed nine games, defensive tackle Rob Waldrop (knee) and linebacker Sean Harris (knee) each missed five. Offensive tackle Mike Ciasca (knee) didn't play all season. Guard Mike Heemsbergen (motorcycle accident) and wide receiver Terry Vaughn (knee surgery) missed two games apiece.

Road to recovery: The UA played 19 freshmen and six junior college transfers as a result of the injuries. Bruschi, who was granted a medical redshirt, finished tied for first in NCAA history with 52 career sacks.

3. Willie Tuitama's concussion

Year: 2006

What went down: Arizona's sophomore quarterback was drilled by LSU's Tyson Jackson on the first play of the Wildcats' 45-3 loss to the Tigers in Baton Rouge, suffering a concussion.

Time missed: Tuitama missed all or parts of seven games because of the concussion and its continued aftereffects.

Road to recovery: Tuitama finished as the program's all-time leader in passing yards (9,211) and touchdowns (67). He signed with the expansion Nebraska Danger of the Indoor Football League last month.

4. Richard Dice's torn ACL

Year: 1995

What went down: Arizona's top wide receiver tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee after getting tangled with defensive back Kelly Malveaux during an October practice.

Time missed: Dice put off surgery in hopes that he could play in the Wildcats' final few games. Five games later, he returned - and shined. Dice caught four passes for 68 yards as the Wildcats defeated Arizona State 31-28 in their season finale.

Road to recovery: Dice, who battled hip, ankle and back problems throughout his UA career, was never the same. He returned as a senior in 1996 but tore the ACL in his other knee while catching a touchdown pass against USC.

5. Mark Fulcher's fractured kneecap

Year: 1980

What went down: The sophomore quarterback broke his left kneecap in the Wildcats' Week 2 win at Cal. He completed 16 of 31 passes for 301 yards before getting hurt, a performance that was - at the time - seventh-best in program history.

Time missed: Fulcher missed the remainder of the season, then quit the team.

Road to recovery: While Fulcher healed, the Wildcats rallied. True freshman Tom Tunnicliffe led Arizona to a 23-17 upset of No. 2 UCLA 23-17 five weeks later. Tunnicliffe finished his career as the UA's all-time leading passer.

The rest:

6. QB Nick Foles' dislocated kneecap (2010)

7. RB Clarence Farmer's torn knee (2002)

8. P Danny Baugher's torn knee (2005)

9. DB Michael Jolivette's facial lacerations (2000)

10. Jeff Hammerschmidt's torn knee (1989)

On StarNet: View an interactive graphic to see who will take the field when Arizona plays Washington at azstarnet.com/multimedia

huge injury, throwback

edition

The Cactus Comet's crash

Year: 1956

What went down: Art Luppino, the UA's record-setting tailback, suffered a knee injury on the first day of practice that rendered him ineffective for his entire senior season.

Time missed: Luppino was slowed throughout the final year as a Wildcat, finishing with just 327 rushing yards.

Road to recovery: Luppino tried out for the Washington Redskins in 1957 but failed the team's physical. His 44 career rushing touchdowns are still a record.

LB Earls taking shot at backup punter's job

The Arizona Wildcats have discovered a backup punter in the unlikeliest of places: linebacker.

Derek Earls, the Wildcats' starting middle linebacker, stayed after practice all week to work on his punting. Starting this week, he'll serve as the Wildcats' safety net if starter Keenyn Crier gets hurt.

"It's been fun," Earls said. "It's a lot different."

Earls punted at Waconia (Minn.) High School and for two years at North Dakota State College of Science before enrolling at the UA in January. Earls was messing around after practice last week when special teams coach Jeff Hammerschmidt noticed his punting ability.

The 6-foot-3-inch, 235-pounder must get his punts away faster and still needs to learn the intricacies of Arizona's "rugby punt," but he's a fast learner.

"It's a lot different here," Earls said. "In JC and in high school, I was just told to kick it."

Up next

• What: Washington (3-3, 2-1) at Arizona (5-1, 2-1)

• When: 7:15 p.m. Saturday

• TV: ESPN

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)

Ryan Finley

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



Free Wildcats Sports Newsletter

University of Arizona sports news and blog headlines, delivered daily


Follow the Arizona Daily Star


Featured businesses

View more...