By Sean Collins
Tucson, Ariz. – University of Arizona football has completed three practices since the start of fall camp on Friday. Senior Jared Tevis and junior William Parks lead a group of safeties showing more depth than head coach Rich Rodriguez’s previous seasons. The pair of safeties established their leadership roles far before fall camp started and it has paid dividends.
Formerly a walk-on, Tevis is now a member of the watch lists for the 2014 Lott IMPACT Trophy (character and performance) and the Bronko Nagurski Award (defensive player) and is a nominee for the Allstate AFAC Good Works Team. He certainly has the respect of his teammates, showing his work ethic and desire to get better as well as being dependable on the field during the games.
“He’s done a great job as a leader,” assistant coach Matt Caponi said. “Being a veteran guy and a returning starter, he takes control. He’s not always going to be the vocal guy you want him to be but his actions speak. He leads by what he does on the field. I know he had a great summer, he and Will were the leaders and they took control. Not only among the safeties but the whole defense, getting guys to the workouts and everything that went along with training. He’s the prototypical guy you’re looking for in a leader. He’s a great kid and a great football player.”
Tevis has been working towards calling himself a leader for some time now. There isn’t a moment when it just happens, but the progression has led him to become just that, a leader, and it is something he relishes.
“I’ve been trying to establish a leadership role the last couple years now,” Tevis said. “I feel like it’s easier having a lot of the younger guys growing up with me and playing with me these last couple years. As a defensive backfield, we’re so experienced that we can have the rest of the defense rally around us.”
Caponi is also confident in senior Blake Brady and junior Anthony Lopez, as well as redshirt sophomores Tellas Jones and Yamen Sanders.
“Tellas Jones has come a long way from last fall, understanding the defense more,” Caponi said to the Arizona Daily Star on Monday. “Spring practice helped him a lot. Tellas has all the physical tools; you can see a burst out of him when he’s running. He’s a difference-maker. We have another senior in Blake Brady, he’s a very good technician. He understands the defense. We have Yamen (Sanders) and Anthony (Lopez), too, to help us out.”
Parks played in all 13 games in 2013 and started four contests. He certainly finished the year on a high note as he was named the AdvoCare V100 Bowl Defensive MVP. He had a 69-yard interception returned for a touchdown against Boston College. Over the course of the year, he tallied 31 tackles, broke up five passes and had another interception in the 44-20 win at Colorado.
“He was a good football player last year and my job is to make him a great football player,” Caponi said. “He’s playing a different position now in camp but he studies the game and the sky is the limit for Will. He’s going to be a true junior, he’s got great physical ability and great mental ability. He needs to stay healthy but the sky is the limit for him.”
Caponi sights Parks willingness to work on and off the field for his surge last year into becoming a staple on the Arizona defense. Last year, Parks started four games at ‘bandit’ position but in the fall he has been playing the ‘spur’ position.
“Will studies film well and understands how offenses are trying to attack our style of defense,” Caponi said. “He’s playing a different position but it’s not really a big change for him. I try to teach those guys both positions; they do some of the same stuff depending on the offensive formation. The only real difference is that you’re obviously playing closer to the line of scrimmage, so you have to be able to read your keys quicker and things happen faster rather than when you are playing 10 yards off the ball.”
Despite his new position, his new role as a starter and an important player for the Wildcat defense, Parks felt that he could lead his teammates and they would respond well.
“Last year, we improved as a defense from the year before,” Parks said. “But, who wouldn’t want to be No. 1 in the country as a defense? A lot of people aren’t talking about us right now so that just gave me more motivation to get guys out there when they had free time, to go over film and to do extra work on the field. I think that’s helping us out at practice so far. Obviously, we have a long ways to go, but I think that this was our best summer as a team overall and definitely as a defense.”
Parks believes he can become a great player, like Caponi said, and he plans on doing whatever it takes to get there.
“To become a great player, I need to do everything I did last year as far as hard work, but double it,” Parks said. “If it’s only sleeping for four hours, then so be it. Whatever it takes to get to that next level, to be an elite player and an elite athlete, that’s what I’m going to do, whatever it takes. You could have me walk on hot rocks; I’ll do it if it’ll help me become a better player. That’s my type of mentality; my life is based off of hard work.”
On August 29, at Arizona Stadium, against UNLV at 7:30 p.m. MST, you won’t see Parks walk on hot rocks, but you will see him and Tevis lead a fast and experienced defense.
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