In Noah Fifita, Arizona believes it has its quarterback of the future. But to make sure the present goes smoothly, the Wildcats had to get better right away at that position (among many others).
Turns out, the kind of help they were looking for came from their recent past.
Jayden de Laura, the former Washington State QB who transferred to the UA earlier this month, had arguably the best day of his career against what would become his future team, throwing for 259 yards and four touchdowns in a 44-18 win in Pullman in November.
“I like to say I saw him live in black and white, because it was a little cloudy that game,” said UA coach Jedd Fisch, referring to a night where dense fog hovered over the field.
At the time, Fisch had no idea that de Laura, who started all 17 games he played at WSU and was the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in 2021, would end up on the market. He opted to leave the Cougars not long after the program offered a scholarship to Incarnate Word transfer Cameron Ward, who has since transferring there.
“They went a way that they felt was good for them, and I respect that,” de Laura said of WSU. “We were just looking for a new beginning, and somewhere where I could feel comfortable. Also easy access for my family, because it’s kind of hard and expensive for them to get (from Hawaii) up to Washington.”
De Laura played high school at Honolulu powerhouse St. Louis, the same program that produced Tua Tagovailoa, Marcus Mariota and Timmy Chang as well as UA freshman offensive lineman Jonah Savaiinaea, whom de Laura was teammates with three years ago. At WSU he threw for 3,675 yards and 28 touchdowns with 13 interceptions, completing 62.5 percent of his passes.
“When you evaluate a guy that plays that type of football, that if he wants to come here, with open arms we accepted him,” Fisch said.
Fifita, a 3-star prospect from Anaheim, was the only quarterback Arizona signed out of high school, something Fifita said Fisch promised at the time he committed last April. There was no guarantee of playing right away, though, which explains Arizona’s decision to add a fifth scholarship player to the quarterback room.
“We never said we weren’t going to do that,” Fisch said. “I told the other quarterbacks that if Jayden wants to come he’s going to join the quarterback room. And they all understood, and they were appreciative of our honesty. We’ve never not told our quarterbacks the truth, we’ve ever not told a player on our team the truth. And just like we brought in another 3 technique (defensive lineman), another (defensive) end, another linebacker, another receiver, the same thing. We’re going to bring in another quarterback, and if he’s the best one he’ll play.
“They understand that the best thing for Arizona football is to get better at every single position, cream rises to the top. And I think competition makes everyone better. So they knew that was the case.”
Arizona’s spring practice begins March 4, but next week the coaching staff is allowed to have up to eight hours per week of instruction with players. Fisch said that will be the first chance he, quarterbacks coach Jimmy Dougherty and offensive coordinator Brennan Carroll get to see how de Laura and Fifita “process” the Wildcats’ offense.
Fisch said those two and Will Plummer are the only scholarship QBs healthy enough to go right now. Jordan McCloud is still recovering from ankle surgery while Gunner Cruz is coming back from hand surgery. He’s hopeful they will all be able to participate in spring ball, at which time the quarterback competition will start … and hopefully not take all spring and summer to be decided.
“So if on March 4, when we start spring ball, they’re all available, then they’ll all go out and start pitching around, and we’ll see who does best, and who’s ready to go,” Fisch said. “I expect a really good competition, but I do not expect a long, drawn out, every day us talking about who’s going to be the quarterback (situation). We saw how that worked.”