Christian Boettcher looked around the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility and out toward the turf at Arizona Stadium. He pointed at the weight room where he’s spent many hours and thought about everything he’s done to get to this point.
Last week, Boettcher — a redshirt junior — informed his coaches that this would be his last season playing football. Boettcher will start law school next fall, and decided it would be best to focus on school.
On Tuesday, Boettcher talked about a winding career that never really should have gone this far. The walk-on-turned-scholarship player-turned-starter said he dreamed of starting at the UA. He just never thought it would happen.
“It’s kinda movie-like, in a way, but I get to live behind the scenes of the movie,” Boettcher said. “The directors and producers are yelling and running around, all the conditioning, all the weightlifting. But there’s a lot of hard work that’s gone into it and I feel proud of what I’ve done.”
If Boettcher’s football life is a movie, it’s not quite “Rudy.” Boettcher didn’t need his teammates to beg coach Rich Rodriguez to keep on him on the team, though he did have to try out to make the team a few years ago.
Boettcher suffered a knee injury as a senior at Scottsdale’s Desert Mountain High School, severely limiting his college options. Division II and NAIA programs showed interest, but no major opportunities presented themselves.
Boettcher picked the UA, attracted by its biochemistry program, and tried to walk on. UA coaches remembered him from a high school camp.
Boettcher redshirted in 2014, and played in one game as a redshirt freshman. Rodriguez rewarded Boettcher with a scholarship in May of 2016. Later that year, Boettcher had a starting spot.
Was Boettcher ready for that jump in playing time? Not quite.
At that point, Boettcher was known among Arizona’s offensive linemen for accidentally stepping on his teammates’ feet during pass protection plays.
“Oh, God. Dude, last year my left foot was bruised every day,” said UA center Nathan Eldridge. “It was horrible. It’s not like he would just step on your ankle — he would go up your leg and I’d be yelling at him all the time.”
Boettcher admits that 2016 was rough.
“I was obviously the deficient guy in the lineup,” he said.
Boettcher didn’t exactly look the part, either. He’s listed at 6 feet 2 inches and 290 pounds — five inches shorter than fellow starter Jacob Alsadek and half-a-foot shorter than Freddie Tagaloa, the player Boettcher beat out for a starting job a year ago.
Boettcher opened the 2017 season looking up at another behemoth, the 6-3, 318-pound Michael Eletise. He beat him out anyway. Boettcher has started every game at left guard this season, and has been a key cog on an offensive line that hasn’t allowed a sack in five of the past six weeks.
“It’s a great group because they all work their butts off,” offensive line coach Jim Michalczik said. “They all want to be special, they want to be good. Nowadays everybody wants to anoint guys because he’s a five-star (recruit), he’s going to be this, where there’s still some guys out there that want to make themselves great. I’ve never met a lineman who was born great. I’ve had some pretty damn good ones who have worked themselves into that.”
Arizona’s coaches just wish Boettcher could stay another year.
“We wanted him to come back, but more importantly, we wanted him to get ready for the next phase of his life, and that’s going to be graduating and moving on,” Rodriguez said. “He came from nowhere to not only get a scholarship but become a starter and play a couple positions and play at a really good level. (He’s a) great example for the whole team.”
Said Eldridge: “I understand where he’s coming from. I obviously wanted him to play football, but he has a really bright future so I was proud of him. That took a lot of guts to do that.”
So Boettcher was included in the Wildcats’ Senior Night last week against Oregon State. Some of his teammates carried him off the field.
It wasn’t “Rudy” — but close enough.
“I came to the decision that I need to be a man and get on with the next portion of my life,” Boettcher said. “In terms of just the gravity of it all, it’s just sinking in.
“I would say this is my dream, and it’s kind of come true.”
- UA wide receiver Shun Brown was limited against Oregon State because of a foot injury, but said Tuesday he’s feeling “pretty good” and is “ready to roll.”
- Cornerback Jace Whittaker again had a walking boot on his left foot as he left the locker room. Whittaker sported one last week as well but didn’t appear on the injury report and played against Oregon State.
- Rodriguez said tackle Bryson Cain, who’s out for the season (ankle), is practicing on a limited basis. Rodriguez also anticipates that safety Isaiah Hayes (shoulder) will be back for spring ball.
- Arizona did wet-ball drills Tuesday, and will continue to do them through the week. The weather forecast in Eugene for Saturday projects for a chilly, rainy afternoon.
- Defensive lineman Dereck Boles and linebacker Colin Schooler made Pro Football Focus’ Pac-12 Team of the Week for their performances against Oregon State. Schooler finished with six tackles, three tackles-for-loss and two sacks, while Boles had seven tackles and one for a loss.