The Arizona Wildcats didn’t suffer a defeat on the field, but the football team was dealt a big loss this week when offensive lineman Zach Hemmila passed away in his sleep early Monday morning.
Hemmila, who was entering his senior year, was no stranger to the Valley as he was a product of Chandler High School.
Then, as the Wildcats were grieving the loss of someone in the family, pouring rain came down in Tucson on Tuesday morning, making the practice fields unplayable.
The team wasn’t going to be able to practice unless it traveled somewhere else. University of Arizona Athletic Director Greg Byrne told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Friday that he decided to reach out to the Arizona Cardinals in case there was a chance the Wildcats could use their training facility in Tempe.
Byrne called up Cardinals GM Steve Keim, who told him he’d try to figure something out. About 10 minutes later, Cardinals’ president Michael Bidwill was on the phone asking Byrne what the organization could do to help the Wildcats out.
“They had stepped up and welcomed the Arizona Wildcats into the Valley,” Byrne said. “We had a great two days up there and just they were completely first class all the way around and we cannot thank the Cardinals organization enough for what they did in a very challenging time for our university and our program, and just wanted to take time and say thank you.”
Bidwill, who said giving the Wildcats access to the facility was “an easy decision,” went above and beyond to make sure the team from Tucson had everything they needed. Because of that, Byrne said the Wildcats felt right at home.
“They basically turned the facility over to us, and it wasn’t just being able to use their fields,” Byrne said. “They did all the little things. There were banners as the team drove up welcoming the University of Arizona and that was throughout the facility.”
The Cardinals also painted Wildcat logos in an end zone and gave the team access to the training room and the equipment room. Byrne said that if some Wildcats players weren’t Cardinals fans before, they for sure are now.
“Just an absolute first-class organization,” Byrne said. “Michael and Steve and everybody from the organization deserves all the credit in the world.”
Byrne added that despite moving the team to Tempe for a couple days and figuring out all of the practice plans, the hardest thing he had to do all week was talk to Hemmila’s family about Zach’s death. Somewhere in those conversations, plans were already put into motion on how to recognize the offensive lineman.
“We talked to his family already, and this is a unique set-up for us, obviously,” Byrne said. “We have our first game of the year in the Valley against BYU out at the Cardinals’ stadium. It’s kind of ironic, and then we have our first home game the next week against Grambling, and so we’re actually already planning to do a recognition at both games, especially since Zach is from the Chandler area and then with it being our first home game the next week, we’ll do a recognition at both games.
“And I think it’s going to be good to have Arizona fans both in the Phoenix area as well as down here in Tucson an opportunity to recognize and say thanks and give a chance to support and rally around each other. We’re very fortunate during this time that we have the community and the family that we have that we can all do this together.”