Iona Uiagalalei coached at the junior college level for nearly two decades before joining the Arizona Wildcats‘ staff last year, so he has high expectations for JuCo products that make their way to the Division I level.
“My expectation for them is to come in and play right away. That’s what we want,” the UA defensive line coach said after Thursday’s practice. “You recruit JC guys, we want them to come in and make an impact as soon as possible.”
In that case, new UA defensive linemen Trevon Mason and Myles Tapusoa seem to be on the right track.
“They’re coming along just fine right now,” Uiagalalei said. “Both of those guys came in knowing that endurance and conditioning was going to be a concern. But through the camp, watching these guys, the amount of reps that they were taking and through those reps to get in shape, they’re doing a good job of understanding what we want for them and the job that they got to get done.”
Mason, in particular, faced early adversity because he—unlike Tapusoa, who participated in spring ball—joined the Wildcats just before the start of fall camp, meaning he did not go through summer conditioning.
While Mason is listed at 6-foot-4, 285 pounds, Uiagalalei said he is actually 6-foot-5, 310 pounds. The Wildcats limited Mason’s reps at the start of camp, and have had strength and conditioning coach Brian Johnson monitoring his every move to make sure he isn’t being overworked.
Slowly but surely, Mason’s workload has increased. Head coach Kevin Sumlin said Mason and Tapusoa played “substantial snaps” in last Saturday’s scrimmage.
“Trust me, from today and then three weeks ago, big difference,” Uiagalalei said of their fitness. “You can always say that they can get better in terms of conditioning, yeah, but the progression is just fine right now.”
Tapusoa had 56 tackles (11.5 for loss) and two sacks at Eastern Arizona College last season. Mason logged 26 tackles and two sacks at Navarro Community College in Texas. Both were regarded as some of the top JuCo defensive tackles in the country.
By the end of the season, they should be important pieces in an Arizona defensive line rotation that multiple coaches claim will be deep and versatile.
And as two of just three defensive linemen weighing over 300 pounds, it is no secret what Mason and Tapusoa bring to the table.
“It’s a big difference in there right now with 310 (pounds) and 320 (pounds) in there,” Sumlin said after Saturday’s scrimmage. “They really added some things in there as far as size and being able to hold a point, so it’s been good. They’ve been working really hard and I think Coach Johnson has done a nice job.”