In the Arizona Wildcats‘ locker room there is a mantra plastered on the wall that says It’s About Us—and it was the impetus for Jamarye Joiner to make the move from quarterback to wide receiver this fall.
The redshirt freshman knew the Wildcats were well-stocked with pass-throwers, but short on pass-catchers after losing their top four receiving options from last year’s 5-7 team.
“It wasn’t a difficult decision because at the end of the day it’s about the team,” said Joiner, who consulted with his parents before informing the UA coaching staff of his decision. “I’m an unselfish person. … If I can help the team win games and help us go from a losing season last year to a winning season this year, I’m gonna do whatever I have to.”
The chance to play QB at the FBS level was one of the many reasons the Tucson native and former Cienega Bobcat selected his hometown school over higher-profile programs, but he always knew a position change would be possible.
“My uncle played at Oregon. He’s always been like, ‘you have options, you’re an athlete, you can play whatever you want, so just explore your options. Don’t limit yourself.'” Joiner said.
By all accounts, it has been a seamless transition for Joiner, evidenced by him being listed as a co-starter in the slot for UA’s season-opener at Hawaii. His speed and bulked up 6-foot-1, 210-pound frame make him an intriguing target for quarterback Khalil Tate.
“He’s a bigger guy than you think he is out there and he’s explosive,” said UA coach Kevin Sumlin. “He’s probably one of the top two, three athletes on this team. And he’s caught balls in the middle (of the field). The one thing you worry about moving guys out there is will you deal with it in traffic? He’s done it. He’s a competitor, it means something to him, he’s bought in... and I think the relationship with him and Khalil in the quarterback room last year helps him a little bit because he likes him.”
Being a converted quarterback helps in other ways, too. While Joiner is still learning the intricacies of being a wideout—like footwork, where to put his hands, how to break out of his routes, etc.—he is ahead of many other of UA’s young receivers because of his knowledge of coverages.
“All the coaches instill in you ‘what’s the coverage? What’s the coverage? What’s the coverage?’ so when you run your route you know how to run your route,” Joiner said. “Knowing the routes is the main part of the offense. If you don’t know the routes, you’re not playing 100 percent at what you can do.”
He added: “Being a receiver you have to know the down and distance, the time on the clock. What’s the situation? If you don’t know the situation and say we’re in 4th-and-10 and I have a five-yard route, am I going to [run] to the sticks or am I going to run my five-yard route? At that moment, you’re like ‘do my assignment’ because I might be opening it up for somebody else that’s behind me that has a 10-yard route.”
Joiner admits there are times when he wishes he was still a quarterback, but he does not regret giving up the position.
“Sometimes I have that moment when I’m running at practice and I’m kind of gassed and the quarterbacks are over there doing drops and accuracy drills and I’m like, ‘dang, I wish I was still throwing the ball and having a relaxed practice,’” Joiner joked.
“But being at quarterback isn’t really relaxed because it’s all mental. Everything at that position is mental. So it’s not as much physically draining, but mentally draining at that position.”
It comes with a lot more responsibility, too.
“Being a quarterback, you have to make 11 people miss,” Joiner said. “So making 11 people miss, and going to receiver and making one person miss, it’s a lot easier.”
Hence why Joiner, who also returns punts now, is not surprised to see his name at the top of the depth chart.
“I know what I’m capable of doing,” he said. “I’ve always been confident about my talents because the work I put in is always something that I’ve took pride in. I’ve lost a lot of friends, just not hanging out or going out... because I’m focused on my craft and doing what I need to do to make it to the next level. So I wasn’t that much surprised. I was expecting myself to get out what I gave in to it.”
Joiner hopes to play in the NFL one day, and one of his favorite players is Taysom Hill, the former BYU quarterback who does just about everything for the New Orleans Saints—from receiving to returning to seeing snaps at quarterback.
Anything to help his team.
“I watch him play,” Joiner said. “So I was like, ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’”