Every Friday before a home game, the Arizona Wildcats head north and check in to their hotel rooms at La Paloma, where they’ll settle in for a good night’s sleep before having to take the field the next afternoon or evening.
But for redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Christian Boettcher, last week’s experience at the resort hotel was different from any other he had before.
“Coach (Michalczik) pulled me and Freddie (Tagaloa) aside Friday night and he said ‘you know, we felt like it was fair to give Boettcher the start this weekend’,” Boettcher explained of how he found out he would start at left guard against Hawai’i.
It was a sentence he had been waiting to hear for almost three years.
“I’m a redshirt sophomore now, so I’ve been here two and a half years, this is what I came here to prepare for,” he said of his reaction to the news. “I just felt like I was in the moment and I had led up to that my entire time here so I really didn’t need any further preparation. I was set for that.”
Tagaloa had some words of advice for the inexperienced Boettcher at that moment as well.
“He just said ‘you’ve worked hard for this, it’s your time to shine and just go out there and show ‘em what you’re made of’,” Boettcher recounted. “Me and Freddie have a real good friendship. We critique each other in practice. We get on each other for being soft. Me and him are tight, so when Coach M told me that I’d be getting the start, he was happy for me.”
Boettcher went to high school at Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, so his parents are still able to come to every home game. But they were in for a bit more than normal with this particular trip to Tucson.
“I texted my mom, my dad,” he said about who he let know right away.
Even though he didn’t have a huge reaction the news immediately, getting any sleep on Friday night was out of the question.
“Trust me, I didn’t sleep normally,” he joked. “I’m gonna start, that’s what was going through my head. I’m gonna start, cuz you get in during garbage time, it’s not the same. But when you’re in the game, you feel like you’re making a big difference, so I felt like this is my time to shine.”
“This is my time to prove to them I am what they brought me in to do and that they did the right thing by bringing me in as a walk-on, giving me a scholarship, doing all that. I needed to verify that for them.”
Boettcher wasn’t the only non-regular on Arizona’s starting offensive lineman in their third game of the year. Cody Creason was over at right tackle, but he said he only found out two minutes before the game that he was starting.
“Yeah he didn’t get that Friday talk,” Boettcher said about his teammate while laughing. “He was actually pretty calm. By the time I moved over to right guard in the second half, he settled right into it. He was doing a really good job. That right end for Hawai’i, he was a really good player, and Cody kept him in check a lot of the game, so I was really happy for him.”
As is the case with a lot of guys, Boettcher said that first hit was what settled him down and made it just football again.
“I just felted an amped up feeling, something that I was a little bit shaky on the sidelines,” he explained. “I just had so much energy from wanting to hit the guy, and so you remember your assignments, and you practice ‘em through, so you’ve got those in your muscle memory, so you just have to go out there and work through some heat.”
After the game, Boettcher’s dad was pretty amped up as well.
“My dad was ecstatic,” Christian said. “He loves the whole football program. My mom kind of gets worried over the whole *high pitched voice* ‘Oh my baby boy’ kind of deal. But she thought I played great. But even like my grandma texted me; some friends that I haven’t talked to in a while texted me. It was just a really good feeling.”
“People recognize when you’re doing something great, so it felt really good to get that feedback from friends and family.”
Even with two different starters and some different looks from the offensive line, you could argue that it was the unit’s best game of the three Arizona has played so far.
“It was solid,” Rich Rodriguez said of the o-line’s play. “It was better than it had been the past couple games. Assignment-wise they were pretty good, but there were some fundamental things that we need to get better at.”
“At the beginning, I got the two drives, and I did pretty well,” Boettcher added as he critiqued himself. “But there were some technique issues obviously. I was happy because I got no lows and no missed assignments, but overall I need to tighten my body up, work more of my technique.”
“Coach M was actually happy...in his own words,” continued Boettcher. “He was like ‘No one crapped themselves this game’ so it wasn’t that bad watching it. I will say there were some driving issues I had when I switched from left guard to right guard in the second half, so I just needed to adjust my body. That first drive I wasn’t really as well adjusted to the right guard position, but the rest of the time I thought I did a much better job.”
During practice, Boettcher says he alternates between both guard spots since he’s listed second on the depth chart at both spots.
Arizona is always looking for more depth at all positions, and Rodriguez always want to have eight guys ready on the offensive line. When you get guys like Boettcher and Creason starts in games against lesser opponents, and build up their confidence with good performances, that can only benefit this team moving forward into the Pac-12 schedule.