Jamarye Joiner had an inherent advantage when he moved from quarterback to receiver for the Arizona Wildcats: He knew the offense — what all 11 players are supposed to do on any given play.
But Joiner’s position change was more about seeing an even bigger picture. It was about recognizing the best way he could help his squad.
“We have a saying in the locker room. ‘It’s about us,’” Joiner said Tuesday in his first media interview as a Wildcat. “At the end of the day, it’s about the team. If I can help the team win games and help us from (having) a losing season (like) last year, I’m gonna do whatever I have to do.”
Joiner flourished as a dual-threat quarterback at Cienega High School. Former UA coach Rich Rodriguez and his staff recruited Joiner to play QB. New coach Kevin Sumlin gave Joiner that opportunity last season. He briefly appeared in two games as a freshman.
But coming out of spring practice this year, Joiner reflected on his career path. He knew he wouldn’t have a realistic chance to play quarterback with Khalil Tate returning for his senior season. Joiner also knew that the quarterback room was pretty crowded, including classmate Kevin Doyle, veteran Rhett Rodriguez and newcomer Grant Gunnell.
Joiner had several conversations with his parents in which he sought answers to these questions: “What’s best for me? How can I get on the field? How can I do what’s best for the team at the moment?”
Joiner also consulted with his uncle, Tamoni Joiner, who played defensive back at Oregon in the late 1990s.
“You have options,” Tamoni told his nephew. “You’re an athlete. You can play whatever you want. So just explore your options. Don’t limit yourself.”
When he met with Sumlin and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone for post-spring exit meetings, Jamarye Joiner revealed his intentions. Mazzone was blown away, saying later that his respect for Joiner was “off the charts.”
Arizona was in the midst of a transition phase at wide receiver, having lost several of its top pass catchers from last season. Joiner would have a legitimate shot to compete for playing time if he put in the work.
As mentioned, he already had a grasp of the offense. That gave Joiner an edge over the receivers who were new to the program.
“When you make that move from quarterback to receiver, conceptually he’s already there,” said Sumlin, whose team opens the season Saturday at Hawaii.
“Because he’s got to know the route tree; he’s got to know the route combinations.
“Now the technique, that becomes the issue.”
Joiner worked with Mazzone and inside receivers coach Theron Aych on the technical aspects of his new position: footwork, how to use his hands to beat press coverage, when and how to break off routes.
Joiner proved to be a quick study.
“He’s hungry. He’s passionate. He’s a great teammate. And he wants to play,” Aych said. “He made a great career decision, a business decision.”
Joiner reiterated that the move was more about the team than about him. He mentioned feeling bad for ex-teammates who should have been picked higher in the draft “but didn’t because we didn’t win games.” Joiner figures that if he can help the team win, it’ll help the next batch of draft prospects.
“I just want everybody around me to get better,” Joiner said.
Despite making the move this offseason, Joiner quickly stood out as a playmaker. When the depth chart came out Monday, he was listed as a co-starter at slot receiver with redshirt sophomore Brian Casteel.
No one was surprised Joiner made such a rapid ascent — including Joiner himself.
“I know what I’m capable of doing,” he said. “I’ve always been confident about my talents.
“The work I put in is always something that I took pride in.
“I’ve lost a lot of friends (by) not hanging out … because I’m focused on my craft and doing what I need to do to make it to the next level.”
Joiner drew inspiration from a current NFL player: Taysom Hill of the New Orleans Saints. Hill played quarterback at BYU — he started the 2016 opener against Arizona — before becoming a multiposition weapon under Sean Payton. The Saints also happen to be Joiner’s favorite team.
“I was like, if he can do it, I can do it,” Joiner said of Hill.
Joiner’s move to receiver should make Arizona a better team; it enables the Wildcats to put one of their best athletes on the field alongside Tate, tailback J.J. Taylor and others.
Joiner’s decision also earned his teammates’ admiration. It’s commonplace these days for quarterbacks to switch schools when it appears they won’t play.
“It really speaks a lot about his character,” Tate said, “that he could put his pride to the side and help us in a different way.”
Casteel feeling healthy, fit
Casteel will share the slot duties after a strong offseason.
He missed all of last year because of a back injury. Casteel said he had a stress fracture in his back, then got “twisted up wrong” in an early season practice. A pinched nerve caused numbness in his foot.
It was determined that he should spend the season rehabbing. Casteel strengthened his core and lost weight, dropping from 210 pounds to 195.
“It was pretty frustrating,” he said of having to sit out. “But having my teammates and my coaches, they kind of helped me keep my head down and keep pushing. They were just telling me, ‘You’re gonna be straight’
“I went through a whole summer, and I felt perfectly fine. I’m just blessed and glad to be here today.”
Casteel is faster and quicker than he used to be. But it won’t change the former running back’s approach.
“I’m a little bit more elusive,” Casteel said. “But as far as the physicality, I’m always going to have that kind of mindset.”
- Tate said he’d liked to be remembered as “a winner” when his time is up at Arizona. “My career’s been kind of rocky,” he said. “I have one more year to really put my stamp on (it).” Tate ranks among the Wildcats’ top 10 in career touchdown passes and total yards but has yet to lead them to victories in a bowl game or against rival Arizona State.
- Joiner takes pride in representing his hometown alongside fellow receivers and Tucsonans Stanley Berryhill III and Drew Dixon. “We want to encourage kids,” Joiner said. “We want to be everybody else’s motivation.”
- Chris Vannini of The Athletic this week released his first set of rankings of all 130 FBS programs. Vannini placed Hawaii 55th — and Arizona 58th. The Wildcats are favored by 11 points.
- The Wildcats leave for Hawaii on Wednesday. They will work out each of the next three days heading into the opener at Aloha Stadium.