When Rich Rodriguez arrives at Arizona Stadium tonight with his team, he’ll walk into the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility the same way he walked into the locker room as a 24-year-old coach at Salem University in 1988.
He’ll have jitters and his stomach will be churning. Anxiety will thump through Arizona Stadium like pregame music.
“I get nervous before every game,” Rodriguez said. “I think every coach does and I think every player should get some butterflies. I think there’s probably more anxiety in the first game than any other just because there are so many things that you worry about in the first game.”
This year’s Arizona Wildcats have their fair share of worries leading into tonight’s 7 p.m. kickoff against Northern Arizona.
Running back Ka’Deem Carey, the team’s best player and most electric playmaker, may face punishment from Rodriguez for his offseason run-ins. He may play from the opening snap, he may miss a half or he may miss the entire game.
Nobody but the coach knows.
Rodriguez is also the only man who knows who’s starting at quarterback.
Those are the questions he knows the answers to.
But not even the veteran coach knows if his defense will be better this year. He doesn’t know who will emerge at wide receiver in Austin Hill’s absence and he doesn’t know his team will be truly ready for the new game-day experience at Arizona Stadium.
Still, don’t expect some big pregame pep talk from the coach in the team’s new, luxurious locker room.
“I think all the pregame talks and halftime talks are all overrated,” Rodriguez said. “The rah-rah stuff. They’re either ready to play or they’re not.”
Listen to the players this week and they’ll tell you they’re definitely ready.
After three-plus weeks of Rodriguez’s demanding and draining fall camp, the Wildcats are ready to hit some Lumberjacks.
“Everyone will be really enthusiastic about going up against NAU,” senior wide receiver Terrence Miller said. “I have watched film on them and they’re a great team. We really have our work cut out for us this weekend.
“We have to focus in to make sure we’re doing everything right and not making any mistakes.”
Miller’s statement may seem like playerspeak, but there’s some truth to it. NAU went 8-3 last year and returns 18 starters. One of those eight wins was a victory at UNLV.
In other words, Arizona’s opponent isn’t afraid of the big-time stage.
“Our guys are smart, they’ve seen the film,” Rodriguez said. “This is a good FCS team. We could have played poorly last year (against South Carolina State) and still beat that team we played. This year isn’t the same and I think our guys see that on film.
“We have so many questions, I’m anxious to see how we play Friday night.”