Arizona doesn’t open the 2023 season until Sept. 2, when it hosts NAU for the first of 12 games this fall. But when it comes to several former Wildcats, the season begins this weekend.
At least 13 members of last year’s UA squad will be in action for new teams this Saturday, which as Week Zero marks the official start of the 2023 campaign. Nine of those could potentially appear in the same game, as UMass—coached by former Arizona defensive coordinator Don Brown—has eight ex-Wildcats on the roster he’s bringing to Las Cruces to face New Mexico State, which features one former UA player.
Another three will be appearing in the first game of the season featuring a Pac-12 team (USC) and another will be part of Jacksonville State’s debut as an FBS program.
Arizona saw about 30 players from the 2022 roster enter the NCAA transfer portal during the offseason, and most have found a new home. Here’s a look at where they ended up:
The UMass Wildcats
Brown accepted the UMass gig, his second go-around at the school, in November 2021 during the tail end of his lone season coaching Arizona’s defense. His first Minutemen squad went 1-11, their only victory against an FCS school, but for 2023 he dove into the portal for reinforcements.
A good number of those were players he coached (or recruited to) the UA. Defensive lineman JB Brown started three of the first four games of Brown’s tenure, while cornerback Isaiah Rutherford made seven starts and linebacker Jerry Roberts six in 2021. Linebacker Tyler Martin and DE Jermaine Wiggins Jr. were players from the Northeast that Brown discovered, as was receiver Anthony Simpson.
Also on UMass this fall are former UA running back Jalen John, who missed last season with injury after starting three games in 2021, and linebacker RJ Edwards.
Martin, Roberts, Rutherford and Simpson are all listed first on UMass’ depth chart for the opener.
UMass, an independent, opens the season with back-to-back road games, visiting Auburn after NMSU. The Minutemen also play at Penn State in October.
New Mexico State, which joined Conference USA this season after being an independent, has one ex-Wildcat in defensive lineman Dion ‘Tank’ Wilson, who played in 21 games as a reserve from 2020-22.
The Trojan trio
At Pac-12 football Media Day last month, reigning Heisman Trophy Caleb Williams told reporters that when USC played Arizona last season he was so impressed with receiver Dorian Singer he asked a coach “after this season, are we gonna go get him?”
Two months later, Singer entered the portal and ended up with the Trojans, one of three ex-UA players on their roster and one of five set to play for other Pac-12 schools this season.
Singer, who led Arizona with 1,105 receiving yards, is expected to start for USC on Saturday night when it hosts San Jose State. Also expected to play are ex-UA defensive lineman Kyon Barrs and cornerback Christian Roland-Wallace, who made a combined 61 starts for the Wildcats.
Arizona visits USC on Oct. 6 in Los Angeles, the final meeting between the schools as Pac-12 members.
A Wildcat reunion in Alabama
Jamarye Joiner was a Tucson prep superstar for Cienega High School, one who committed to the UA as a junior in 2016. He made that pledge to Rich Rodriguez, who would be fired after the 2017 season, but Joiner honored his commitment and signed to play for Kevin Sumlin.
RichRod will finally get to coach Joiner on Saturday when Jacksonville State, a first-year FBS program, hosts UTEP. Rodriguez is in his second season with the Gamecocks, leading them to a 9-2 record in 2022 in their final year at the FCS level, and his offensive coordinator is ex-UA assistant Rod Smith.
Joiner was recruited by RichRod as a quarterback, a position he played briefly as a true freshman in 2018 before getting moved to receiver. He had a breakout 2019 for the Wildcats at that position, but a recurring foot injury hampered the rest of his UA career and in 2022 was mostly used on special teams.
Joiner, a captain at Jacksonville State, could be one of the top receiving targets for seventh-year senior QB Zion Webb.
Other ex-Wildcats in Pac-12
- Former UA safety Jaydin Young, who played in 28 games with seven starts in 2021, is at Oregon State, which comes to Tucson on Oct. 28.
- Adama Fall, who was a walk-on defensive back at Arizona from 2020-22 but did not play, is at ASU this season.
DB Adama Fall with a TD saving pass breakup pic.twitter.com/97tVEywcpm— DevilsDigest.com (@DevilsDigest) August 12, 2023
Elsewhere in college football
- Safety Jaxen Turner led Arizona with 79 tackles last season, and had 159 in his UA career that included 26 starts. He’s finishing his career at UNLV, and in addition to Mountain West play will get to face off against Vanderbilt and preseason No. 2 Michigan.
- Defensive lineman Paris Shand, who started 10 games for the Wildcats including the first seven in 2022, is at LSU. He’ll provide depth for the fifth-ranked Tigers, who open the season Sept. 3 against No. 8 Florida State in Orlando.
- Quarterback Jordan McCloud could be James Madison’s starter for its Sept. 3 opener against Bucknell. McCloud, who began at South Florida before playing at the UA in 2021-22, starting twice in 2021, is part of a Dukes program in its second year at the FBS level.
- Running back Drake Anderson (Akron) and defensive lineman Evan Branch-Haynes (Bowling Green) have taken their talents to the Mid-American Conference, while linebacker Kolbe Cage (Southern Miss) is in the Sun Belt.
- Offensive lineman Woody Jean, whom Arizona recruited out of Florida, is back in his home state at FAU, while fellow OL Shontrail Key is at FCS Grambling where he was supposed to re-unite with ex-Wildcat receiver Ma’jon Wright. But Wright, who played for the UA in 2020 and briefly rejoined the program in 2021, is now at San Diego State after joining that team during training camp.
- James Bohls, who came to Arizona in 2021 as a running back before getting moved to linebacker, is back on offense at FCS Southern Utah. He did not play in two seasons with the Wildcats but could make his Division I college debut Aug. 31 at ASU.