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Arizona football: Wildcats head north to practice, recover from the loss of Zach Hemmila

Getting away from the team's usual setting could be exactly what the grieving Wildcats need at the moment

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Tucson monsoon season has forced the Arizona Wildcats to relocate their practices to Tempe for the next two days, but as inconvenient as that might sound, it could be exactly what they need at the moment.

The Wildcats are grieving the loss of Zach Hemmila, who passed away on Sunday night, and getting away from Tucson and the team's usual facilities could serve as a much-needed breath of fresh air.

"It’s probably good for us to get away for a little bit," Rich Rodriguez said on Wednesday morning before the team departed for the Arizona Cardinals' practice facility.

Tight end Josh Kern, whose locker was two away from Hemmila's, admitted that he initially avoided going into the UA's facilities after receiving the news.

"The first day [after Hemmila's death], I didn’t want to be around here at all," Kern said.
"[The coaching staff] made stuff not mandatory — there was a workout and a team meeting — and I didn’t come back. I didn't want to be around."

Kern continued, "I’ve been with Zach every day for four years, with workouts and football and everyday I’ve been in Tucson, so it’s been weird...Getting out of Tucson might help a little bit."

Offensive lineman Jacob Alsadek, who was roommates with Hemmila at one point, felt the same way.

"We kept his spot in the meeting room, we haven’t moved it and we still give him every sheet that we get," Alsadek said. "His locker is still up and nothing has been touched."

Alsadek continued, "Seeing this stuff is hard still... and I think going away is going to help us with that."

For the players, being around each other has been the key to coping with this tragedy, and in Tempe it'll just be them, the team hotel, and the football field.

"You're going to a hotel with your team, and being with the team has helped everybody," Alsadek said. "It’s made a lot of things easier. Losing somebody in that room is obviously not something that we wanted — I wouldn’t wish that upon anybody — but we’re making the best and we’re doing what we think he wanted — watching film, going to practice and all that stuff."

"We had a team meeting… and the more I’ve been around, I’ve started to feel a little bit better about the situation," Kern said. "And hopefully I’ll be able to get some closure [after going to Tempe]."

Meanwhile, Rodriguez, as the head coach, isn't exactly sure what he can do to help (since he's never been in a situation like this before), but he knows his team will battle through it.

"I told the team... this is not in the coaching manual," Rodriguez said. "It’s not something I’ve experienced doing, so we’ll figure it out together. I think we have a really tight group. Our guys are close. We’re not shying away from talking about it."

"And we'll get through it as a team, that’s what we have to do."

You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapireUA