It happens so fast. One day, you’re the new dude. The next, you’re the wily vet.
Arizona Wildcats receiver Cedric Peterson remembers getting advice from David Richards back in 2015. Peterson was a freshman. Richards was a senior. They were locker-room neighbors.
“He always used to make sure I was on my plays, learning stuff,” Peterson said.
Other veteran wideouts helped Peterson as well: Samajie Grant, Trey Griffey, Nate Phillips. It’s how it works in college football, or at least how it’s supposed to.
Now Peterson finds himself in that mentoring role. The seniors who led last year’s receiving corps — Shun Brown, Tony Ellison and Shawn Poindexter — are gone. Between wideouts and tight ends, there’s one scholarship senior on the 2019 roster: Peterson.
“My freshman year, I remember a lot of the older dudes telling me, ‘Hey man, stay the path. It’s going to come by real fast,’” Peterson said. “I was like a typical freshman. ‘I’ve still got time.’
“And then last year I was like, ‘Damn.’ After the ASU game, it’s now or never — step up and be that leader in the receiver room.”
UA coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff put out a call for leadership before spring practice began. Peterson seems comfortable assuming that responsibility. He’s taking what he learned from those who preceded him and passing it along to the next generation.
“I had a lot of older dudes that set the standard higher for me, made sure that I was right,” Peterson said. “My role now is to make sure … that we’re all on the same page — we’re all doing things that we’re supposed to do, on and off the field. Showing up on time for meetings, getting extra work in.”
Peterson started every game for Arizona as a redshirt junior last season. He caught 18 passes for 268 yards and four touchdowns — all career highs.
Brown, Ellison and Poindexter played more prominent roles in the passing game. It remains to be seen how those receptions will be redistributed. But the coaches have let it be known that anyone can be a leader, regardless of résumé.
“Sometimes we’ve gotta get out of our own way, get out of our comfort zone a little bit,” inside receivers coach Theron Aych said. “Brian Casteel (a redshirt sophomore) has done a fabulous job doing that. Brian’s like me. He’s a real quiet guy. He’s done a fabulous job of being more vocal.
“You’ve got guys like Devaughn Cooper (a redshirt junior) that have playing experience. You’ll notice him when you’re out there, he’s coaching guys up. That’s not their normal personality.”
The goal for everyone is to reverse the results of last season. The Wildcats finished 5-7, blowing a 19-point fourth-quarter lead in the finale against Arizona State to knock themselves out of bowl contention. It’s a prime source of motivation for veterans and newcomers alike.
“For sure,” Peterson said. “Who doesn’t want to win games? People can win all the accolades and stuff. But at the end of the day, what are you doing to help your team win? Are you being that leader?”
Big plans at 'Big Y'
Aych sometimes works with Arizona’s tight ends, who are being coached to run many of the same routes as the inside receivers.
“They call it a ‘Small Y’ and a ‘Big Y.’ It’s pretty interchangeable,” said junior tight end Bryce Wolma, who’s part of the Big Y group.
One of Wolma’s goals for 2019 is to become more involved as a receiver. After catching 28 passes as a freshman, Wolma had only five receptions last season.
Wolma wasn’t targeted very often. He is hopeful that cross-training and improving his route-running will change that.
“Last year we did a lot of switching,” Wolma said. “We had Tony and Shun. Whenever we went into a slot-receiver set, they would come in for me. Sometimes, going forward, I’m going to stay in there and run those types of routes.”
The other tight ends are redshirt freshmen Jake Peters and Zach Williams. Williams is a particularly intriguing prospect because he has the frame of a Big Y (listed at 6-3, 215) and the movement skills of a Small Y. He primarily worked as a slot receiver last season.
“We’re going to try to develop him both ways,” Aych said. “We’ve gotta get the best 11 guys on the field.”
'Iron man' still seeking scholarship
A case can be made that center Josh McCauley was the Wildcats’ offensive MVP last season. He was the only UA offensive lineman to start at the same position in every game.
“The iron man,” offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. “With our numbers … he had to take every snap at center. It’s really a hard game to play if you can’t get a snap. Then you’re in shotgun, which even multiplies that.
“Josh is one of those (players), you don’t notice how much help he is, or how good he is for you, unless you don’t have him. He was always there for us, and he’s done a great job.”
An even stronger case can be made that McCauley deserves a scholarship. The redshirt junior came to Arizona as a walk-on and remained one as of Wednesday.
It seems inevitable that McCauley will receive a scholarship, although when that happens remains to be seen. Sumlin awarded one to receiver Stanley Berryhill III last year, and Arizona has room on its roster with so many players having transferred.
McCauley insists he’s neither thinking about his status nor is frustrated by it.
“That’s always the goal,” McCauley said of earning a scholarship. “I’m trying to get through spring ball and see where it goes from there. I’m just here to do my job.”
- Wolma was among the players unable to participate in practice Wednesday. Defensive tackle Myles Tapusoa and edge rusher Lee Anderson III remained out. Cornerback Jace Whittaker returned after being absent Monday.
- Berryhill has been limited throughout spring camp because of an unspecified injury.
- John Rushing, who switched from coaching safeties to linebackers this spring, revealed that he worked under former Los Angeles Rams linebackers coach Frank Bush while serving as a special-teams and defensive consultant in 2016.
- Asked which freshmen have stood out so far — as he did in the spring of 2017 — junior linebacker Tony Fields II cited two players: cornerback Christian Roland-Wallace and receiver Jaden Mitchell. Fields also said two veterans have taken a big step forward: Peterson and defensive end JB Brown.
- Redshirt-freshman receiver Tre Adams flashed during 7-on-7 drills. He appears to have progressed since last fall.
- Several Wildcats worked on catching short kickoffs. The returners were Mitchell and J.J. Taylor.
- Arizona held a relatively light practice in shorts and shells. The team will conduct a closed scrimmage Thursday.