Former Wildcats coach Mike Stoops reflects on the UA players headed to the Super Bowl

A trio of former Arizona Wildcats -- Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and Patriots linebacker Marquis Flowers -- are headed to Super Bowl XLII in Minneapolis a week from Sunday.

Their former head coach couldn't be prouder of their success, especially considering the obstacles that he and his players had to overcome.

"I’m proud of the 7 1/2 years that I had there just because we didn’t have much at Arizona at the time. We didn’t even have a football facility. Coaching these guys, it never really bothered them," Mike Stoops, UA's head football coach from 2004-11, said on Wednesday's Wildcat Country podcast. "That’s what people really don’t know, just the obstacles we had to overcome."

Gronkowski, a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl champ, didn't play much at Arizona due to various injuries. But Stoops knew just how good Gronk could be at the NFL level -- and he made sure Patriots coach Bill Belichick knew what a special player he'd be getting if he drafted the 6-foot-6, 265-pounder.

"Coach Belichick called and just wanted to know about him. What I told Coach is, 'Listen, if I’m starting a team, this is the first guy I’d want on it,'" Stoops said. "There was nobody more focused and determined when he got on the football field than Rob. (He has) all those other shenanigans off the field, but when he steps on the field, there’s not a better competitor and a more talented tight end than Rob Gronkowski.

"And lo and behold, they drafted him I think in the second round, and really, the rest is just history. He’s taken off and just had an unbelievable career. I think he has a chance to go down definitely as one of the greatest tight ends ever and be a Hall of Fame player."

Foles, who will become the first-ever UA quarterback to start a Super Bowl, began his collegiate career at Michigan State. But when another quarterback -- current Redskins QB Kirk Cousins -- won the starting job with the Spartans, Stoops was able to lure Foles to Tucson.

"He knew we wanted to spread the football and throw it around, and that’s what the guy does. His development during his time at Arizona was neat to watch," Stoops said. "He always hung in there. His toughness was the thing I think that really stood out when he delivered the football. He took some hits and really hung in there and delivered the football. 

"And the second thing is his accuracy, a lot like Baker Mayfield here in Oklahoma. They’re accurate throwers of the football, and when you put those things together, you have an opportunity to keep playing at the highest level. Nick certainly put it all together the other night (in the NFC Championship Game), and it was really fun to watch him play at such a high level."

Stoops said Gronkowski, Foles and Flowers have one thing in common: They care more about on-field results than off-field luxuries -- and it's one reason why all three men came to play for Stoops during a time when Arizona had little off-field amenities to offer.

"Our lack of facilities and a lack of financial support was tough. But we didn’t worry about what we didn’t have. Our guys just came to work every day and really developed in a positive way," Stoops said.

"We had so many good players there. Brooks Reed, Trevin Wade, Antoine Cason -- just a lot of really good guys. They didn’t care about what we didn’t have; they enjoyed the process of working."

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