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Freshman QB Grant Gunnell shines in debut vs. NAU

Photo by Mike Christy / Arizona Athletics

While there were plenty of standout performers in the Arizona Wildcats’ dominant 65-41 victory over Northern Arizona, one player that UA fans will have been particularly excited to see was freshman quarterback Grant Gunnell.

The highly touted recruit from Texas—and the man who is widely expected to be Arizona’s quarterback of the future—made his first appearance for the Wildcats on Saturday night against the Lumberjacks (splitting time with Khalil Tate and Rhett Rodriguez) and scintillated in his college debut.

Gunnell went 9-11 with 151 yards and three touchdowns during the four drives he was given.

“He did well,” Tate said of his understudy. “It was perfect for him to go out there and get his feet wet. For a young guy it’s always important to keep your composure at all times and he did.”

While the fact that NAU is an FCS school means that everyone should take Gunnell’s performance with a grain of salt, the 6’7 QB looked poised in his first collegiate action.

He rarely looked hurried and a dime to Thomas Reid III that resulted in a 75-yard TD right before halftime highlighted just how good he has the potential to be.

Afterwards, head coach Kevin Sumlin said he was content with how the freshman play-caller handled himself in his limited action, but added that he did see room for improvement.

“I thought he operated well, guys made plays for him and he took care of it,” Sumlin said. “I don’t care who you are, nine of 11, 151 and three touchdowns in your debut, I think most people would take that.

“He looked pretty calm for a freshman and threw some some good balls. We gave him some easy throws early, he took the checkdowns, he took some swing passes and he threw some crossing routes underneath and guys made yards for him after that.

“But I didn’t like when he turned back and ran into the defense,” Sumlin said of a play in the fourth quarter when Gunnell tried to run for a touchdown and took a hard hit around the 2-yard line. “He scrambled but he’s got to learn to run to the pylon, and not back into the teeth of defense.

“All in all, though, his operation, signals and things like that, for his first time out was very successful.”

As exciting of a debut as it was, Arizona fans will now have to temper their desire to see more of Gunnel, as he’ll likely play only three more games this year before shutting things down to maintain his redshirt status.

NCAA rules state that you can play four games before no longer qualifying to redshirt a season.

Because of that, it’s hard to say when we will see him on the field again, as Sumlin will likely choose his spots extremely carefully and appearances in garbage time will probably be when the young QB gets his chances.

Regardless of when Gunnell is back out there though, if his debut against NAU is any indication of what’s to come, Arizona football could very well have a future star on its hands.