The Arizona Wildcats squandered a late lead in the 2017 Foster Farms Bowl, surrendering an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to Purdue in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
Kylan Wilborn couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened had he been on the field.
The then-freshman suffered a shoulder injury in the first quarter. He would not return.
“It’s something I definitely think about a lot,” Wilborn said this week. “It was not the way I wanted to end my season.
“It definitely pushes me to work harder, especially in the weight room … just to make sure that doesn’t happen again. It’s something that really drives me.”
Like many of his UA teammates, Wilborn went to work in the offseason to transform his body. His listed weight of 248 pounds is only three more than last year’s 245, but Wilborn’s legs look thicker and sturdier.
The sophomore “Stud” appeared to be in peak form during the open portion of Arizona’s scrimmage last Saturday, consistently surging into the backfield to disrupt plays. Had Wilborn been available in the fourth quarter of the bowl game, maybe Purdue quarterback Elijah Sindelar wouldn’t have had time to throw the winning TD pass.
“It’s definitely rough on the guys in the secondary when the guys up front aren’t getting to the quarterback and getting in his face,” Wilborn said.
“It makes me want to work harder. If I’m not doing my job, I’m really just making the job harder for them.”
Wilborn led Arizona with 7.5 sacks and paced the Pac-12 with four forced fumbles last year.
He compiled those numbers despite being a true freshman and playing much of the second half of the season on a gimpy ankle.
Wilborn generally wasn’t as effective after spraining his ankle at Cal on Oct. 21. No amount of weight training can prevent injuries. But a stronger body — and a sharper mind — should help Wilborn play through them.
As happens with experience, Wilborn said the game has slowed down for him.
“He’s a guy that understands it better,” UA defensive coordinator Marcel Yates said. “Where last year he was trying to understand the defense, now he’s focusing on what the offense is trying to do to attack us.”
Wilborn explained it this way: “Last year it was more of just, I know I have this assignment on this play, go out and do it. This year I’m understanding why. … It helps me a lot, especially when the offense does something we’re maybe not prepared for.”
Be like Gronk
Bryce Wolma, Arizona’s sophomore tight end, recently was asked which NFL tight end he admires most.
“It’s gotta be Gronk,” Wolma replied.
Of course. Rob Gronkowski is one of the best tight ends of all time. He also played for the Wildcats.
“He’s the ultimate competitor,” Wolma said. “Blocking, catching — he can do it all. He’s a physical presence.”
Wolma never will be as big as Gronkowski. Wolma is listed at 6-3, 252 pounds; Gronkowski is 6-6, 268. But Wolma is striving to become a more physical player.
“I’d like to see my blocking and physicality level grow a little bit from last year,” said Wolma, who started six games as a freshman and caught 28 passes — the most by a true tight end at Arizona since Gronkowski in 2008.
“Coming in last year as a true freshman, you’re used to going up against guys that are half your size. Then you step onto this stage and it’s Pac-12 football, Power Five.”
Wolma has added about 15 pounds of muscle during the offseason. He has drawn praise from his new coaches, who have lauded his ability to line up as a blocker or flex into the slot.
“It’s been a while since I’ve had a guy like Bryce, that can be an in-line guy, can be a move guy, I can put him out in space — the guy we’re all looking for,” offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. “We’re in a lot more tight end sets than I’ve been in in six or seven years.”
Wolma said he expects to be used similarly to how he was last season — lining up in various places and serving as a trusted outlet for quarterback Khalil Tate. Tight ends were not a prominent part of the passing game under Mazzone the past two seasons at Texas A&M, but that should change now that he’s working with a player of Wolma’s caliber.
“There’s a mixture of a lot of stuff,” Wolma said. “We’re going to do a lot of different things with this offense, so it should be pretty fun.”
- The Wildcats are scheduled to scrimmage in full pads Saturday morning. They will shift into game-prep mode Monday in advance of the Sept. 1 opener against BYU.