They have been two of Arizona’s top performers during spring football.
They easily could have chosen to no longer be Wildcats.
Defensive end JB Brown and receiver Boobie Curry considered transferring. Their circumstances were different, but the underlying reason was the same: Uncertainty.
Brown — like several of his UA teammates and countless players across the country — opted out of the 2020 season because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was a tough decision,” the fifth-year senior said after practice Thursday. “I spoke it over with my family. Thought on it a long time. I feel it was just in my best interest.”
Brown described the ambiguity of 2020 as “a lot of not knowing.” His grandmother also was living with him and his family in Long Beach, California.
“So I wanted to lay back a little bit,” Brown said. “I was very unsure.”
Brown didn’t spend his time away from the team idly. He worked to transform his body. He changed his diet, added muscle and lost fat. He worked with trainers in San Dimas (80-plus miles roundtrip) and Thousand Oaks (about 120). He watched his older brother, Jayon, a linebacker for the Tennessee Titans.
Brown stayed motivated and plotted his return. But would it be at Arizona? In December, the UA fired Kevin Sumlin. None of the on-field staff was retained.
Brown brought up the idea of transferring to his parents. They advised him to talk to the new coaching staff, led by Jedd Fisch, and see what they had to say.
Brown also chatted with former teammates, including Khalil Tate and Cedric Peterson. Tate had considered transferring during his UA career. His advice for Brown? “We’re Wildcats at the end of the day. We’ve got to finish what we start.”
Brown had a productive discussion with new defensive line coach Ricky Hunley, who had worked for the Cincinnati Bengals when one of Brown’s high school coaches, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, was a player there.
“We had a great conversation,” Brown said of his talk with Hunley. “I told him my goals, and he told me he can get me to my goals. He’s gonna push me.”
Brown would like to join his brother in the NFL. But first, he wants to spend one more season with his football brothers at Arizona.
“We stayed in touch, but it’s a different vibe and a different feel when we’re gearing up getting ready to go to war together,” Brown said. “I missed that – preparing throughout the week, the tough stuff I know they go through.”
Brown quickly re-established himself as a starter at the “Anchor” position in Don Brown’s defense. JB Brown has put together a strong camp, which concludes with Saturday’s spring game at Arizona Stadium.
Curry, a third-year sophomore, stuck it out through the difficult ’20 season in which the Wildcats played only five games and lost all of them. After it ended, multiple UA receivers put their names in the NCAA transfer portal.
“I wanted to test the waters, because it was unpredictable, everything that was going on, new coaching staff,” Curry said. “When I talked to Coach Fisch, he laid it all out to me – what was his plan, what was his goal. I wanted to give him a chance. I bought into it. That’s why I’m here, to help turn this thing around.”
Curry and fellow receivers Stanley Berryhill III and Jamarye Joiner decided to return. Berryhill and Joiner are from Tucson, so staying at the UA meant staying home. For Curry, this spring represents a new experience.
The Houston product came to Arizona with high school teammate Grant Gunnell. They had played together for years. Gunnell transferred to Memphis in December.
“Of course I miss Grant,” Curry said. “He’s been my quarterback since junior year of high school. That’s my dog. I still talk to him every other day.
“But at the end of the day, you’ve just got to move forward. I wish him the best. Just gotta keep building chemistry with the QBs that are here now.”
Curry struggled early in spring as he and others adjusted to a new offense. “I kind of questioned myself,” he said.
About halfway through camp, he began to feel more comfortable and to play a lot faster.
“I’m just happy to be here, to be able to make plays and help my team win,” Curry said.
Brown and Curry are on opposing teams for the spring game, which is slated to kick off about 12:07 p.m. from Arizona Stadium.
Brown is part of “Team Blue,” which is being led by Tedy Bruschi. Curry is on “Team Red,” spearheaded by Rob Gronkowski. UA women’s basketball coach Adia Barnes will serve as Team Blue’s honorary captain. Men’s basketball coach Tommy Lloyd will serve the same role for Team Red.
The offensive play-callers will be Brennan Carroll and Jimmie Dougherty. The defensive player callers will be Don Brown and DeWayne Walker.
Fisch formed the sides by divvying up the first- and second-teamers equally. So each offensive and defensive unit will feature a mix of ones and twos.
The teams met and dined with with 200 or so football alumni Friday night. UA athletic director Dave Heeke, Fisch and Bruschi were scheduled to speak.
Fisch will act as the spring game’s “commissioner,” aiding the officials and possibly making mid-scrimmage trades in the interest of “balance and equity so we have a good football game all the way through.”
All 5,000 virtual tickets have been distributed. The game will feature a halftime “cooldown,” a live DJ and the Pride of Arizona Marching Band.
The winning side will have access to food trucks after the game. The losing side will eat hotdogs.
“It’s bragging rights,” JB Brown said. “I want a big man’s meal that day.”
Will Plummer, the starting quarterback for Team Blue, had perhaps his best practice of spring Thursday. Plummer played decisively and threw the ball accurately downfield.
Cornerback Treydan Stukes had another strong practice. The second-year freshman — who joined the team as a walk-on last year from Millennium High School in Goodyear, where he was a high-level triple- and long-jumper — has finished spring camp on an uptick and seems firmly entrenched with the second unit. “He’s one of my favorites,” Walker said. “He’s come a long way.”
Tight end Alex Lines had a strong run during the final period of 11-on-11, catching two passes and drawing an interference penalty.
Players who were limited during the no-pads practice included tailbacks Jalen John and Jashon Butler and offensive lineman David Watson.
Tailback Michael Wiley and safety Gunner Maldonado suited up, but it remains to be seen whether they will participate Saturday. Wiley has a better chance to go than Maldonado.
Attendees at practice included incoming quarterback Jordan McCloud and Pac-12 Networks announcers Roxy Bernstein and Yogi Roth.