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Senior cornerback Jace Whittaker is healthy and ready to lead Arizona’s secondary in 2019

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 14 Arizona Spring Game Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats opened fall camp on Friday evening, and the usual amount of first-day excitement was palpable.

From the dancing that went on during team stretching, to the high level of chatter that echoed around the sparkling new Cole and Jeannie Davis Sports Center, it was clear that the Wildcats’ players and coaches were excited to get back to work.

“There was a lot of energy,” UA head coach Kevin Sumlin said afterwards, “but that’s always every first practice.”

Nobody seemed more excited to return to the practice field than senior cornerback Jace Whittaker.

“The energy was great today,” he said afterwards with a broad smile. “Everybody was flying around. Everybody brought a little bit of energy themselves. It was awesome.”

It’s easy to understand why the Southern California native is relishing being back in the fold and preparing for a new season.

Whittaker was one of Arizona’s best defensive players in 2017—leading the team in pass break ups with 13 and finishing with three interceptions—but after injuring both his hamstring and elbow early last season, he played in only one game before ultimately redshirting.

Had he been healthy, the Wildcats might have fared better than their 5-7 record. No team in the Pac-12 surrendered more passing yards per game last season.

When asked what he’d gained after being on the sideline for a year, Whittaker made it clear that his time away from the game has given him a new perspective.

“Just don’t take this for granted, man. Just don’t take it for granted,” he said. “I mean, I didn’t know what was going to happen that day (when he was knocked out for the season) and you never know what’s going to happen in the next second, so just go as hard as you can with every chance you get.”

Being a redshirt senior, Whittaker is now one of Arizona’s oldest players and his matured mindset will help him as he takes on a crucial leadership role in the Wildcats’ secondary.

If the UA is to exceed expectations this year, its defense will have to be much improved.

When asked how he feels about Arizona being picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South, the elder statesman didn’t seem phased.

“Honestly I didn’t even know where we were ranked,” he said.

Even though he wasn’t aware of his team’s preseason projections, Whittaker swiftly addressed last season’s struggles and how he believes they will impact Arizona in 2019.

“Do we have a chip on his shoulder? Absolutely.” he said. “Are we worried about it? Not at all.”

Hear what Jace Whittaker had to say after Arizona Football’s first practice

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, July 26, 2019