UA football: Little-used player saved Cats from erratic kicking

2011-12-02T00:01:00Z UA football: Little-used player saved Cats from erratic kickingRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 02, 2011 12:01 am  • 

Nick Foles posted the best numbers. Juron Criner has the brightest future.

But if you're looking for the best story of the Arizona Wildcats' 2011 season, it's John Bonano - and it's not close.

The UA's place-kicker rose from kickoff specialist to go-to guy in a span of weeks, leaving senior Alex Zendejas and junior college transfer Jaime Salazar on the sidelines. And while the UA posted just a 4-8 record during a maddening season, it would have been much worse had the former walk-on not stepped up.

Bonano connected on all 24 of the PATs he attempted after taking over the starting job on Oct 20. While his 66 percent success rate (8 for 12) on field goals was below average, consider his competition: Arizona's other kickers went a combined 2 for 6.

"It was definitely an up-and-down year as far as special teams as a whole go," Bonano said Thursday. "We went through three different field-goal kickers; not many schools usually do that.

"But I'm glad I got to contribute at the end. I thought I did a really good job when they called my name, and I was able to put some points on the board for the team."

Bonano's chances of seeing the field, much less contributing, stood somewhere between ridiculous and nonexistent when he joined the team as a walk-on in 2008. For two years, the Salinas, Calif., product was known for being the smartest player on the team - in fact, he arrived at the UA on an academic scholarship.

But then Alex Zendejas missed two PATs in Arizona's 2010 regular-season finale against Arizona State and went wide on a field goal in the Wildcats' Alamo Bowl loss to Oklahoma State.

Wildcats coaches recruited Salazar, one of the nation's top junior college kickers, to compete for a starting job in training camp. Salazar beat Zendejas out in training camp, but was unable to handle the pressures of the job. Zendejas' old demons returned during a midseason slump.

Bonano took over as the starter in Week 7, Tim Kish's first game as the Wildcats' interim head coach, and shone. He hit all six of his PAT attempts and two field goals in Arizona's Oct. 20 win over UCLA, and held on to the job the rest of the season.

Bonano's strong finish, in fact, has bought him an extra season at the UA. With new coach Rich Rodriguez's blessing, the kicker has decided to return for a fifth year. Bonano has already changed his class schedule - he's a physiology major - to put him on track for a December 2012 graduation. He'll take his Medical College Admission Test this summer with plans on eventually becoming a doctor.

Of course, Arizona's best story could first parlay his unlikely rise into an NFL contract.

"Med school is still a top priority," Bonano said. "But we'll see how the offseason goes and how I do next season."

Arizona on special teams

• Briefly: Special-teams gaffes continued to haunt the Wildcats in 2011, though the program appears set at punter and place-kicker next season and beyond.

• High point: Senior John Bonano delivered the performance Arizona was missing all season when, against UCLA on Oct. 20, he hit all six of his PAT attempts and field goals from 22 and 41 yards.

• Low point: Special teams coach Jeff Hammerschmidt was reassigned from the field to the coaches' skybox with Arizona stuck in a 1-5 start, effectively ending a tumultuous two seasons in charge. Running backs coach Garret Chachere helped Hammerschmidt the rest of the season.

• Plays of the year: The Wildcats' made a half-dozen special teams mistakes in a 37-27 loss at Oregon State, ending the Mike Stoops era at Arizona. Kicker Alex Zendejas missed a 28-yard field goal and a PAT, Jack Baucus muffed a kickoff and Arizona allowed OSU to convert on a fake punt.

• Say hello to: Chase Gorham. The Wildcats' projected starter at long snapper, Gorham withdrew from school before the start of the season. However, he's expected to return to the team in January and participate in spring drills.

• Say goodbye to: Zendejas. The Cats' star-crossed kicker finished his career with 181 points.

Stoops inching closer to Ohio State job

Mike Stoops may be closer to accepting a job at Ohio State.

The Arizona Wildcats' former head coach confirmed to an Ohio Web site Thursday that he has talked to Urban Meyer about joining the Buckeyes staff, but wouldn't say whether he's accepted - or even been offered - - a job.

Stoops spent Wednesday in Columbus, Ohio, presumably to interview for a vacancy on Meyer's staff.

"I have talked to Urban," Stoops told Buckeye Sports Bulletin. "Of course it is something I am interested in. . . . I've talked to Coach Meyer and that's all I am going to say."

Stoops would likely share defensive coordinator duties with Luke Fickell, the Buckeyes' acting head coach.

Stoops was fired by the UA on Oct. 10. Since then, he's been linked to the vacant head coach's job at Florida Atlantic and the defensive coordinator's gig at Iowa.

Ohio State, with its tradition and deep pockets, would fit with Stoops' Midwestern roots. He was raised in Youngstown, Ohio, and played and coached at Big Ten rival Iowa.

Stoops has talked about returning as a defensive coordinator and told Buckeye Sports Bulletin that "certainly Ohio State is a great place to do that."

 

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



Free Wildcats Sports Newsletter

University of Arizona sports news and blog headlines, delivered daily

I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site consitutesagreement to it's user agreement & privacy policy.

Follow the Arizona Daily Star


Featured businesses

View more...

Deals, offers & events

View more...

Video