Arizona’s offensive line was in trouble before the 2018 season began. The team’s only returning starter, senior left tackle Layth Friekh, was suspended for the first two games of the season after the NCAA granted him an additional year of eligibility. Center Nathan Eldridge, another veteran returner, hasn’t played this season because of a leg injury.
That left freshman Donovan Laie, Michigan State transfer Thiyo Lukusa, Alex Kosinksi, Josh McCaulley and Michael Eletise to pick up the slack.
And when Friekh graduates?
Well, Arizona’s depth will be even further challenged — unless something changes.
UA coach Kevin Sumlin said earlier this week that the depth of the offensive line isn’t where the coaching staff wants it to be.
“We are recruiting the best players at a position of need, and what does that look like? It depends on a lot of different things, and obviously looking at our offensive line situation, our numbers are not where they need to be,” Sumlin said.
The Wildcats’ defensive line could use both depth and impact players in 2019.
This could explain why Sumlin and his staff are hitting the junior college market in full force. In late September, UA offered a scholarship to 6-foot-7-inch, 355-pound Josh Cooper from Navarro College in Texas. Arizona also offered Cooper’s teammate, the 6-4, 285-pound defensive tackle Trevon Mason. It doesn’t stop there: Arizona has also sent offers to 6-6, 327-pound offensive tackle Paiton Fears from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas and 6-6 defensive end Nickolas Figueroa from Riverside Community College in California. Every one of the aforementioned players were offered within one week of each other.
Why recruit JuCo linemen? Size and, most importantly, game experience against college talent.
“A coach told me a long time ago, ‘The closer you get to the football, there’s grown men in there playing,’” Sumlin said. “So it’s hard for 17,-18-year-olds to come in and play at a high level on the offensive and defensive line. And maturity does matters, strength matters, size matters, and a lot can happen to a guy two years into playing junior college from a size, strength and maturity standpoint. We’re working around to find the best guys we can recruit to have the ability to help us immediately.”