Wildcats to remember Hemmila as they open vs. BYU
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Arizona had to endure one of the most difficult fall camps anywhere, trying to prepare for the season while mourning the death of a teammate.
Offensive lineman Zach Hemmila died early in camp, but he has constantly been on the Wildcats' minds as they prepare for their fifth season under coach Rich Rodriguez.
The next step is to play a game for the first time since losing their teammate and friend. That chance comes Saturday night against BYU in Glendale -- and the Wildcats can't wait.
"I'm looking forward to being able to play," Wildcats receiver Trey Griffey said. "It's a big first game for us."
Hemmila, a 22-year-old fifth-year senior, was found dead in his apartment on Aug. 8 of unknown causes. The Wildcats will honor him throughout the season with stickers on their helmets and patches on the coaches' hats.
Arizona also will hold a pre-game ceremony before Saturday's game and possibly another before its home opener against Grambling State on Sept. 10.
A few more things to look for when the Wildcats meet the Cougars at University of Phoenix Stadium:
BYU'S QBs: Kalani Sitake had a difficult decision in his first season as BYU's head coach, having to pick between two prolific quarterbacks. Dual-threat senior Taysom Hill was once considered a Heisman Trophy contender after combining for over 4,200 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2013. He's been plagued by injuries, though, including a season-ending foot injury in BYU's first game of 2015. Tanner Mangum stepped into Hill's shoes last year and set freshman records with 3,377 passing yards and 23 touchdowns. Hill, who was awarded an extra year of eligibility on a medical exception, earned the starting job out of training camp, but the Cougars have a more-than-able backup if he should be injured again.
ARIZONA'S QBs: Rodriguez had his own decision to make about his starting quarterback. Junior Anu Solomon and sophomore Brandon Dawkins are listed as co-starters on Arizona's depth chart and Rodriguez is unlikely to announce a starter until game time on Saturday. Solomon had a prolific freshman season, but was plagued by injuries last season. Dawkins appeared in six games last season, throwing for 301 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions against rival Arizona State late in the season. Though Rodriguez knows who will start, holding off an announcement will make it tougher for BYU to prepare for Arizona's offense.
TOUGH START: BYU has one of the nation's most difficult schedules in its first season under Sitake. The independent Cougars will play six teams from Power 5 schools, including an opening stretch that includes Utah, UCLA and West Virginia after the Arizona game. But Saturday could feel like a home game to the Cougars. Arizona will be playing two hours from Tucson, but BYU fans had bought more tickets to the game by early this week.
RETURNING RBs: Both schools will have their top running backs to start the season. BYU's Jamal Williams returns after taking a year off for personal reasons. The senior needs 930 yards this season to break Harvey Unga's career rushing record of 3,455. Arizona's Nick Wilson is back after missing four games with injuries last season after breaking Arizona's freshman rushing record with 1,375 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2014.
NEW DEFENSE: Arizona will get its first chance to see if its changes on defense will make a difference. Rodriguez cleaned out his defensive staff during the offseason and brought in former Boise State defensive coordinator Marcel Yates. The Wildcats have ditched the 3-3-5 defense former coordinator Jeff Casteel ran in favor of a more attacking style. The biggest concern will be size on the defensive line; three of Arizona's top six linemen weigh less than 250 pounds. The new defense will get a big test in the opener against BYU's prolific offense.