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Young guns

Photos by Chris Coduto/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Quarterbacks Adam Austin and Willie Tuitama are expected to battle for the backup spot behind returner Kovalcheck. However, Stoops has said that he might throw Tuitama into the starting roll at some point, as the true freshman is expected be the starter in the future.
By Lindsey Frazier
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 1, 2005
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No crowd for 3 QBs under center

Arizona sophomore quarterback Richard Kovalcheck had already thought himself firmly as the starter for the Arizona football team when prized recruit Willie Tuitama signed his letter of intent to come to Tucson in February.

But if Kovalcheck, who guided the Wildcats to wins in two of their final three games after taking over in midseason, is the present and Tuitama is the future, then walk-on Adam Austin is the ultimate insurance policy.

While the coaching staff remains confident in the promise and abilities of all three athletes, Kovalcheck is the clear No. 1 heading into the team's season opener at Utah.

"You can see they all have great talent," said Arizona head coach Mike Stoops. "They've come a long way. I think all of them are getting better. We need some more consistent play in some areas, but I like all three. It's just been hard getting all three of them a quality amount of snaps."

Should Kovalcheck falter or get hurt at any point this season, Stoops and his coaching staff can rest easy knowing they won't have to look far for a replacement.

All three quarterbacks saw action during the team's final scrimmage of fall training camp Aug. 21 at Arizona Stadium.

Photos by Chris Coduto/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Quarterbacks Adam Austin and Willie Tuitama are expected to battle for the backup spot behind returner Kovalcheck. However, Stoops has said that he might throw Tuitama into the starting roll at some point, as the true freshman is expected be the starter in the future.

Kovalcheck completed nine of 16 passes for 111 yards, while Austin connected on 55 percent of his attempts for 125 yards. Tuitama was 8-of-10 for 68 yards.

Arizona offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Canales said the competition for playing time between Kovalcheck and Austin has made both athletes more driven.

"Rich is the guy, but Adam has been pushing him extremely hard," he said. "I think that's been a positive thing because it's made Rich concentrate more and focus on what we're trying to do. He knows that he can't slip."

Kovalcheck agreed that the pressure of having Austin waiting in the wings has been beneficial for both of them.

"I'm happy about it," he said. "Me and Adam, we're both just out here doing our best. The coaches can play who they feel they have the most confidence in. I just want what's best for the team."

After missing the team's entire spring practice schedule because of back surgery, Kovalcheck needed time to readjust to the speed of the college game, Canales said.

"He's starting to get into his groove," he said. "I think that was a lot of it - just trying to get him back in the groove a little bit and get him up to speed. (When) he came up those first three or four days (of fall practice), everything was in fast motion, and he just totally forgot how fast it was."

Breaking down the pass attack

  • Richard Kovalcheck
    Redshirt sophomore
    6-foot-3, 222 pounds
    San Diego
    2004 (Arizona):
    67-of-136, 880 yards,
    6 TD, 6 INT
  • Adam Austin
    6-foot-3, 217 pounds
    Mundelein, Ill.
    2005 Spring Game:
    27-of-50, 370 yards,
    2 TD, 4 INT
  • Willie Tuitama
    6-foot-3, 218 pounds
    Stockton, Calif.
    2004 at St. Mary's High School (Calif.):
    158-of-254, 2,734 yards,
    32 TD, 7 INT

Canales added that Kovalcheck is expected to build off his final performance of 2004, when he lead the Wildcats to a 34-27 victory over in-state rival ASU.

"I think what Richard did, winning the last two of the three games, was huge for him and for this team and for this program and the direction that it's going," he said. "We feel like we have a leader that can actually lead us to wins and then to possibly a bowl game and to championships. He's fit that mold."

Austin, a product of Mundelein, Ill., has been part of the Arizona program since 2002, when he redshirted, and has consequently experienced the inconsistency of having three offensive coordinators and four different starting quarterbacks - Nic Costa, Ryan O'Hara, Kris Heavner and now Kovalcheck. Kovalcheck is the only one of the four not to leave the program since the beginning of last season.

"(I've) just been able to learn a lot more, just learn football through different coaches and through different people's eyes," Austin said.

He said that he is unsure of how much playing time he will receive this year.

Chris Coduto/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Arizona quarterback Richard Kovalcheck replaced Kris Heavner during the fourth quarter of last season's game at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore. Oregon defeated Arizona 28-14. Kovalcheck is expected to start the season under center.

"It depends how much we're winning by," Austin said. "That's the way I see it. We'll see."

Canales said Tuitama may redshirt this season but will be prepared to play should the team need him.

"I think we're going to be really smart with Willie Tuitama and how we use him, because I think he's our future," he said. "I think you have to go into each week with the possibility that he may have to play. If it works out that he doesn't have to play and we don't have to use him, it'd be fantastic (for him to redshirt) because you'd really like to have him for four years and let him compete."

Tuitama said that he does not have a problem redshirting this year because doing so would be an advantage to him in the future.

"That way I can just learn the whole offense better and things like that," he said.

Tight ends coach Josh Heupel, the 2000 Heisman trophy runner-up as a quarterback at Oklahoma, said he also experienced inconsistency in his collegiate career.

Heupel, who guided the Sooners to a national championship after transferring from a community college, said the most important thing he hopes to impart on the three quarterbacks is leadership.

Photos by Chris Coduto/Arizona Daily Wildcat
QB Richard Kovalcheck passes during last season's loss to Oregon. Kovalcheck threw for 6 picks and 6 TDs last season and is expected to lead the air assault for the Wildcats this fall.

"I think they'll learn how to be a leader," he said. "The main thing I try to talk to them about is how to take control of an offense, how to take control of a huddle, and in essence, how to take control of a football team.

"A quarterback is a natural leadership situation, whether you want to be or not. It's important that you learn how to carry and bring along 105 other guys with you."

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