During his opening statement at Pac-12 Football Media Day last week, Jedd Fisch referred to the 2022 season as the “first year” of Arizona’s rebuilding project. So does that mean 2021 was the teardown?
The Wildcats open training camp on Wednesday, the second under Fisch but the first with a program that is distinctly his. Of the 100-plus players listed on the online roster, the vast majority joined the team since Fisch was hired in December 2020 and most of those additions have been in the past eight months.
“We got here and we really weren’t in a situation to build the program because we weren’t bringing in anybody into the program,” Fisch said of 2021, preferring “Year Zero” as the way to describe that 1-11 season. “So the build is started now that there’s an influx of players and facility changes. When you’re building something you’re bringing in parts and you’re bringing in different construction areas. Once our season ended November 26, that’s when all the new parts started showing up.”
The UA opens the season Sept. 3 at San Diego State, a team coming a 12-2 campaign that will be christening a new stadium. It will be the first of many (if not all) games in which the Wildcats are underdogs, and a lot will have to happen between now and then to make that game competitive.
“If we just every day get better we’ll have a chance to be a much better team ... in September than we are today,” Fisch said.
Arizona was outscored by 14.3 points per game last season, but in eight games it either led or was within one score in the fourth quarter only to be unable to make a stop or get a key conversion (sometimes both) and end up losing by double digits.
“Last year, we came out and competed every game definitely, it wasn’t really many games that teams just straight out just beat us and they could say they were just like, straight out better than us,” said defensive end Jalen Harris, who is entering his sixth college season and along with fellow defensive lineman JB Brown are the only Wildcats to play for Fisch, Kevin Sumlin and Rich Rodriguez. “Last year, it was about building the culture, getting people here who want to be here and developing us as a team.”
Harris said his goal, like that of Fisch, is to get people to stop asking about the past and focus more on what the current team is doing.
“Those seasons don’t matter,” he said. “Our team is who we are now. Players who play in the past, they aren’t here.”
It’s not just the roster that’s been overhauled. Arizona Stadium will have an updated turf field, and on Monday the players got their first look at a revamped locker room.
“Their reaction was awesome,” Fisch said. “I don’t think they were expecting anything that looked like.”
Senior safety Christian Young thinks the new locker room is a perfect way for the Wildcats to put the past behind them.
“The way the locker room and the facilities looked when I came my freshman year, it’s just a total new feel,” he said. “I feel like it’s much needed, just like a fresh new start for Arizona football.”