They say records are meant to be broken, but when it comes to Arizona Wildcats football, there are some that are likely to stand the test of time.
Here’s a look at five of them. Let us know if there are any others you think are safe.
Rob Gronkowski’s 47 receptions by a tight end (2008)
Is there more of a “what might have been” player in UA football history than Gronk, who because of injuries appeared in just 22 games over three seasons? He missed the entire 2009 campaign due to back surgery, then left early for the pros and went in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft to the New England Patriots.
Who knows what Gronk might have done on that 2009 team, which saw Nick Foles begin his trek toward becoming the UA’s career passing leader. In just 10 games the year before he hauled in 47 passes, 15 more than any other tight end in school history, while also scoring 10 touchdowns. The closest anyone has come to that record since was Bryce Wolma, who as a freshman in 2017 had 28 receptions.
To put Gronk’s 2008 catch total in perspective, Arizona tight ends have caught a total of 50 passes over the previous three seasons. It feels like an annual occurrence during the preseason an Arizona coach claims this will be the year the tight end gets more involved in the offense, but even if that happens one day there will probably never be another one in Tucson as prolific as Gronk.
Ricky Stevenson’s 37.8 season kickoff return average (1968)
One of the most exciting plays in football is slowly being phased out at the college level, which makes it almost a certainty that what Ricky Stevenson did in his first year at Arizona will never be topped.
A three-way player who ended up being drafted as a defensive back in 1970 by the Cleveland Browns, Stevenson got some touches as a running back (scoring six times) and was back on kickoffs in 1968. On a team that went 8-3 and played in the Sun Bowl, Stevenson amassed 340 return yards on nine runbacks.
Returing a kickoff is almost nonexistent now in college football, particularly since teams are able to start at their own 25-yard line even if they field a kick and take a knee outside of the end zone. Arizona hasn’t had a player average more than 26 yards on as many returns as Stevenson since 2010, when Travis Cobb averaged 26.09 yards on 34 returns.
Ricky Hunley’s 566 career tackles (1980-83)
Arizona has produced 10 first-round NFL draft picks in its history, but none went as early as Ricky Hunley. The seventh overall pick in the 1984 draft to the Cincinnati Bengals, Hunley went on to play seven seasons in the pros, but before that he was literally everywhere on the field for the Wildcats.
The linebacker led Arizona in tackles for three straight seasons, taking down 173 and 176 opposing players in 1982 and 1983, respectively, passing Obra Erby’s previous school career mark of 529 from 1973-76. In his senior year Hunley also served as a mentor to Byron Evans, who would come close to the record by recording 552 tackles from 1983-86.
No Wildcat has even sniffed the record since then, with Marcus Bell’s 405 tackles from 1996-99 the best tally. Colin Schooler has 312 tackles in three seasons, which would put him on pace to finish fifth in school history, but he’d need to obliterate the single-season record of 200 by Mark Jacobs in 1994 to challenge Hunley for No. 1 overall.
Tedy Bruschi’s 55 career sacks (1992-95)
Full disclosure: Tedy Bruschi is my favorite UA player by a mile, and not just because he let 17-year-old me in the back door at Gentle Ben’s during orientation. I attended UA from 1994-98, so I got to see the tail end of his college career, and as a freshman I founded the Tedy Bruschi Fan Club (after each sack we’d yell ‘Give that quarterback a Bruschi!’)
Bruschi is among the most adored Wildcats, both during his time at the UA and in a 13-year NFL career that included three Super Bowl titles with the New England Patriots. He was a very good pro, but with the Wildcats he was nearly unstoppable.
The 1995 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American his final two years, Bruschi was a cornerstone of Arizona’s Desert Swarm defense. His 19 sacks in 1993 remain the school record, while the 27.5 tackles for loss he had that season stood until Scooby Wright had 29 in 2014.
No one is going to take down Bruschi’s career sack mark, though. Not as long as college football players are allowed to enter the NFL Draft early. Bruschi has more than twice as many as any other Wildcat, with Ricky Elmore’s 25.5 from 2007-10 a distant second.
Arizona’s FBS-leading 30.1 rushing yards allowed per game (1993)
Speaking of Desert Swarm, the 1993 team was about as good as it got for Arizona football. Yes, the 1998 team won more games, but the 10-2 squad from five years earlier was pretty darn dominant on the defensive side of the ball.
Arizona allowed only 14.6 points per game that season—amazingly, the 1992 squad yielded just 8.9—while giving up only 236.9 yards per game. Neither of those averages are anywhere close to tops in school history, as the 1935 team gave up only 128.2 yards per game and the 1929 team allowed a mere 22 points all season, but that was a completely different game compared to the current college product.
The Wildcats’ run defense in 1993, though, that was something to behold. Opponents gained only 331 yards in 11 regular-season contests—season totals didn’t include bowl games prior to 1998—while Miami managed just 35 in Arizona’s 29-0 Fiesta Bowl drubbing. The 10th-ranked Hurricanes came in averaging 168.4 rushing yards per game.
Could this record be broken? Sure, anything is possible, but based on the way Arizona has looked defensively of late, I wouldn’t bet on it. Only one FBS team in the past 11 seasons has allowed less than 70 rushing yards per game, while the Wildcats’ best during that span is 120.5 allowed in 2009.