Arizona Wildcats football notebook: Former assistant joins staff as defensive analyst, Gunner Cruz’s new gig, spring practice dates set

Arizona Wildcats football notebook: Former assistant joins staff as defensive analyst, Gunner Cruz’s new gig, spring practice dates set

Wednesday was the start of the traditional signing period in college football, but aside from a surprise signing from Florida’s 3-star receiver Devin Hyatt, there wasn’t much recruiting news for Arizona.

But UA coach Jedd Fisch has announced an important addition to the program in the form of Duane Akina, who has joined the coaching staff as a senior defensive assistant/secondary coach (translation: analyst).

“I believe we signed a 5-5 star coach,” Fisch said of Akina, 66, who comes to Tucson after spending the previous eight seasons as defensive backs coach at Stanford. “He has coached three Thorpe Award winners, six Thorpe Award finalists, 41 defensive backs who have played in the NFL, seven Pro Bowlers and was defensive coordinator for nine years and offensive coordinator for four years.”

Akina is no stranger to longtime Wildcats fans, having been part of Dick Tomey’s team from 1987-2000, including as offensive coordinator (1992-95) and defensive coordinator (1996-2000). ). After Tomey was kicked out, Akina moved to Texas where he served in various defensive roles, including coordinator and assistant head coach, from 2001 to 2014.

It’s technically Akina’s third on the Arizona team, but he didn’t coach the second time around. Mike Stoops hired him as defensive backs coach in January 2011, only to see Akina return to Texas a month later.

Akina is not the replacement for cornerbacks Dewayne Walker, who announced his departure from the program on January 5. acclimatize in time for the start of spring training in mid-March.

As for the role of Akina, it is also in the air. Currently, college football analysts aren’t allowed to coach, but Fisch hopes that will change soon.

“We expect the NCAA to open up other rules, in terms of who can coach and who can’t coach, that’s been a big part of the discussion,” he said. “If you are an analyst, can you coach, can’t you coach? Currently, we believe that will change. So we want to move forward.

“When Coach Akina became available, I contacted him. I wasn’t sure what capacity we were going to discuss with him. We tried to figure out exactly what we wanted to do, what he wanted to do at this stage of his career. I spoke with (sporting director) Dave Heeke, I put a plan in place.

Gunner the graduate assistant

Fisch hinted during his end-of-season press conference in late November that quarterback Gunner Cruz, who has two more seasons of eligibility, could pursue other opportunities in 2023. Turns out, that involves stay in Tucson, but not as a player.

Cruz is a graduate assistant for the Wildcats, working in the strength and conditioning program under Tyler Owens.

“We have to wake Gunner up at five in the morning to get the benches and the weights ready to roll, and he’s as excited as he can be about it,” Fisch said.

Cruz, who came to Arizona in 2021 from Washington State, played five games with three starts that season. He was the Wildcats’ season opener against BYU, as well as the home opener against San Diego State, and also started at Colorado in which he suffered a game-ending thumb injury. the season.

He hasn’t appeared in a game in 2022, as has Will Plummer, who started eight games in 21 but then underwent shoulder surgery last April.

“Right now we’re still working on Will, his shoulder, making sure he’s really trying to come back from that shoulder surgery and is ready to go,” Fisch said.

Further Notes Fisch said Arizona will begin spring football on March 13, with the first practice scheduled for March 14. The Wildcats will play on a Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday schedule for five weeks, with the spring game scheduled for April 15. Arizona’s 2023 Meet the Team event will take place Thursday at 6:00 p.m. MT inside the Davis Sports Center. Pac-12 Network’s Yogi Roth will host the rally, which will feature both newcomers and returning players, and should end with plenty of time for UA fans who have tickets to the basketball game. men’s ball against Oregon which begins at 8:30 p.m. MT. The Wildcats added a pair of defensive linemen for 2023, one with a local connection and one with a family connection. Chase Randall, a graduate of Canyon del Oro High School in Oro Valley, joins the team after spending the 2022 season at the FCS school in Valparaiso, while Ammon Kaufusi is the son of outside linebackers coach Jason Kaufusi.

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