The composition of Arizona’s football team is so diverse that it has players from Saint Francis, Saint Bonaventure, Saint Augustine, Bishop Gorman, Bishop Mora, Oak Hills Christian and Mission Hills high schools.
It has players who attended West, West Side and Key West high schools, three guys named Jake and three Zachs, all with H and not K.
There’s a Trey, a Tre and a Tra’Mayne.
The Wildcats have players from Samoa, South Africa and Cancun, Mexico, and a coaching staff so mixed that hometowns include Playas, New Mexico; Media, Pennsylvania; and Port Angeles, Washington.
The intrigue of merging 85 scholarship players, 25 walk-ons and 10 coaches from so many different walks of life is how they come together as one to make it all work.
“All in,” says UA coach Rich Rodriguez. “All in.”
On Sunday afternoon, punter Drew Riggleman, tight end Trevor Wood and defensive lineman Sani
Fuimaono caught an elevator together at the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility. It was UA media day.
Riggleman is the team’s starting punter, a Sahuaro High grad who, believe it or not, is still operating without a scholarship. One of his options was to play at Occidental College, a Division III school in Southern California.
Wood is projected as Arizona’s impact freshman of ’14, a coveted prospect from Scottsdale Chaparral High School who was offered a scholarship by the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide.
Fuimaono is a Hawaiian, a former state championship wrestler who is four months removed from a two-year LDS church mission in Chile.
You couldn’t cast three players with more different backgrounds, but they are teammates united by the same cause.
Riggleman was recruited to Arizona by ex-UA safety Jeff Hammerschmidt, who now coaches at Colorado State.
Wood was recruited to Arizona by his dad, David Wood, a UA football fan with few peers, and a first-team All-Pac-10 defensive lineman for the Cats in 1984.
Fuimaono was recruited to UA by Mike Tuiasosopo, who now coaches linebackers at UCLA.
A football team is the most fluid of all college sports squads, with more positions and more moving parts than any other team on campus.
The greatest team in UA football history, the 12-1 club of 1998, operated a job-share quarterback system with Keith Smith, a former minor-league shortstop, and Ortege Jenkins, who also played for Arizona’s No. 1 ranked basketball team.
You fit the pieces to the puzzle. Riggleman, Wood, Fuimaono.
“Coach Rodriguez makes it clear that no one is ever established at their position,” said Riggleman, who averaged 41 yards per punt last season. “There’s always pressure to get better. This year they brought in Ethan Keyserling, who punted at Virginia Tech last year, and a freshman, Josh Pollack (of Highland Park, Illinois) to compete with me.”
Every day is a battle for Drew Riggleman to keep his starting job.
Unlike his father, who was a bit undersized (but all heart) during his all-conference days of the ’80s, Trevor Wood, 6-5, 250, is built like those mobile and powerful Stanford tight ends, Zach Ertz and Coby Fleener, who helped make the Cardinal a national power in recent years.
“I feel like it can be a mismatch if I get the right fit,” said Wood. “You want to be able to outrun a linebacker and be bigger than the safeties. It’s a big part of the game, and coaches like (Rodriguez) and (co-offensive coordinator) Calvin Magee know how to use players the way they should be used. It was a big reason I wanted to come into this program.”
It isn’t likely that Trevor Wood will be looking over his shoulder at the depth chart in the next four years. But is he any more valuable than a punter?
The man with the most insight into that question is assistant coach Charlie Ragle, who is part of the unique tapestry of the ’14 Wildcats. Ragle is the position coach of both Riggleman and Wood. In fact, in 2011, he was Wood’s head coach at Chaparral.
Sometimes it’s a small world inside a big team.
All three players have their scars. Fuimaono was part of a 2-10 team that got Mike Stoops fired in 2011. Riggleman fumbled a punt for a safety in last year’s loss Washington. Wood was on the Chaparral team that lost the 2013 state championship game to Salpointe Catholic at Arizona Stadium.
Those scars are now covered by red and blue Arizona jerseys.
Fuimaono won’t be playing in the Aug. 29 opener against UNLV because he broke his foot, requiring surgery, at the outset of training camp.
At 22, Fuimaono has three years of eligibility remaining. If his rehab goes as planned, he is likely to become one of Arizona’s most prominent players, as a position of need, through the 2016 season. He knows the value of hard work and commitment as much as anyone on the UA roster.
“I spent two years in Chile as a missionary for the Mormon church, and it definitely wasn’t easy,” he said. “It was both the hardest thing and the best thing I’ve ever done. I’ve got a lot of faith in my ability to bounce back and help the team.”
Riggleman and Wood grew up watching the Wildcats at Arizona Stadium. Riggleman would accompany his grandfather. Wood, side by side with his father, began watching the Wildcats as a first-grader.
Fuimaono wasn’t such an easy sell. He took recruiting visits to Washington and Colorado before deciding to play at Arizona, which for a long time had been No. 3 on his list.
Now, years later, all are pulling the same rope, which is part of the gospel of RichRod.
All in? It’s the only way it’ll work.