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Cornerstones For Success
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 09/16/2006
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Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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By: Blair Willis

Arizona Athletic Media Relations

 

Often times in sports, clich?©s are overused to the point that when players or coaches spit them out in interviews you must take them with a grain of salt.  However, there is one clich?© that seems to fit the Arizona football program and its head coach, Mike Stoops: “Offense wins games, defense wins championships.”

 

Since being named the 28th head coach in the program’s history in November of 2003, Stoops has preached time and time again that Arizona is a place where championships can be won. Having won a national championship at Oklahoma as a defensive coordinator, Stoops should know what he is talking about when it comes to winning. And what he knows best is defense.

 

At Oklahoma and previously Kansas State, Stoops coached 19 players who earned All-American honors and went on to join National Football League teams for professional careers. Of the 19, six are cornerbacks, including Derrick Strait, Antonio Perkins and Andre Woolfolk.

 

In Stoops’ time in Tucson, the Wildcat defense has improved significantly, even in the offense-oriented Pacific 10 Conference. In the two seasons, Arizona’s defense has seen its opponent’s yard per game go down by 100 yards per game, and held opponents to 10 fewer points per game.

 

Two of the mainstays on the defensive side are junior cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Wilrey Fontenot. Together, the duo has started 44 games and not missed a snap in two years of experience. They have combined for 11 interceptions and 21 passes broken up, while lining up on opposite sides of the field.

 

Cason, who plays the ?'boundary’ corner ?- often the short side of the field with more run support duties, has had football, and particularly the cornerback position, in his blood his entire life. After all, Cason’s father, Wendell, played cornerback at Oregon and for the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL. He is also the cousin of Ken-yon Rambo of the New York Jets and Avieon Cason of the Dallas Cowboys.

 

“His impact on me has been tremendous,” said Cason of his father’s football experience. “It was great growing up knowing someone who had seen everything I was going to see growing up in my lifetime. I feel like I’m miles ahead of where I would have been if I didn’t have him. A lot of people don’t understand he’s played the position. He knows what to look for and what to expect.”

 

Opposite Cason, Fontenot roams the ?'field’ side for the Wildcats.  Unlike Cason, who has played cornerback his whole football career, Fontenot has become accustomed to the position only in recent years.

 

“I’ve improved a lot fundamentally,” explained the Humble, Texas, native of his time at Arizona. “I came in here basically as a raw athlete. I didn’t play much cornerback in high school. I’ve learned a lot from the coaches on how to read routes and position myself correctly on certain plays.”

 

While both have played very consistently in their first two years in the Cardinal and Navy, Cason has received the most national attention. He started his career off with a bang, earning Pac-10 Player of the Week honors after his first collegiate game in 2004. Against Northern Arizona, he intercepted a pass, forced two fumbles and recorded a career high 13 tackles. Since his debut, the 6-foot corner earned second team all-Pac-10 honors, and recently was named to the 2006 preseason Chuck Bednarik Award watch list.

 

His counterpart, Fontenot, doesn’t mind the attention going elsewhere.

 

“Not at all,” said Fontenot when asked if the lack of attention bothered him. “This year, teams might be looking at him as the better corner. That just means I have to prove what I can do. I know what I can do.”

 

In their time as Wildcats, Cason and Fontenot have grown close together, mostly because of all the snaps the two have seen together in games and practice situations.

 

“We have a lot of stability,” Fontenot said of the consistency the two bring to the defense. “When we’re out there and see stuff the other team is doing, we talk to each other and help each other out. We’re two good corners out there trying to make things happen for each other.”

 

“We get along very well,” added Cason. “We have to help each other out and know what’s going to happen on both sides of the field. That’s how we have built out friendship: seeing things and helping each other out.”

 

It is that unique relationship and leadership from the two that has helped turn the Arizona secondary into one of the most respected defensive backfields in the nation. Despite playing in the pass-happy Pac-10, Arizona gave up only 225 passing yard per game in 2005, the second best mark in the league.

 

Cason and Fontenot do not see the opposing offense in the conference as a burden, however; rather they see them as an opportunity to showcase their abilities.

 

“It’s fun,” said Fontenot of facing pass-oriented teams such as USC, Oregon and Arizona State on a weekly basis. “You come out every game and know there is going to be some passing, no matter who you play. There is no dominant run team and you know that every game you’re going to be challenged.”

 

Cason, a native of Long Beach, Calif., echoed similar sentiments.

 

“Of course,” he explained, “that’s my job. I love to play cornerback. I grew up playing it. When teams come out and try to pass on you, it’s a good opportunity to show what you can do.”

 

The duo will get an early test, even before the Pac-10 season arrives, in tonight’s showdown with Brigham Young, a team that likes to throw the football. Last season, The Cougars passed for 3,721 yards for an average of 310 yards per game, nearly 100 yards more than the Arizona defense gave up in 2005.

 

Something will have to give, but Arizona’s junior cornerback tandem is poised to assert themselves as two of the leaders of the squad. After all, defense wins championships and Tucson is a place where championships can be won. Cason and Fontenot have been, and will be for the next two years, the cornerstones for success at Arizona.

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