The 2019 recruiting class brought a lot of size to the Arizona Wildcats, and while it helps fill out each position group, it’s also helping special teams.
“We have a lot of length from the freshman group right now so I see some of those guys developing right now,” special teams coordinator Jeremy Springer said after practice on Tuesday.
Special teams can be a launching point for a younger player’s career, and Springer is going to be looking up and down the roster to see who’s fit for his units and ready to develop.
“I mean, I’m a big guy in using all our depth, so we’re going to use every guy possible,” he said. “And they might be used for two, three games and then new guys roll in, ready to develop, so we’ll use those guys.”
Springer mentioned a quartet of freshmen who have stood out to him thus far in practice.
Jaxen Turner, Eddie Siaumau, Derrion Clark and Jalen Johnson all came to mind immediately when asked about standouts.
Turner is a rangy safety with size and great closing speed. It will be surprising if Turner redshirts this season given his talent. The staff will clearly find a way to get him on the field.
Siaumau, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound linebacker, went grossly under recruited from American Samoa. His size, physicality and versatility will surely get him on the field.
A bit of a sleeper is Clark, an instinctive, ball-sniffing linebacker, while Johnson is a rubber-burning wide receiver with terrific size.
“All those four guys right there off the top of the head I can tell you right now are going to contribute us this season,” Springer said of his freshmen.
Michael Wiley was also mentioned as a candidate to return kicks alongside side fellow running backs J.J. Taylor and Gary Brightwell.
Spring standout Christian Roland-Wallace, another true freshman, continues to find himself in the conversation as well.
“Then you got guys like Christian Roland-Wallace who can return the ball, run down kickoff,” Springer said. “I see him more on you know, some of the stuff that we do on kick off as a boundary field guy, as a safety type guy or also as a return those two roles right there.”
There are many freshmen in the mix for special teams. And it can be a good time for coaches to get some young guys experience, earn some reps and develop some trust, but no one is too big to play special teams. Springer wants the best players on the field, which will include a mix of youth and starters.
It’s why you’ll see preseason all-conference linebacker Colin Schooler continue his role on special teams and his running mate Tony Fields as well.
“In this culture that we have, everyone contributes on special teams. [Schooler and Fields] they get it,” Springer said. “They know that in order to help this team, they’ve got to help.”
Freshmen prevalent in Arizona’s kicking game too
True freshman Seth Mackellar could wind up being Arizona’s starting long snapper, though Springer said he is open to using one snapper for field goals and a different one for punts.
Donald Reiter, a redshirt junior, is the other player competing for the spot. Reiter did not play in 2018, but got plenty of experience in 2017 when he assumed primary long snapping duties after Nick Reinhardt went down with an ACL injury.
“They both neck to neck,” Springer said. “They’re both competing their butts off and doing a great job.”
The punting job is between redshirt senior Matt Aragon and true freshmen Cameron Weinberg and Kyle Ostendorp, a former five-star recruit.
Aragon, who doubles as a receiver, has punted three times for 116 yards in his career, all of which came in 2016. The Wildcats have to replace Dylan Klumph, who was one of the better punters in the Pac-12 last season.
“Consistency is everything to me,” Springer said. “And from that point on, is he putting in the right direction that we need the ball to go to consistently? Is the hang time consistent? Is he understanding what we’re trying to do with the punt?”