2016 Arizona Wildcats football season countdown: No. 10 individual record



51 BYU


Only 10 days separate us from the start of Rich Rodriguez’s fifth season, when the Arizona Wildcats football team plays Brigham Young on Sept. 3 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.

As is customary on this Web site, we will count down the days with an interesting element associated with each day. This year the topic is the top 100 individual records in Arizona’s storied football past.

In past years, we have counted down the top games and highlighted players and some of the top plays in Arizona Wildcats football history. A couple of years ago in our top 100 countdown, we showcased the 1914 team that was responsible for Arizona becoming the “Wildcats”.

Back to this year’s countdown of the top 100 individual records in the 117 years of Arizona football:

Mike Thomas’ school-record 259 receptions from 2005 to 2008 topped the Pac-12 charts until Nelson Spruce of Colorado broke the mark last season, finishing with 294 catches in his career from 2012 to 2015.


Rec. Player Yds TD Years
259 Mike Thomas 3231 23 2005-08
230 Bobby Wade 3351 23 1999-02
223 Dennis Northcutt 3252 24 1996-99
209 Juron Criner 2859 32 2008-11
153 Theopolis Bell 2509 30 1972-75
151 David Douglas 1542 11 2008-11
147 Austin Hill 2280 17 2011-14
136 Jon Horton 2415 16 1983-86
131 Syndric Steptoe 1584 6 2003-06
129 Cayleb Jones 1926 14 2014-15

No. 10

Most Receptions, Career: 259, Mike Thomas, 2005-08 (3,231 yards)

Pac-12 record: 294, Nelson Spruce, Colorado, 2012-15 (3,347 yards)

NCAA record: 387, Justin Hardy, East Carolina, 2011-14 (4,541 yards)

Mike Thomas’ 259 receptions from 2005 to 2008 broke the record of 230 achieved by Bobby Wade from 1999 to 2002.

Mike Thomas already surpassed Bobby Wade for Arizona’s career reception record. He needed one more catch in his last game, when the Wildcats played BYU in the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl, to make Pac-10 history.

Knowing the magnitude of Thomas’ last reception, Willie Tuitama did not take a knee on the last play of the game, won by Arizona 31-21. He threw a short, 3-yard pass to Thomas. That gave Thomas his 259th reception, breaking the previous conference mark of 258 held by Derek Hagen of ASU.

“I was kind of getting worried,” Thomas told John Moredich of the Tucson Citizen. “We were doing the victory knee and I was like ‘Oh, man, I am tied with it, I may just as well get another one.’

“They gave me one more. That meant a lot to me.”

In his career from 2005 to 2008, “Money” Mike Thomas became one of the most accomplished big-play receivers in Arizona history. He epitomized Arizona’s emphasis to establish a passing game midway through Mike Stoops’ tenure.

Mike Thomas served notice as a freshman in 2005 that he was in store for a big-time career at Arizona.

“He is a big play waiting to happen,” former Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes told the Tucson Citizen in 2008. “He is one of those guys where you throw him a 3-yard pass and he makes it a 50-yard touchdown. That’s critical for our offense.”

Thomas followed a succession of four elite receivers who rewrote the record books.

Playmaking receivers Dennis Northcutt and Bobby Wade became the first two receivers in Arizona history with more than 200 career receptions. Northcutt was the first with 223 from 1996 to 1999. Wade followed with 230 from 1999 to 2002. After the depths of the transition from the John Mackovic era to Stoops’ hiring, Thomas became Arizona’s most prolific receiver thanks to how Willie Tuitama flourished under Dykes’ “Air Raid” offense.

Juron Criner, the primary target of Nick Foles, reached 209 receptions in his career from 2008 to 2011.

Arizona has featured the likes of Austin Hill and Cayleb Jones since Criner but neither approached the 200-reception mark because of an injury to Hill and Jones playing only two seasons after transferring from Texas.

Senior receivers Samajie Grant (123 receptions) and Nate Phillips (119) will likely finish among Arizona’s top 10 leaders in career receptions. Grant is on pace for 163 receptions, which would put him in the top five behind Thomas, Wade, Northcutt and Criner. Phillips is on track for 159, close behind Grant.

ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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