In the 1988 film Working Girl, Melanie Griffith, playing a
secretary looking to move up the social and economic ladder, is
brought down to earth by her colleague, played by Joan Cusack.
"Sometimes I sing and dance around the house in my underwear.
Doesn't make me Madonna. Never will," Cusack says.
Arizona learned a similarly tough lesson in the '90s. After the
Wildcats finished 10-2 and shut out Miami 29-0 in the '94 Fiesta
Bowl with a roster of overachievers, coach Dick Tomey thought he
could start signing blue-chippers. But just because Arizona
finished in the Top 10 that season didn't make it Notre Dame.
Not only did Tomey lose the blue-chippers to the real Notre
Dames in his region--UCLA, Texas, etc.--but he also failed to
sign enough blue-collar kids of the type he had molded into a
Top 10 team in the first place. The result: a mediocre 26-20
record from '94 to '97 that put Tomey's job on the line.
Last year the Wildcats went 12-1 and finished No. 4 in the
nation. Recruiting coordinator Rob Ianello, who came to Tucson
in 1994 after assisting Barry Alvarez in turning things around
at Wisconsin, has helped Tomey strengthen the Wildcats' roster.
For one thing, they signed multisport players like junior
quarterback Ortege Jenkins, who spent two years as a backup
shooting guard on the Arizona basketball team, and senior free
safety Rafell Jones, who hit .303 as a Wildcats outfielder this
past spring. For another, Tomey and Ianello now focus on Arizona
and California while conducting raiding parties into Hawaii,
where Tomey and linebackers coach Bob Wagner spent a combined 19
seasons as coaches, and Texas. "I'm not going to go into Texas
against the University of Texas," Ianello says. "I'm trying to
find a kid like Bruce Wiggins." The 6'3", 278-pound junior
center from Houston, who chose Arizona over SMU, has developed
into one of the Pac-10's best offensive linemen.
Or a kid like Marcus Bell, the senior middle linebacker from St.
John's--not Queens, but a wide spot in the road in northeast
Arizona. Bell, a high school running back and wrestler, was
thinking about Utah State and I-AA Northern Arizona when Tomey
saw him in a wrestling match. Impressed by Bell's
aggressiveness, Tomey offered him a scholarship. Last season the
6'2", 235-pound Bell made more than twice as many tackles as
anybody else on the team. "Marcus never lost a football game or
a wrestling match in high school," Tomey says. "He's the best
linebacker we've ever had here. He's a tenacious competitor, and
he runs like a defensive back."
Tomey's trademark Double-Eagle flex defense made All-Americas
out of linemen Rob Waldrop and Tedy Bruschi in the mid-'90s, but
this year the stars of the scheme will be Bell and his fellow
senior linebackers. DaShon Polk, the flex linebacker, lines up
where he thinks the ball is headed, breaking down the blocking
scheme and funneling the ballcarrier to Bell. Polk gets a fair
share of stops, too: Of his 56 tackles last season, 13 were for
losses. Scooter Sprotte, Rizzuto-sized by linebacking standards
(5'11", 219), has the Scooter's nose for the ball.
Tomey certainly didn't sign Bell because of anything Bell said.
Even now, Bell speaks as if he's being charged by the word. On
this team he doesn't have to say much, though. There's only so
much oxygen in a locker room, and senior tailback Trung Canidate
uses most of it. "Give me three steps, and I'm in front of you,"
Bell smiles. "He's allowed to talk," he says. "He ain't been
Though Canidate, a product of Phoenix's Central High, was hotly
recruited by Arizona and Arizona State, he took some time to
find his niche with the Wildcats. For his first season he played
wide receiver and on special teams, where he once blocked a punt
and recovered it for a touchdown. "I remember you as a
freshman," fifth-year senior quarterback Keith Smith said to
Canidate recently over dinner. "Nobody knew who you were. Who
would have thought you would be up for the Heisman Trophy?"
