Legend status cemented: Recapping a pivotal weekend for Arizona Football and Noah Fifita

A week ago we asked what if, and now a week later, we're asking what's next. Arizona Football has locked in its core much to the dismay of some now outside the program, and contention in the Big 12 Title race in 2024 still appears very much in the cards.
Valero Alamo Bowl - Arizona v Oklahoma
Valero Alamo Bowl - Arizona v Oklahoma / Ronald Cortes/GettyImages

What a difference one week makes, huh?

Last week it looked as though Arizona Football was poised to be sliced, diced, and fileted by the transfer portal in the days after the Brent Brennan hiring. However, very little was heard about player retention. Then, enter the Arizona vs. USC basketball game last week and a sighting that provided hope. When Noah Fifita, Tetairoa McMillan, Jacob Manu, and Brennan arrived all together there was a sign of positivity.  While now-former running back Jonah Coleman and NBA superstar Kevin Durant were also in attendance for the game, the eyes fell upon on the Servite trio instead as Wildcat fans were looking for a reason to hope.

Tides changing for the better

Brayden Dorman
Utah v Arizona / Chris Coduto/GettyImages

Now it's not often that you start to perk up a bit when the news about a backup quarterback comes in, but Brayden Dorman announcing his return, and claiming that he's "rocking with Coach Brennan" was a bit of an eye-opener as the question of "What if?" started to really come to front of mind. Then came the talks that the wave of players staying was starting to appear imminent, and then came some additional confirmations from incoming freshman linebacker Stacy Bey, and incoming transfer offensive lineman Alexander Doost.

Charity not lost on Fifita and McMillan

Tetairoa McMillan, Noah Fifita
Arizona v Arizona State / Christian Petersen/GettyImages

Despite all the noise both inside and outside of Tucson, one thing about Fifita and McMillan is that community is arguably the most important thing to them. To go out and support the HSL Properties "Stuff The Bus" Food Drive signing autographs and ingraining themselves in the Tucson community is not something that will ever be lost on either the city or Arizona fans. They wouldn't have been faulted if they opted out because of all the outside noise, and constant cries of "I hope you stay" and "Don't leave". Yet, they didn't back down, and it's likely their presence aided in a significant amount of additional donations. The community stepped up to show those two young men their significance.

Gunner Maldonado, General Booty
Valero Alamo Bowl - Arizona v Oklahoma / Ronald Cortes/GettyImages

DBs drop the fire

Coming off an Alamo Bowl where the #MyBadGunner movement was front and center with an outstanding performance from the secondary, attention turned to the defensive backfield, where Treyden Stukes, Gunner Maldonado, and Dalton Johnson were viewed as key to the Wildcats chances in the Big 12 in 2024. On Saturday, Jan. 20, they dropped the news that they were returning in what we thought was going to be the most impressive announcement video of the year with this gem

Just like that, the momentum was picking up in full force. The stage was set a few hours later for an announcement to set off all the hype and got the McKale Center crowd so electric that it helped Arizona overcome a 19-point deficit to knock off UCLA. The atmosphere was unbeatable at that point, and McKale showcased to a national audience just why teams hate visiting Tucson: when the crowd goes crazy, the dynamic of the whole game changes.

The Announcement We Were All Waiting For

What more needs said at this point? The undisputed leaders of Arizona Football believed in the coaching staff, the team around them, the city, and the fans enough to stay and allow the Wildcats to dream of what has the makings of a very special 2024 season.

Following their announcement we saw Jacob Manu, Wendall Moe, Speedy Luke, and others commit to returning, Keyan Burnett and Dorian Thomas withdraw from the transfer portal, sending a strong message that #FamiliesStay.

What do we do from here?

Well, the expectation is to win and do a lot of it. While yes there are a handful of impactful departures from a 10-win Alamo Bowl-winning squad, the Wildcats have hung onto their identity, and with that have added a coach well-known for fostering culture in a way to set his players up for success. While by no means am I saying go on and book your Big 12 Championship travel plans today, that is where I am expecting the Wildcats to finish up in 2024 and move onto heights not seen in Tucson in some time.

These remarkable student-athletes have done all we have asked of them in sticking together to represent the University of Arizona with pride, and now it's our turn to show that back to them in spades. Fill Arizona Stadium to the gills for all seven home games this year. If you can season tickets fit in the budget, go for it. If you are not in Tucson (like me), but are close to a school where Arizona visits this season — I hear Orlando is nice in the fall — go rock out at the game in your finest U of A gear and create an amazing away atmosphere for the squad.

One thing I know for sure is that we're going to be Alright

As always, Bear Down, Arizona!

dark. ALSO. Leg. Those who stay will become legends