TUCSON, Ariz. — Jesse Scroggins seems to have a peace about him that he says he’s never really felt in his football career.
"I’m more comfortable, less anxious and less overwhelmed," said Scroggins, speaking for the first time this camp at Arizona’s annual media day on Sunday.
That might be the calm amid the storm as the stakes remain high in the Wildcats’ still-open quarterback derby. Scroggins, a senior whose career detoured to junior college after two years at USC, is looking for steppingstones that might end with milestones. Whether he finds them will be up to him.
"Maybe I’ll take this team to a high-caliber bowl game," he said with his trademark grin. "I’m not going to say which one, but we all know it has roses in it."
First, he must get through a four-man race to become Arizona’s starting quarterback, competing with redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, junior Jerrard Randall and sophomore Connor Brewer.
Scroggins, a 6-foot-3, 200-pounder from Lakewood, Calif., is thinking big this fall — and not just in football. He is on pace to get a degree in psychology, becoming the first person in his family to graduate from college.
While Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez isn’t ready to name his starter, he’s inching closer. Originally, he had hoped to pare the competition to two by late last week. He’s pushed that decision date to later this week.
"It could be another week … or two," Rodriguez joked.
"Some days we make a little progress and other days we stay a little still," Rodriguez said.
He’d like the candidate to have a little more of a "sense of urgency" — a key phrase he’s used every fall practice. It’s less than two weeks away from UA’s season-opener against UNLV on Aug. 29, so now certainly would be that "urgency" time.
"We’ve got enough offense in to where now we’ve got to cut it down to where we think the guys can execute it," Rodriguez said.
The competition, the quarterbacks say, is a healthy one, with Randall saying he’s learning a lot from Solomon and Scroggins because they’ve been here longer.
"I like everybody’s chances," Scroggins said. "May the best man win."
For Brewer, the Scottsdale Chaparral High grad and University of Texas transfer, it’s been a learning experience since arriving on campus a year ago.
When my confidence level goes down, that’s when I kind of wet the diaper. I’m done that plenty of times. But if it was a game situation it would be different. I’d be ready to roll when the lights are on.
"Taking a year off (for the transfer) is no fun for anyone," he said. "I had to work really hard last year, especially knowing I wasn’t going to be in there."
The film room was his classroom. So was the scout team.
"Coach Rodriguez harps on knowing the offense, and I know it, but it takes hours and hours and hours to learn it," Brewer said. "I want to get in the film room and learn more."
Then comes the execution. Rodriguez is constantly on his quarterbacks at practice. Zero errors and smart decisions are the mandates.
"The only thing that hinders them is making some egregious errors, something they should not do at this point," Rodriguez said Sunday. "It might be only one but it’s got to be at zero. We are not good enough to play poorly and win."
All the quarterback contenders have great attitudes, Rodriguez said. All are coachable and eager to get better, he added. But each brings something different to the table.
* Solomon has a "good feel for the game and great pre-snap vision," Rodriguez said. "He sees the field. He’s athletic enough to extend the play."
* Brewer brings a good feel to the game and "is a better athlete than you give him credit for. And he’s a tough guy. He knows for him to win the job or to be in the mix he doesn’t have to be perfect mentally but he has to be on his game."
* Scroggins, athletic with a good arm, had been uneven in practice before this fall but has come on lately. "He wasn’t making the progress we wanted, but as camp started he’s slowly made his way to where he’s had some of his best practices the last couple of days. He’s worked hard. He’s taken another step the last couple of practices."
* Randall’s "head was spinning" with so much information to take in. But he offers a tremendous arm and athletic ability. He’s a seemingly perfect guy to run Rodriguez’s offense — if and when he really grasps the playbook. "You see a couple of moments where you just cringe and say, ‘He’ll never get it,’ then you see moments where you say, ‘He’s getting it.’ Then you see him run and say, ‘If he ever gets it, he’s going to be special,’" Rodriguez said.
If given the chance, Randall said he’ll shine "when the lights are on."
"When I’m confident in what I’m doing, that’s when I play at my best," said Randall. "When my confidence level goes down, that’s when I kind of wet the diaper. I’m done that plenty of times. But if it was a game situation it would be different. I’d be ready to roll when the lights are on."
Rodriguez laughed when told that. How will you get to play in a game if you don’t get it done in practice? It’s not enough to say you’re "a gamer."
"They all say that," he said, laughing. "How are you going to have that opportunity? Some guys are better in games than they are at practice. But they are also pretty good in practice. In order to get in the game you have to do it in practice."
Scroggins understands completely. He also knows this is his last chance at success, after transferring to Arizona for the 2013 spring semester. He’s a guy who knows about second chances. One of the reasons he’s getting a degree in psychology is he wants to help those people who can’t help themselves.
"I like studying why people do what they do," he said. "Suicides (have been in the news). That’s terrible. I had a friend who committed a suicide. It was hard that day and it still is today.
"I want to learn about body languages. Me being a quarterback I know what somebody else is thinking. I see their eyes. It’s all about seeing what they think (on defense). … It’s like cheating because I have the answers to the test."
First, he must pass Rodriguez’s. And time is ticking …