TUCSON – In a game where Arizona football coach Rich Rodriguez wants everything to be sped up, Dan Buckner is slowing it down.
In sports vernacular it translates into this: Seeing it and getting it.
It’s a mark of the cagey veteran. But that’s what college football has come to for Arizona’s lsenior wide receiver.
“The game slows down. You’re a student of the game,” Buckner said. “Every year, you’re learning more and more. I think the game slows down. That’s the biggest transition from high school to college — the pace. When you learn the game, the game slows down for you … (so) you can play faster. When you play faster, you can make more plays.”
Arizona will depend on it. Given the state of the team’s defense – a major work in progress – the Wildcats will need every yard of every reception.
It’s much like last season, when under former coach Mike Stoops UA’s best hope for victory was to hope the offense put up enough points to compensate for a porous defense. That might not be the desired approach by Rodriguez in his first year with UA, but he does know UA will need Buckner, who had 42 catches for 606 yards and two touchdowns last season. There’s little question the 6-foot-4, 214-pounder from Allen, Texas, will be an integral part of UA’s attack. Last year, he played in the shadow of UA’s Juron Criner after transferring from Texas three years ago and sitting out his first year here.
This year, Buckner is a Biletnokoff Award candidate (given to college’s best wide receiver). He is the shadow maker.
“This is his time,” Rodriguez said at the start of fall camp. “He is a very talented player, and I think he realizes that it is an opportunity for him. He hasn’t had to do this in his career yet. It is time for him to grow up and mature and do everything on and off the field right. He will be key for us this year along with Terrence Miller and a lot of our other receivers.”
Buckner sees the same thing. Buckner said he feels like a leader and will act like one.
“Seeing that I’ve been at Texas and I’ve been here, going on my fifth year as college player, I feel like I’m a leader,” Buckner said. “I’m 22 years old. Some of the kids are 17. I remember when I was 17, coming in and looking for leadership. I was on the other end of the spectrum.”
The others look to him as a leader, too.
“First off, he’s been in college way longer than I have,” said Austin Hill, a sophomore who had 21 catches and two touchdowns last season. ” I look up to him. He works hard. He comes to play every day. I do believe that he’s a leader. But losing so many receivers, I think we all have to take leadership this year and all work hard and all push each other.”
Despite the loss of Criner, David Douglas, David Roberts and Geno Crump, who combined for 244 receptions last year, Arizona appears to have some depth at receiver. Buckner, junior Richard Morrison, Hill and Miller were contributors last year, and they’r joined by the likes of sophomores Tyler Slavin and Garic Wharton and freshman Trey Griffey, son of former major leaguer Ken Griffey Jr.
“In a typical game, you would like to have six guys, maybe seven, that can play,” said Tony Dews, UA’s receivers coach, told reporters at a recent practice. “If we’re going at a tempo and the pace we’re wanting to, I don’t think there is one wideout who can play 80 snaps and play at the pace and with the toughness and aggressiveness we want them to. Ideally, if we can have six or seven guys where there is no significant drop-off, that would be great.”
The standard should be set by Buckner. He’s a big receiver who can be physical.
“You can do anything,” Buckner said of the spread offense. “It’s a fast-paced offense, and we’re trying to tire out the DBs in the fourth quarter – make big plays down the field and with the short (passes) – to take it to the house.”
Arizona opens the season against Toledo on Sept. 1 at Arizona Stadium.