By Lindsey Frazier
CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Arizona football head coach Mike Stoops watches on during his team's 18-point victory over Northern Arizona Saturday night. The win was Stoops' first ever as a head coach in just his first game on the sidelines. Stoops was hired by Arizona after the Wildcats posted a 2-10 record last season.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, September 7, 2004
In the wake of its 21-3 season-opening victory Saturday over NAU, the Arizona football team can finally take a much-needed sigh of relief.
All the nervousness, anxiety and pressure that accompany the advent of a new coaching staff can be overlooked, at least temporarily.
"A lot of people were nervous," admitted junior tailback Mike Bell about the team's first time playing under head coach Mike Stoops, in front of more than 49,000 fans. "They thought there was a lot of pressure. I kind of play through it. I was kind of nervous at the beginning but I just play through it - that's how I've been my whole life."
With his first game in the books and a match-up with No. 17 Utah fast approaching, Stoops said he's eager for the novelty of the new coaching staff to wear off.
"It's hard to have all that tension put on you because that's not what we stand for; it's the team," Stoops said. "We have a lot of great players and great coaches. I know I'll be happy when all that newness wears off because it's not about the individual talent. As we talk about every day, it's playing well as a team. I'm excited that (the first game) is over.
"This is a great win for us," he added. "I wish we could have done some things better but what a great test - to test our toughness, our conditioning, just everything about our program. It was really fun to watch. I wish some things were better but I loved the way our team played. I think we have the makings of a really good football team. There's a lot we need to clean up."
According to Bell, sophomore quarterback Kris Heavner has already shed some of the newness that accompanies a freshman starter.
"(He is) so much more poised and so much more mature," Bell said. "He was even keeping me in line sometimes when I was making some mistakes and keeping my confidence level up. Kris Heavner is a great offensive leader and a great player. I'm happy to have him on our team."
Heavner efficiently threw for 171 yards and a touchdown on 18 of 23 passing.
The Wildcats now hope to convert some of their energy into momentum as they look ahead to Saturday's game against Utah.
"There are a lot of things we have to do," said senior safety Darrell Brooks, who recorded one of Arizona's three interceptions. "We have a lot of young guys out there playing. We need to go out there and play hard. Any win is going to give you momentum. A win is a win. But there are things we need to improve on and accomplish going into (the game against) Utah."
His thoughts were echoed by Bell, whose career-high 31 carries and three pass receptions accounted for 135 of Arizona's 307 total yards.
"A win is a win," said Bell. "We are going to use this win and just take it into Utah and try to get another one. We are going to look at the film and try to fix all the mistakes that we had, penalties and try to eliminate some of the other things. We need to fix the mistakes we had in the game and come into Utah better prepared.
"(There is) nowhere but up still," Bell said. "Even though we had a lot of mistakes, they were little mistakes that we can easily fix. We didn't have many wins last year so I'm happy to have any kind of win."
The nationally ranked Utes generated their own momentum as they destroyed Texas A&M, 41-21, in their season opener Thursday night.
"Utah is a fabulous football team," Stoops said. "They can hit you in a lot of different ways. We've watched a lot of tape over the summer and we have some thoughts."