TUCSON, Ariz. — Ricky Hunley remembers it well: When he was a player at Arizona, former players would show up and talk to the team, often as a motivational tool.
He’d take in every word. He hopes nothing has changed more than three decades later.
Hunley, arguably the best player in program history and the school’s first and only two-time consensus All-American, visited the Wildcats on Friday and took in the university’s $73 million facility, which will be officially unveiled at the season opener against Northern Arizona in two weeks.
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“I wanted to let the kids know that I’ve been where (they’ve) been,” Hunley said. “I’ve been through it and you will survive. It’s like I tell the freshmen: ‘Don’t be in awe because they’ve been here.’ I came here as a true freshman and was scared as (expletive) and way down on the depth chart. But I worked my way up, and by the (middle) of the year, I had to start against the No. 2 team in the country — and we beat their ass.”
Arizona beat No. 2 UCLA 23-17 in 1980 at Arizona Stadium. He started every game after.
For coach Rich Rodriguez, Hunley’s speech came at just the right time. He’s looking to inspire his team to be the best it can be this season. Of course, in the short term, he’s just hoping for the Wildcats to be, well, better than they’ve appeared early in fall camp.
“I tell them this program was built on a lot of tough, hard-nosed football players for many, many years,” Rodriguez said. “That ‘hard edge’ (Rodriguez’s go-to slogan for the program) isn’t something that we invented. It’s been the culture here for many years. I think Ricky gave them a really good message.”
While Hunley went on to All-America honors and an NFL career, his experience’s came 30 years ago. So how many of the current players does Rodriguez think have even heard of Hunley? Better be all of them, he said.
“We have (his name and likeness) so many places that if they don’t know who he is, they haven’t been in the weight room enough,” Rodriguez said. “The way Ricky played, Tedy Bruschi and (a lot of others) played … it was with a certain edge about them.”