Wildcats report (11.19): New linebacker corps a big hit

Published Nov. 19, 2010 11:53 a.m. ET

By Anthony Gimino

Arizona linebackers coach Tim Kish had a very specific wish list last fall.

Needed: A junior college linebacker who could transfer for the spring semester and be a starting-caliber Pac-10 player from the very first game.

"The pool was very small," Kish said.

Kish, who is one of coach Mike Stoops' top recruiters, whittled his list to about 10 possibilities. The two names at the top (he won't say in which order): Paul Vassallo and Derek Earls.

Kish got both players to sign, and it looks as if he made the right choices.

The all-new starting linebacker corps was Arizona's chief concern in fall camp, but the junior college transfers, along with sophomore Jake Fischer, have held up well (the defense's recent trouble against the run notwithstanding).

Vassallo leads the Wildcats with 80 tackles -- 28 more than the second-leading tackler, safety Joe Perkins. Vassallo has 5.5 tackles for loss, including two sacks.

Earls has 42 tackles, including 6.5 for loss and a sack. He has broken up four passes and intercepted one.

"I think this has worked out well in everybody's interests," Kish said.

It also has worked out well off the field, as Kish suggested Vassallo and Earls become roommates despite not knowing each other until they arrived in Tucson.

"We haven't had any problems," Vassallo said. "I think we're both a little sarcastic with our humor. We like to joke around and quote movies, play video games. We're still kids."


A trio of Arizona players earned first-team Pac-10 All-Academic honors, which were announced this week: Fischer (3.42 grade-point average, pre-Business), starting senior safety Anthony Wilcox (3.05, Religious Studies) and junior kicker John Bonano (3.90, pre-Physiology).

Bonano, who is UA's kickoff specialist, had the highest GPA of any player on the Pac-10's academic list.

Sophomore linebacker R.J. Young and sophomore safety Adam Hall earned second-team honors.

Redshirt freshman tight end Jack Baucus, junior quarterback Nick Foles, junior receiver David Roberts and senior tight end A.J. Simmons made honorable mention.


Arizona, coming off what players have described as a "flat" performance in a 24-21 loss to USC, should be all fired up to play at top-ranked Oregon next Friday.

"You know what, it's exciting right now," Kish said.

"I think our guys are excited to get back on the field. We played without much energy and emotion these past few games. We need to get back out there and do the kind of things that helped us be successful earlier in the season."