Kevin Sumlin joked Wednesday that he was conducting his Pac-12 Media Day press conference with his eyes on the exit.
The Arizona Wildcats begin fall camp Friday, a week earlier than usual because they have a Week 0 tilt against Hawaii at the end of August to kick off their 2019 season.
“Some people call it zero week, it’s actually minus-one week,” Sumlin said. “We’re anxious to get this thing kicked off and get out of here.”
But not before he had to answer some questions from reporters. Here is what the second-year head coach had to say.
“We’ve got a lot going on right now, but in the back to the left you’ve got outstanding young people in both corners. J.J. Taylor, one of the leading rushers in this league, over 1,400 yards last year, exciting, dynamic player and kickoff returner, and then Khalil Tate (at quarterback).
“But certainly last season was not what we wanted, players or coaches, but I think if you look back at the inconsistency of how we played last season, that was revealed in the record. We came back in January, we met and discussed openly what our expectations were as a football team and what that looks like consistency-wise, on and off the field.
“These guys have accepted that challenge. Our coaching staff has accepted that challenge, and I’m really proud of how these guys have responded. There has been some transition, some guys, and then there’s been some recruiting that has helped the transition. How these guys have responded in the offseason with work in the weight room, work in strength and conditioning, and in life, because you look at certain things for a benchmark and what your team is doing, obviously there’s numbers in the weight room, obviously there’s numbers with what we use in analytics and GPS with speeds.
“But probably one of the biggest things that you can say about this team is what we’ve talked about, they’ve tried to execute, and not only that, but we had the highest spring GPA for football in the history of the program.
“So what that’s telling me is that these guys are listening and they’re operating at a different level on and off the field, and that’s where that level of consistency that we did not have last year begins.
“Because of that, the energy and excitement in that building, when we came here yesterday, is something I look forward to for that first team meeting tomorrow afternoon.”
Q. Are there opportunities for wide receivers to step up this season?
“There’s some unknowns publicly, but there’s some knowns personally for this football team. If you had have said that last year, I don’t think anybody in this room would have thought Shawn Poindexter was who he was. He was certainly a guy who was not highly recruited, was a beach volleyball player. So we’ve got some guys in the wings, I think, in the offseason, been really, really impressed with Cedric (Peterson) and how he’s come along. (Brian) Casteel has had an excellent, excellent offseason.
“So we’ve got some older guys with some experience, even though we lost three or four guys that played a lot of football. But I think that Cedric Peterson has shown us throughout spring camp, spring football and the offseason that he’s ready to be a leader not just in that position but on our football team. He’s embraced that role because of, as you said, the loss of three or four of those guys.”
Q. There were a lot of expectations around Khalil Tate last year. What does it say about his talent that you guys have such high expectations for him for success?
“Well, it’s like anything else. What is success? And success is not measured by statistics. Success is measured by wins and losses, right.
“And with that, as I’ve said before, the head coach, quarterback, you’re tied at the hip. Guess what; you get way too much credit when you win and you get all the blame when you lose. For him to continue to battle, miss a game, which that was a difficult time for him because of all the games to miss, UCLA was a big one because he was going home to play.
“But yeah, it’s hard to talk about. He’s talking right now, but you couldn’t be at a higher point in your career than he was walking in here last year, and then from an expectation standpoint, and you couldn’t be at a lower point when you’re in the Rose Bowl in your hometown and you don’t even have a uniform on and you can’t help your team.
“I think that’s affected how he’s approached the offseason. I think it’s as good as things were and as bad as things were, given him a perspective that maybe he didn’t have at this point last year, and I think it has affected his approach in the offseason, and that’s why we’re looking forward to tomorrow to getting going.”
Q. J.J. said that Khalil has really taken a huge step forward, and he saw it this past spring. How would you describe his evolution or maturity?
“Well, I think in the offseason, it becomes, hey, listen, we’re in the weight room, we’re not practicing. It becomes a player-led practice. Really anywhere I’ve been, it’s been more of a quarterback-driven seven-on-sevens, one-on-ones, those workouts, because those have to be voluntary. As a coach, you don’t set those up.
