David Richards, pulling in a pass during Wednesday’s first practice, is one of only a few players left over from the Mike Stoops era. The identity of the team has fully changed as it enters Rich Rodriguez’s fourth year as coach.
Because Scooby Wright is built like a haystack, he wears XXXL T-shirts that are the size of a small barn. On Tuesday, he wore a black T-shirt featuring an Arizona helmet and the word MISFIT.
No one missed it; no one had to ask what it meant.
If the All-America linebacker had his way, he would rename Rich Rodriguez’s 2015 football team the Arizona Misfits.
Scooby missed Pac-12 media days because he does not wish to get caught up in the Scooby-is-a-beast chatter; if he succumbs to football worship, he could no longer play with a redwood-sized chip on his shoulder. Therefore, he said the only thing that caught his attention during the two-day wingding was that someone’s computer program declared that Arizona has a 2 percent chance to win the Pac-12 South.
“My dad told me that,” he said, almost biting off each word.
Scooby and RichRod are kindred spirits in that way. They revel in the underdog business. RichRod said that the “Two Percent” list could spawn a season-long crusade.
“That would make a good T-shirt or hat or something,” he said. “If it motivates your guys to run an extra sprint on their own, maybe it’ll be good.”
Of all the battle cries in college football, from “Fear the Frog” and “Forks Up,” could there be better motivational fodder than “Misfits” or “Two Percent”?
No one does exact research on the history of preseason rankings, but it is unthinkable that the defending Pac-12 South champions, a team with a 3,793-yard passer, a 1,375-yard rusher, a 1,019-yard receiver, Scooby Wright and 13 other seasoned defensive players — not to mention a star-level punter and kicker — could be picked to finish No. 5 of six teams.
This “Two Percent” thing could catch on.
The Misfits held their first practice Wednesday evening and perhaps no one looked forward to two hours in frying pan-type heat more than Scooby Wright. He does not have a job to win nor a playbook to learn but he seemed eager to suit up and, he said “just work on my craft.”
That’s like Jordan Spieth spending extra time on the driving range.
This is RichRod’s fourth Arizona team, and as senior center Carter Wood said Tuesday, “we’re all RichRod guys.” That should be worth more than two percent in any computer program.
Of the 85 so-called scholarship players, 79 were recruited by RichRod. The only Mike Stoops recruits remaining are starting defensive end Reggie Gilbert; rotation receiver David Richards; backup tailback Jared Baker; useful defensive lineman Sani Fuimaono; starting right tackle Lene Maiava; and utility man Aiulua Fanene.
The identity of UA football has fully changed. In the Stoops years, you got the feeling the Wildcats were hanging on, even with Nick Foles breaking passing records. Fragile. They did not embrace the reputation as an off-brand program.
Now they tout it. Misfits. Bring it on.
“Our team is from everywhere; it’s a cool thing how we all got here,” said junior receiver Cayleb Jones, a University of Texas transfer and testament to RichRod’s resourcefulness in remaking the 85-man roster. What makes it work is that there is no star treatment or sense of entitlement, as there might be at, say, USC or Oregon.
If Scooby labels himself a Misfit, how can anyone else get an oversized helmet?
“There aren’t a lot of individuals on the team,” said Jones. “Coach RichRod doesn’t tolerate that.”
Scooby’s work ethic and approach can be seen in junior receiver Nate Phillips, who has caught 76 passes in 1½ seasons. In many programs, Phillips would be secure, his playing time established.
But at Arizona, five of his teammates have combined to catch 291 passes. The competition is wicked; but it’s also what you’d expect from a coach’s fourth team, and the school’s first outright championship since the 1930s.
While recovering from a midseason foot injury, Phillips feared he was losing his place in the batting order. He has to re-earn a spot in the rotation this month.
“If we don’t all feel like that every day, we’re not getting any better,” he said. “No matter where you want to pinpoint, we’ve got a 1-B at every position.”
Nate Phillips couldn’t be better cast as a Misfit. He’s 5 feet 7 inches and 180 pounds. Cayleb Jones referred to him as “a bowling ball.” Yet Phillips has gained 1,171 total yards in his brief UA career, a two-star recruit from Phoenix who is a perfect fit for RichRod’s Two Percent Gang.