Arizona had to look all over this offseason to find players to help shore up a defense that has been among the worst in college football the last few years. That includes a fishing boat off the coast of Spain.
Defensive lineman Mo Diallo, who joined the Wildcats just over a week ago, showed out in Saturday night’s scrimmage inside Arizona Stadium, keeping it within the realm of possibility he could be the starting strong-side defensive end for the Sept. 4 opener against BYU in Las Vegas.
“Mo’s a special player,” UA coach Jedd Fisch said. “He had quite the summer. He knows how to shed some blocks, he knows how to use his hands. He’s what you want that position to look like. He can play all four spots on the defensive line. There’s no question that he’ll be a starting defensive player for us.”
The 6-foot-5, 285-pound Diallo comes to Arizona from Central Michigan, where he had three sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss in just five games in 2020. He entered the NCAA transfer portal as a graduate student in January but took a bit of a detour into the real world before joining the Wildcats in Tucson.
“He was on a fishing boat in Spain trying to make some money for his family,” Fisch said. “We were able to text. He was able to communicate that way, when he would dock he was able to communicate. He had to take care of his mom, that was first and foremost.”
While Fisch has repeatedly said he isn’t concerned about the health of his defensive linemen, many of whom have missed time in camp for various injuries—or in the case of senior defensive end JB Brown, becoming a father—the lack of practice time for the likes of Brown and interior lineman Kyon Barrs could put their availability for the opener in question. That makes Diallo’s addition that much more important.
“He brings a great energy, he has great explosiveness,” linebacker Anthony Pandy said of Diallo. “He can fit in perfectly.”
Diallo wasn’t the only summer addition that stood out during the scrimmage. True freshman safety Isaiah Taylor, one of only two high school scholarship players the UA added after Fisch and his staff were hired, had an interception and several other key plays while working with the first-team defense. That’s a big change from most of training camp, when Taylor was usually on the scout side but took advantage of projected starter Isaiah Rutherford sitting out the scrimmage for precautionary reasons.
The 5-foot-11, 196-pound Taylor, who played prep ball in Florida, was ranked by 247Sports as the No. 1,602 player in the 2021 recruiting class. He is the son of NFL Hall of Fame defensive end Jason Taylor.
“I’m excited with Isaiah,” Fisch said. “Great pedigree, genetically. He plays the game really well, he has really good movement schools. We started him at Viper, we moved him back to safety. It’s definitely a more natural position to him. You can just see the way he moves on the field, he’s very fluid. I’m excited about where he can go with our program.”
Arizona defensive coordinator Don Brown has said he hopes to rotate between 17 and 19 players via various packages, some of which figure to include Taylor providing support on the back line.