Arizona football won't kick off for a while, but already Paul Vassallo and the rest of the UA defense is hard at work. In his first season after transferring from Sierra Community College, the soon to be senior's 102 tackles led all players on the Wildcats defense, something Vassallo did not expect to do when he arrived at UA.
"I don't think leading the team in tackles was realistic at all," Vassallo said. "It's a privilege to just get out on the field and earn that spot, but to come in and say I am going to have over 100 tackles, I don't think that was realistic."
While the 6-foot-3, 240-pound linebacker was happy with how his season looked on the stat sheet, he acknowledged that there are still holes in his game that he's working on filling.
"I think I played pretty well last year," Vassallo said. "Statistically and all of that yes, but there are definitely a lot of things I want to improve on and I'm working on that in the Spring."
An early enrollee, Vassallo got a head start last season on learning the defense, something that he thinks was crucial to his success on the field.
"I think it was just about learning the system," Vassallo said. "Just coming in and being confident and by mid-year just being confident in what I was doing."
With the graduation of Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed, the identity of the Arizona defense has yet to be defined. With the two senior leaders moving on to the NFL, Vassallo believes the burden of being one of the leaders of the defense falls on his shoulders.
"I'm ready to be a leader," Vassallo said. "I think by naturally proving to the guys that I can play I just fell into that role.
"Last year the leadership came from up front, but now this year it's going to be from the back seven. We're the experienced one's, and we have to take these young guys under our wing and let them know that we're behind them, literally and figuratively. We have to make this work, and we will."
Despite the questions about leadership, Vassallo is pleased with what he's seeing from his teammates on the defensive side of the ball after just a few days of Spring football.
"We're flying around and we're having fun," Vassallo said. "There's a lot of energy out there. Everyone is talking about how we're going to replace the offensive and defensive line, but the way we're playing I think a lot of questions are getting answered fast."
Vassallo ready to be a leader
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