Zone Read: Coming Home

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Life is moving fast these days for UCLA redshirt freshman Bruno Fina.

But in many ways, it’s a welcomed change after he, like many, spent his entire freshman year of college in a COVID-19 bubble of sorts.

“It was weird for sure, it was definitely very odd,” the former Tucson Salpointe star explained to the “Zone Read.” “When I came and visited the campus [in high school], there were 65,000 people here.  [Last year], just the athletes were on campus. No one else. Then everyone starts coming back and we’re looking around like, ‘What are all these people doing on campus (laughing)? What’s going on?’”

What made it even more unique was Fina, along with every other Bruin student-athlete, was working out at the UCLA facilities but taking classes entirely on-line.

He also transitioned on the field, moving from his natural position, tackle (he played guard until his senior season at Salpointe), to center where he’s enjoyed the challenge of playing for head coach Chip Kelly, who undoubtedly has the Bruins headed in the right direction. 

“It’s been awesome,” Fina said. “I’m very, very thankful to be a part of this team and I’m learning a ton. Coach Kelly runs a really cool scheme. He asks a lot of his players and, as an o-lineman, that’s really beneficial to me. I’ve learned about defensive structure and what’s going on. Playing for Chip Kelly is an amazing experience.”

One of the biggest adjustments for the now 6-foot-5, 290-pounder is slowing things down at center. Fina focused on quickness and technique as a tackle with the Lancers, but is now being asked to identify the defense, set the call for the offensive line, and then accurately snap the ball.

While he gained weight and strength for the rigors of Power 5 football, Fina says he’s happy with his “new look” after playing at around 240 pounds in high school.

“I gotta say, me and my friends go out to Santa Monica, they bring jackets, I don’t get cold anymore,”  he quipped. “So that’s one thing I’ve noticed for sure. But the one thing I’ve focused on is I want to keep my speed, my technique. I don’t want to get sloppy big.”

Fina, who saw action in the Bruins’ season-opening win over Hawaii, will see a familiar setting this weekend as the Bruins travel to his hometown to take on the Arizona Wildcats in a stadium which sits just down the street from where he went from undersized and unnoticed to a high-level Division I player. 

“I’m excited to go back to Tucson and see my family,” he said. “My dad is going to bring the dog to the team hotel so I can say hi to the boy…but it’s a business trip.”

Setting the Tone

It’s certainly not uncommon to see Arizona high school football alums shine at the next level but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a true freshmen who’s made more of an instant impact than Denzel Burke.

The Saguaro alum is simply doing it all for seventh-ranked Ohio State.

“We’re so happy for Denzel for the early success he’s having at Ohio State,” Saguaro head coach Jason Mohns said to the “Zone Read.” “Graduating in December and getting on campus in the spring gave him a chance to get comfortable in his new surroundings and start learning the playbook. Denzel is a very mature and confident young man, and has a competitive edge to him that has allowed him to excel on the biggest stage.”

Burke’s progression to an already elite level Power 5 cornerback could also be aided by the fact he was a two-way star in high school. 

His understanding of route concepts has been evident through the first quarter of Ohio State’s season.

“No doubt his experience playing wide receiver in high school has played a role in his development as a top-tier defensive back,” Mohns explained. “Much like Byron Murphy [Arizona Cardinals starting cornerback and fellow Saguaro alum], Denzel has elite ball skills, fluid hips, and natural instincts to diagnose pass concepts and put himself in position to make plays on the ball.”

A Pretty Nice View

Here in the Valley, Horizon has opened plenty of eyes through the first month of the season and rightfully so, racing out to an unexpected 4-0 start under first-year head coach Andy Litton.  

While in Tucson there is another good story happening at Desert View where the 5A Jaguars are 4-0 with wins over Sunnyside, Verrado, Thatcher, and Marana. Three of those four victories came on the road.

DVHS has a pair of talented senior running backs in Serge Gboweiah (42 carrries, 472 yards, four touchdowns) and Carlos Alvarez (44 carries, 339 yards, three touchdowns). The defense already has 15 sacks and has allowed only 18.5 points per game against a quartet of quality opponents. 

 

A Valley native, Eric has had a passion for the Arizona sports scene since an early age. He has covered some of the biggest events including Super Bowls, national championships and the NBA and MLB playoffs in his near 20 years in local media.