When it comes to depth charts, the word “OR” may be the most-debated term in college football.
Generally, its use is meant to indicate there’s no clear-cut leader among two players fighting for a starting spot (though in reality it’s often used by coaches to disguise personnel from upcoming opponents).
But in the case of right tackle for the Arizona Wildcats, the “OR” separating redshirt sophomores Edgar Burrola and Paiton Fears appears to have been legit. During the season-opening loss at Hawaii, both played equally.
“We had 74 gradeable plays on offense … and they split 37 snaps apiece,” Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin said earlier this week. “Those two guys are battling it out and probably will continue on that path.”
Turns out that was the plan all along, according to Burrola.
“That’s how practice was set up, too,” he said. “On Monday I’d be the starter and Tuesday Paiton would be the first-team guy.”
For Burrola, that was the first significant action of his college career. A redshirt in 2017, he appeared in six games in 2018 but only once in the final seven contests, with most of his snaps coming on special teams.
Arizona loaded up on big bodies in the 2019 recruiting class, bringing in a pair of junior college offensive linemen with the intention of each contributing right away. That included Fears, who arrived in January and inadvertently light a fire under Burrola.
“It was a wake-up call,” Burrola said of Fears’ addition. “Last year I wasn’t really at the level I wanted to be, so when Paiton came in that really elevated my game. It was like a make-it-or-break-it year for me.”
Burrola said he decided to change almost everything about himself, including his diet—he’s almost completely off dairy—and his approach to school. He said he had a 3.0 grade point average in the spring, the first time that’s happened for him in college.
“I had a 2.1 overall going into the spring, so coming out with a 3.0, I was really proud of myself,” Burrola said.
A more streamlined diet and better workout techniques translated into a more game-ready body. Burrola said he’s playing at 303 pounds on his 6-foot-6 frame, up from 285 a year ago. And new offensive line coach Kyle DeVan has helped him fix what he considered a big flaw in his game, not using his left arm enough when blocking.
All signs point to Burrola and Fears continuing to trade off at right tackle. If their performance is like it was against Hawaii, the rest of the line isn’t likely to notice a difference between the two.
“To me both of them are the same,” left tackle Donovan Laie said. “They both produce the same. Both of them did well for their first game.”