With two weeks to go until the Arizona Wildcats kick off their 2023 football season, and a week until CFB kicks off in general, there’s a lot of positivity and hope coming out of UA’s fall camp. One of the things fueling that hope is the large amount of preseason watch lists Wildcat players are showing up on.
Another one of those watch lists was just released and Arizona has six players on it.
The Polynesian Football Hall of Fame released their 2023 Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Award Watch List on Thursday and, as mentioned above, the Wildcats have 6 players on the list. Those players are junior quarterback Jayden de Laura, sophomore linebacker Jacob Manu, sophomore wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan, senior defensive lineman Sio Nofoagatoto’a, sophomore offensive lineman Jonah Savaiinaea, and junior defensive lineman Tia Savea.
The six players on the watch list ties for two-most with UCLA. The most players are from Hawai’i and Utah, who have seven nominees each.
De Laura looks to build off an All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention first season with the ‘Cats in 2022, where he completed 63 percent of his passes for 3,685 yards and 25 touchdowns, while cutting down on the 13 interceptions he had. He has also been named to the 2023 Manning Award Watch List (top QB in college football) and the 2023 Maxwell Award (player of the year) watch lists.
One of the weapons he’ll be throwing to is McMillan, who had a stellar freshman season in 2022. T-Mac led all freshmen nationally with 702 yards on 39 catches with eight touchdowns, which tied for first in the Pac-12 for receiving scores. He made the Polynesian HoF Watch List last year as a true freshman, while also finishing the season on multiple Freshman All-American teams.
Protecting de Laura is Big Jonah Savaiinaea, one of the bulwarks on the line. He was another true freshman with a stellar first season, starting all 12 games at right guard. He was one of the top linemen on the team, allowing only 12 QB hurries and two sacks on 791 snaps played. On top of that, he didn’t commit a penalty all season. That’s almost unheard of as a true freshman o-lineman. Big Jonah is quickly working his way to be a potential first round NFL Draft pick, second round pick at worst. He was on the Polynesian HoF Watch List last year and finished the season as an All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention, while landing on multiple Freshman All-American teams. Jonah is also on the 2023 Outland Trophy Watch List (best OL).
On the other side of the ball, Manu quickly made a name for himself last season. He was able to quickly show improvement and learn the playbook throughout the season, starting his first game Week 3 against North Dakota State and becoming a locked-in starter in Week 7 against Washington State. In that short time, he finished the season tied fifth in tackles and was fifth on the team in tackles for loss. Manu was also one of the best pass rushers on the team with 22 QB pressures in 2022, second only behind Hunter Echols. Some of his best play came in the Territorial Cup when he was involved in two plays against the QB that led to a strip sack and a game-clinching interception. He has quickly become a leader on the defense and looks to improve his play and production in 2023.
Savea is another defender on the list and looks to build upon his successes from last year. He will need to stay healthy in order to put it all together, but if he does, he should see that jump in his performance on the field. Savea did have two games where he stood out in 2022. The first was against UCLA, where he logged a season-high three tackles and had the game-changing field goal block in the 3rd quarter. In the Territorial Cup he picked up the strip sack by Jalen Harris when ASU was deep in the red zone and returned it to near mid-field. Again, if Savea can stay healthy this season, he should become more impactful on the field.
Finally, we have the newcomer, Nofoagatoto’a. Sio is a huge presence in the interior of the defensive line, measuring in at 6-foot-3 and 330 pounds. He will be imperative in plugging up the running lanes and pushing the opposing player to the waiting linebackers. This was something he did to great effect in Bloomington and something that Johnny Nansen hopes he’ll excel at in Tucson. Sio previously made the Polynesian HoF Watch List in 2022 and 2021.