There might be no one on the entire Arizona roster more eager for coach Rich Rodriguez to pick a starting quarterback than center Steven Gurrola -- except maybe the handful of quarterbacks who are still vying for the job.
Still, as far as Gurrola is concerned, the sooner the better.
“Every quarterback is different,” Gurrola said. “I’ve got a different relationship with each one. For example, me and Jesse [Scroggins] will snap it two times. Then I’d go to [the next guy] and snap two times. I’m trying to get a feel for where each one wants it. They are different heights. They each have different aiming points where they want the ball. It’s different for each guy, but you have to find a way to adjust to whatever makes them comfortable.”
The relationship between center and quarterback is a, well, an intimate one. So Gurrola, like the rest of Bear Down nation, can’t wait to see who finally emerges with the job.
One thing is for sure. Whoever does get the job will have a veteran line protecting him. The Wildcats return four starters on the offensive line: Gurrola, who was recently named to the Rimington spring watch list for the nation’s best center; left tackle Mickey Baucus, who has started 38 games; left guard Cayman Bundage, who started all 13 games last fall and played in 11 more as a true freshman; and right tackle Fabbians Ebbele, who has 37 starts over the last three seasons. The lone starter they are looking to replace is Chris Putton.
Continuity like that along the offensive line is invaluable -- especially when breaking in a new starting quarterback. And Gurrola, the de facto leader of the group as center, said he notices the difference between how the offensive line operated this spring compared to last season.
“You can see as a group that we get it,” he said. “There was a lot more communication and we all know exactly what we have to do with our assignments. We all know who is reading the safeties and the linebackers and who has the alert calls. It was a lot easier this spring than it was last year.”
Of course, last spring the Wildcats also had the benefit of the nation’s leading rusher in Ka'Deem Carey coming back. Carey would go on to rush for 1,885 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2013 with Gurrola and Co. leading the way. As an offense, the Wildcats averaged 33.5 points per game, totaled 311 first downs and averaged 458.5 yards per game of offense. They were also second in the conference in sacks allowed, giving up just 17 all season.
A transfer from Glendale Community College, Gurrola was tasked with replacing Kyle Quinn -- a staple at center the previous couple of seasons. The expectations were simple: match Quinn’s productivity or be better.
“The coaches told me from the beginning that I’d have some big shoes to fill,” Gurrola said. “Kyle was a great center. It’s one of those things where I knew I’d have to work at it every day if I wanted to be great.”
And now he’s receiving the recognition as one of six centers in the conference to be named to the Rimington Trophy watch list -- something he called a blessing and an honor.
“It’s definitely not something I was expecting,” he said. “That I’m even mentioned is exciting.”
He also wasn’t expecting the pace of Arizona’s practices and conditioning when he first arrived. Once he got the job, Rodriguez famously proclaimed that his team was weak physically. Stuff like that doesn’t sit well with the players, who took their coach’s challenge to heart.
But now, entering the third year of the system, Gurrola and the rest of his compatriots on the line find themselves pushing the tempo more often than not.
“It was a tough adjustment because I didn’t know what to expect, and I definitely wasn’t in the right shape,” Gurrola said. “But things have gotten easier. As the center, I’m pretty comfortable telling my guys they need to keep up the pace. I’ll even tell the quarterbacks to speed things up. That’s the style we want to play. Always moving.”