As a sophomore Canidate rushed for four touchdowns, three of
which were of 96, 67 and 66 yards. Last year he overcame an
early-season stress fracture to his right ankle to run for 1,220
yards and 10 touchdowns. His 7.3 yards per carry made him only
the third 1,000-yard rusher in Pac-10 history to average more
than seven yards for a season, joining Kermit Johnson of UCLA
(7.5, 1973) and Jackie Jensen of California (7.4, 1948). But
that's dryer lint next to his 15 career touchdown runs, which
have averaged 51.7 yards.
Canidate is given to self-promotion, but it's more innate
enthusiasm than boastfulness. On his 1998 debut against Stanford
in the third game of the season: "I came out of a cast and
gained 110 yards." On his breakaway ability: "I need 18 inches
of daylight." On Tomey's getting the team to believe in the
quarterback duo of Smith and Jenkins last year: "He sold us an
Accord for $100,000. That's the sales job he did." Not that
Canidate feels like the Wildcats got swindled. "Our attitude
starts with Keith and O.J.," says Canidate. "We have the two
best quarterbacks in the country."
Smith and Jenkins will continue to ham-and-egg the Wildcats to
the end zone, though there may be more ham than egg this year:
Even Jenkins acknowledges that Smith, in his last season, should
get the majority of the snaps. But Canidate will continue to be
the offense's meal ticket, one they'll feed off all the way to
January. Arizona has played 20 seasons in the Pac-10 without
reaching the Rose Bowl. Come New Year's Day, the Wildcats will
be dancing in the end zone in Pasadena. Just not in their
1998 record: 12-1 (7-1, 2nd in Pac-10)
Final ranking: No. 4 AP, No. 4 coaches' poll
1998 Averages Scoring Rushing Passing Total
Yards Yards Yards
OFFENSE 34.7 213.4 231.5 444.9
DEFENSE 18.0 102.8 232.2 334.9
Coach: Dick Tomey
13th year at Arizona (84-52-4); Career Division I-A record:
WR Dennis Northcutt Sr. 3rd alltime in catches at Arizona
LT Makoa Freitas[*] So. One of six Wildcats from Hawaii
LG Steven Grace So. Started every game as a freshman
C Bruce Wiggins Jr. Honorable mention All-Pac-10
RG Marques McFadden[*] Jr. Bulked up 26 pounds to 316
RT Manuia Savea Sr. Lone senior on offensive line
TE Brandon Manumaleuna Jr. Eagle Scout has 7 career catches
WR Brad Brennan[*] Sr. Averaged 20.9 yards per catch
QB Keith Smith Sr. Most efficient passer in Pac-10
RB Trung Canidate Sr. All-state sprinter in high school
FB Jim Wendler[*] Sr. Walk-on has just 10 career carries
K Mark McDonald Sr. Wipeout: Surfer missed 9 of 17 FGs
LE Mike Robertson[*] Jr. Had 6 1/2 sacks with just 4 starts
LT Keoni Fraser So. One of nation's top rookies in '98
RT Anthony Thomas[*] Jr. Cousin of the Bills' Darick Holmes
RE Joe Tafoya Jr. Known for quickness and agility
OLB DaShon Polk Sr. Second team All-Pac-10
ILB Marcus Bell Sr. Pac-10 best 139 tackles (83 solo)
ILB Scooter Sprotte Sr. 3 interceptions, 4 forced fumbles
CB Kelvin Hunter Sr. Broke up 14 passes
SS Greg Payne Sr. Plays anywhere in the secondary
FS Rafell Jones Sr. Second-leading tackler with 59
CB Leland Gayles[*] Sr. Converted wide receiver
P Chris Palic[*] So. 40 punts, 37.6 avg. as freshman
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are from 1998 season.
Schedule strength: 30th of 114
Aug. 28 at Penn State
Opening day offers a super showdown--Canidate versus linebacker
LaVar Arrington--and an early line on the Sugar Bowl.
Oct. 30 at UCLA
Last year's 52-28 loss to the Bruins cost the Wildcats the
Pac-10 title and their first Rose Bowl bid. It'll be a different
story this year.
The Bottom Line
Tomey has his best team since arriving in Tucson in 1987. If you
don't see the Wildcats in Pasadena on Jan. 1, look for them in
New Orleans three days later, playing for the national