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Redshirt rule coming into play as Arizona prepares for fourth game of 2019 season

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Running back Michael Wiley is one of five true freshmen to appear in all three games for Arizona this season
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Through three games, the Arizona Wildcats have sent 78 different players out onto the field for at least one snap. Prior to last season, that would mean each of those 78 players had officially used a year of eligibility unless some sort of injury happened that would make them eligible for a medical redshirt.

Thanks to the NCAA revamping its redshirt rule for football last year, allowing players to appear in up to four games at any point during the season, everyone on Arizona’s roster who still has a redshirt available is able to use if it needed.

“I think it’s been one of the best rule changes in college football,” Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin said Monday. “I think it’s good for the game. It’s really helped grow up some guys, keep them engaged, instead of just being on scout team.”

Arizona’s online roster lists 24 true freshman, 15 of which have played in at least one game this season. Five of them—defensive backs Christian Roland-Wallace and Bobby Wolfe, linebacker Derrion Clark, running back Michael Wiley and offensive lineman Jordan Morgan—have played in all three contests.

But now comes the hard part. If any of those five play Saturday against UCLA they would have to sit out the rest of the season in order to redshirt, meaning decisions need to be made prior to them.

“We’ve had that conversation, started that conversation last week based on practice,” Sumlin said. “That conversation will be had this week and next week. I also have that conversation, usually, with parents.”

Sumlin said several of the redshirt-eligible players have gotten most of their action on special teams, which has been beneficial since it means less snaps for starters who would normally be on the field for those plays.

“We’ve got a couple guys in that boat that are playing special teams, kickoff coverage and punt (coverage), they’re getting 25-30 snaps a game,” he said. “So we can get Tony Fields and (Anthony Pandy) off the field. That’s valuable, valuable experience. It gives you an opportunity to get some guys off the field.”

Last year ended up redshirting receiver Tre Adams, running back Bam Smith and linebacker Day Day Coleman (who was a safety in 2018) despite them all playing four games, while then-quarterback Jamarye Joiner appeared in two games in October before getting shut down.

Arizona was also able to redshirt running back Nathan Tilford, who was a true sophomore, despite him getting a carry against Colorado in early November, and cornerback Jace Whittaker was able to preserve his senior year of eligibility after multiple injuries limited to a single game in September.

While the new redshirt rule has been mostly a boon for teams, there has been a downside. Numerous players who appeared in the first three or four games last season then chose to leave their programs in order to preserve eligibility and transfer, including former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant (who is now at Missouri).

That’s happening again this month, as Houston senior quarterback D’Eriq King plans to sit out the rest of this season despite starting all four games for the Cougars.