Cayleb Jones

Austin Hill will have to compete with Cayleb Jones (1) and others for playing time and catches.
Photo by Wildcat Universe

Which football players are you most excited to see suit up for the Arizona Wildcats this fall? The new starters at quarterback and running back? Elite transfers DaVonte’ Neal and Cayleb Jones? How about high-profile freshmen like Jamardre Cobb and Cam Denson?

With so many new faces, fans may be tempted to overlook the return of a guy who has a chance to go down in history as one of the best Wildcat receivers this university has seen.

Austin Hill has already experienced both the highs and lows of college football. He went from a little-used redshirt freshman in 2011 to an All-Pac-12 performer as a sophomore to missing all of last season with a knee injury. He enters this fall as a senior looking to pick up where he left off a couple seasons ago.

That 2012 season – 81 receptions, 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns – should not be glossed over. Hill had the fifth-most single-season catches in UA history but averaged more yards per catch than anyone else on the list and he tied the school record for receiving touchdowns in a season.

Add it together and you could argue that Hill’s sophomore season was the greatest year ever by a Wildcat receiver. The only serious competition is Dennis Northcutt’s 1999 season (88 catches, 1,422 yards, 8 TDs) and Juron Criner’s 2010 campaign (82 grabs, 1,233 yards, 11 TDs). That’s some elite company.

Arizona Football, Most Receiving Yards in a Single Season

1Dennis Northcutt1,4228816.21999
2Bobby Wade1,3899314.92002
3Austin Hill1,3648116.82012
4Juron Criner1,2338215.02010
5Keith Hartwig1,1345421.01976
6Mike Thomas1,0388312.52007
7Cayleb Jones1,0197314.02014
8Jim Greth1,0037613.21966
9Richard Dice9695617.31994
10Juron Criner9567512.72011
11Dennis Northcutt9226314.61998
12Jeremy McDaniel9165815.81998
13Andrae Thurman9156115.02002

Hill has 102 career catches for 1,675 yards and 13 TDs. If he could duplicate the production of his sophomore season he would end up fifth on the UA career receptions list, fourth on the career receiving yards table and tied for third in career touchdowns. It’ll take just 29 catches, 114 yards and two TDs to crack the top 10 in each category.

If you’re expecting the UA offense to suffer because How will Arizona replace Ka’Deem Carey?! don’t forget the fear going into last season was How will Arizona replace Matt Scott and Austin Hill?! Remember how defenses were supposed to put about 13 defenders in the box to stop Carey? All Rich Rodriguez did was squeeze every possible yard out of B.J. Denker and as a result Carey led the Pac-12 in rushing (again), finished in the top two nationally (again) and the Cats beat eight teams (again) including Oregon.

So, no, if Hill stays healthy and doesn’t end up rewriting the receiving section of the Wildcat record book it won’t be because of a lack of talent at quarterback or any other position.

If anything it’ll be because the team is too talented at receiver. In addition to the aforementioned Neal, Jones and Denson, the Cats are bringing back Nate Phillips and Samajie Grant who combined for 98 catches, 1,069 yards and eight scores last year. Plus Trey Griffey returns after starting the final four games in 2013 and hauling in two touchdown passes in the bowl game.

In his short time in Tucson RichRod has had a player produce one of the three greatest receiving seasons in UA history (if not the greatest) and another player churn out two of the school’s three or four greatest rushing seasons (if not the two greatest). That’s in just two years, coaching players recruited for a different system.

It is in no way a stretch to believe the Rodriguez-led attack will again rack up monster offensive numbers in 2014. If Austin Hill grabs enough of those numbers he’ll leave with a legacy among the all-time Wildcat receiving greats.

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