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Arizona spring football notebook: On leadership and new faces

Kevin Sumlin and Bryce Wolma spoke about who’s stepping up during the first week of spring practice

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Arizona Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After the first week of spring practice, leadership is clearly the key theme for the Arizona Wildcats. It’s come up in previous interviews, and head coach Kevin Sumlin and tight end Bryce Wolma spoke about it after practice on Saturday.

Sumlin arrived on a scooter due to his ankle injury last week, and joked that he was the first injury of the year. He discussed Nathan Tilford, expressing surprise that people wanted him to get more snaps in 2018.

“Everyone was clamoring for him, but I don’t know what he would’ve done last year...but we had a guy running for 1400 and [he was] an All-American [running back JJ Taylor]. Everyone’s asking me where’s Tilford, and to me that’s crazy.”

Sumlin then mentioned freshman entering as early graduates, like Jalen “Boobie” Curry and Grant Gunnell, and the difficulties they face.

“If you come in as a regular freshman, you get a little bit of football, you get the transition...the hardest part for these early graduates is you come in with a full load of college, you get the hardest workouts since we’re in offseason, so you don’t get that transition.”

Nevertheless, the young players are doing well. Sumlin discussed them after mentioning leaders like Case Keenum (whom he coached at Houston) and Drew Brees as examples.

About the quarterbacks, Sumlin said “all of our guys, excluding [starting QB Khalil Tate] and [Rhett Rodriguez], they’re all freshman...the decision making, the not giving the ball to the other team, getting rid of the football and keeping us on schedule...they’re doing a better job of that.”

Tight end Bryce Wolma spoke about his improvement, saying he’d “like to be, personally, more involved in the passing game...last year I was kind of getting adjusted to the new scheme and all that, so this year i hope to improve my route running and get involved in the passing game again.”

When asked about what new wide receiver had jumped out to him at spring practice, Wolma answered Jaden Mitchell. Wolma is “really impressed with his natural ability and his demeanor, he;s a true freshman, should still be in high school, and he came in and is really mature so far, which has impressed me.”

As a whole, Wolma was impressed by the incoming recruiting class. “It’s a lot to throw at those kind of guys when they should still be in high school. Guys like Grant [Gunnell] and Jaden [Mitchell] and Boobie [Curry], they’re coming in and working, and if they continue that they’ll be impactful in our offense this fall for sure.”

Wolma also recognizes his role as a veteran leader on the team, reflecting that “it seems like just yesterday I was a freshman, and now I’m looked at as one of the older guys.” He claims “it’s been an adjustment for sure because I’ve always been more of a quiet leader, and we need a lot more vocal leaders on this team to hold people accountable...if we hold people accountable, we’re gonna win some games.”

He also discussed his weight, mentioning that he was “right around 250 last year” and discussing why he’s dropped to “now [being] 243, 244”. Dropping those pounds has helped as “I just feel better at that weight, feel more mobile, especially if I’ll be splitting out more so it helps make sure I can run.”

Overall, both Sumlin and Wolma appear to be hopeful based on what they’ve seen this spring, and there’s still plenty of spring ball left for development to occur.