Layth Friekh got an early Christmas present last December when he learned the NCAA had granted him an extra year of eligibility. But that gift came with small lump of coal in the form of a two-game suspension to start the 2018 season.
It was a fair trade, the three-year starting left tackle said Wednesday.
“It’s tough, it’s the first two games I’ll miss in three years, but it’s worth it,” Friekh said. “I love playing here, I love U of A—my pops went here—and I love this team. I definitely want to finish my career here on a high note.”
Friekh has started Arizona’s last 33 games at left tackle, the only position he said he’s played since fourth grade. As a freshman in 2014 he made one appearance there, against Utah in late November, which burned his redshirt.
Under the new redshirt rule, which allows players to appear in up to four games and retain their eligibility, he would not have needed to apply to the NCAA for an extra year.
Arizona will have someone else protecting quarterback Khalil Tate’s blind side for the 2018 opener against BYU and the Week 2 trip to Houston.
Who that is remains to be determined, and because of that Friekh is spending his final training camp with the Arizona Wildcats much like he did his first in 2014: practicing alongside teammates who aren’t likely to see the field much (if at all) this season. He said he’s working with the offensive line’s third unit.
“They have to get other guys ready for the first two games, so I have to take a back seat for camp a little bit,” he said. “But I’m getting my reps, I’m still doing individual every day. I’m taking third team reps, but I’m always watching, taking mental notes.
Among the things Friekh has observed at camp is the change in QB Tate’s demeanor and approach.
“He’s improved his leadership 100 times,” Friekh said. “Last year, he was behind (Brandon) Dawkins at the beginning, so he let Dawkins do his thing. Now that Khalil’s the man, he’s stepped up big time. He’s leading the offense better, even in the locker room off the field, he’s more a leader in that sense too. Even when we were doing (player-run practices) in the summer, he was leading it, so he’s really stepped up.”
Friekh has also had to get used to the approach of a different position coach, with Joe Gilbert replacing Jim Michalczik. He said Gilbert is quicker to get on players for making mistakes but that comes with having more intricate drills.
“Coach Gilbert, if you mess up … he definitely coaches you hard,” Friekh said. “He’s coming from the NFL for such a long time so he’s bringing some of that technique down here. Last year was more of the general basics.”