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Arizona LB Colin Schooler focused on wins, not personal accolades, in 2019

colin-schooler-arizona-football-watch-lists-linebackers-pac-12-preseason Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Colin Schooler sports a mustache now and shed 10 pounds from his previously 240-pound frame, which is a sign of his maturity as he enters his junior season with the Arizona Wildcats.

“If you look at me last year, I was a little too thick to say the least,” he said Saturday. “But I just started taking care of my body a lot better than I was, matured up a lot living on my own, outside the dorms. I was in an actual house where I gotta cook my own food now. I don’t have to worry about using campus restaurants or any of that. Just really taking care of my body and treating it the way it should be.”

Schooler is on a mission to make his next season better than his last. That will be no easy feat. The Mission Viejo, Calif. native was an AP First-Team All-Pac-12 selection in 2018 after tallying 119 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for the loss—the fifth-most in UA history.

“I think this year in the offseason with (strength) coach Brian Johnson, he’s taken steps to get his body in better shape,” said UA defensive coordinator Marcel Yates. “But the thing about him is he’s played a lot of snaps. I mean, he played a full season last year, and we were smart with him as far during the week of not just pounding his body. That goes back to coach (Kevin) Sumlin and Coach Johnson as far them being on me to make sure I was smart with him during the week to get him to the games on Saturday. So I think he’s in the best shape he’s been. He looks slimmer, he looks fast, and he’s a smart kid.”

Unsurprisingly, expectations are high for Schooler in 2019. He was named to several preseason watch lists and the Pac-12 preseason all-conference team. But rather than revel in those accolades, he is taking them in stride.

“I mean, it’s an honor to be on those watch lists and to get some national recognition, but outside of this team, there’s really not much that matters,” Schooler said. “And preseason rankings, preseason predictions with our record and team and how we’re going to do...that really doesn’t matter. We’re just focused on us this year.”

Because while Schooler has shined the past two seasons, Arizona’s defense has struggled. In 2018, the Wildcats ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in both points (32.6) and yards (432.0) allowed per game.

Arizona has compiled more losses (13) than wins (12) during Schooler’s career, putting a damper on his gaudy stat totals and the feel-good story that is him rising from relative obscurity (Arizona was the only Power 5 school to offer him out of high school) to become one of the nation’s top linebackers.

“It almost feels meaningless,” Schooler said. “I don’t want to say it doesn’t matter, but I just want to look at things that I can improve on. It doesn’t matter if I have certain amount of TFLs, sacks, interceptions or tackles. If we don’t win, that’s the only category I really care about.”

Of the areas that need improvement, Schooler said communication is a big one. So is third-down defense.

“We gotta communicate better, and that’s every position,” he said. “Safeties, corners, linebackers, the D line, we all have to work together as one unit. But really got to be better on third down. There are a lot of times last year where we had them in a third and medium, third and long, next thing you know another first down we’re still on the field. Our job is to get the offense on the field a lot longer than they have been. And if you look at last year, there’s a lot of games where we lost by one score. And that changed our season around, we’re in a bowl game, and people don’t think that we’re bad this year.”

One of those one-score losses was to ASU to cap the regular season. The Wildcats blew an 18-point, fourth-quarter lead, and Schooler had arguably his worst game as a Wildcat, missing several key tackles as he battled a “bad flu.”

Schooler said he hasn’t forgotten about that loss—”I don’t know if you can get over that,” he said—but he has done everything in his power to make sure he, and his team, are on the winning end of games like that moving forward.

“Schooler was a guy...he came here, he started off as a true freshman, he didn’t play very much or as much as he wanted to, ended up being the starter, and then just through studying and learning and experience, he’s a guy who just has gotten better and better each year,” Yates said. “He’s a guy that wants to win, he wants to do things right. He leads by example.”