“It’s given him the opportunity to grab guys and get them to go with him and get some extra work in and communicate with his teammates.
“I think, like J.J. said, I think that comes with the territory when you want to take that next step, whether it’s you personally, but even as an offense because you can’t do it all by yourself. I mean, to get those guys together and do that, that helps all the leadership qualities that you’re looking for.”
Q. Khalil said he’s gotten a chance to sit down with you more this offseason. Do you know him better?
“Yeah, I think it’s just natural. I think a year later into this thing, he knows us a lot more, and we know a lot more about him. That’s just natural.
“But yeah, there was a concerted effort on my part to sit down and say, hey, man, here’s what we see, where do you want to be, what do you want to do, here’s how we can help you. It’s part of maturity, because it’s a lot different when walking in here last year when everybody told him how great he was . Now you’ve got a whole body of work, and so what are those things that maybe you’re not doing so well that you need to pick up to make you a great player.
“It takes maturity, just like anything else, to know where your flaws are, accept those, and then say, hey, you know what, I’m being critical for a reason because our goal is the same. We want you to be great. We want to be Pac-12 champions, and in order to do that, here are the things that you can do to help yourself be the best player in this league.
“But not put it all on him because it’s football. It’s 11 guys out there, and it takes everybody to be successful.”
Q. Outside of Khalil Tate’s injury last year, what do you guys need to work on?
“We’ve got a lot of things to work on. When you win five games, there’s a lot of things. I think one of the big things was consistency. Consistency in your life, consistency in your approach to the game and where are you as a team and as teammates. Is this just something you do, or is this something that you take pride in? In order to do that, you’ve got to invest. What we were investing in at that point was not enough individually and as a football team. Again, I couldn’t be happier with the consistency and the effort that these guys have put in in the offseason.
“Now, we’ve got to go to work, and let’s see where we are as a team starting tomorrow. But the energy in that building before I left and when we get there tomorrow, I’m really, really excited about it, they’re excited about it, and we’re ready to get rolling.”
Q. What did you guys get to talk about this offseason that might make a difference as far as getting to know each other better?
“We talked about everything. Everything. Not just football, everything. For me as the coach, you talk to guys about a lot of different things, not just about football, because he’s got a lot going on.”
Q. What have you kind of told him about leadership? He said that that’s something you guys have focused on.
“Well, you know, as I said earlier, it’s been a whirlwind for him. He was here last year and everybody was telling him how great he is. And then we get halfway through the season last year, and he’s frustrated because he’s in street clothes in LA and in the Rose Bowl and can’t help his team.
“I think the experiences that he had last year were experiences that he could learn from, and part of maturity is how you handle everything, highs and lows, and then he’s certainly in a different place right now than he was last year walking in the door and sitting back there.
“That’s how you handle it, and that’s part of growth, that’s part of maturity. And, again, I think he’ll tell you that’s part of growing up, is how you handle life, because life will throw you all kinds of curve balls or a fastball or whatever you need, and how you handle that is really what growing up is all about.”
Q. You mentioned kind of almost enjoying that there’s not that hype anymore and that he can kind of get away from that.
“That’s good. That’s fine. That’s all right.
Q. As far as him not running last year, was it mainly his injury, what led to him running less?
“If the strength of your game is that and you have an ankle like that, that becomes difficult.”
Q. So you think we’ll see a more athletic and mobile quarterback?
“Yeah, he’s athletic and mobile.”
Q. I ran into Jalen Harris the other day. He’s a big dude for a high school wide receiver. Do you have any expectations of him to step up this year?
“He’s had a great offseason. When I left the other day, we had some weigh-ins, I think on Friday, and he was just under 250. So he’s like 249. He’s got length and athleticism. Had a great spring. Really coming on as a pass rusher, and we need him to come on. If he continues to develop, we hope and we want him to be that guy, the pass rusher that we need to have to pressure and add pressure and create havoc on the pass rush and disruption.
“He’s had a great spring, had a great offseason. With his weight, he’s been able to carry it. He’s always been able to go up and down and not carry it, but he’s been consistent, so we’re looking for big things from Jalen.”