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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Wildcats’ defense benefits from juco players’ efforts

    Arizona cornerback Marquis Hundley lunges after Toledo running back DaJuane Collins during the Wildcats 41-16 win at Arizona Stadium Sept. 6. Hundley is one of four junior college transfers making a significant contribution to Arizonas defense, which is ranked second in the country in total defense.
    Arizona cornerback Marquis Hundley lunges after Toledo running back DaJuane Collins during the Wildcats’ 41-16 win at Arizona Stadium Sept. 6. Hundley is one of four junior college transfers making a significant contribution to Arizona’s defense, which is ranked second in the country in total defense.

    The junior college experience was more than simply a football stepstool for Arizona safety Nate Ness.

    For the Wildcat senior, playing football for El Camino College in Torrance, Calif., was an escape, a chance to get an education and fulfill a promise to his parents.

    “”I used football to get out of where I stayed at in L.A.,”” Ness said. “”That’s the good thing about football – you can use it to get an education. Getting to Division I just came along with it for me.””

    While making his studies a primary focus throughout his first two years of college, the Arizona senior didn’t let his football skills go to waste as he collected 76 tackles along with eight interceptions in his freshman season.

    The performance was good enough to land Ness on the Junior College All-American team that year and he played well enough to earn the honor again his sophomore season. Those efforts gave him the distinction of being a four-star recruit – an attractive label for a player with hopes of becoming a D-I athlete.

    With the ever-growing list of honors for Ness, Arizona scouts soon came calling and now the 6-foot-1, 190-pound defensive back finds himself less than two semesters away from a sociology degree and one of the leaders of the nation’s top ranked pass defense which has allowed only 103.25 yards per game through the air.

    But Ness is not the only junior college player making an impact for the Wildcats defensively this season. In fact, three other starters are integral parts of Arizona’s defensive core, including cornerback Marquis Hundley, who is a transfer from Santa Rosa College in California.

    Like Ness, Hundley also used his juco experience to beef up his grades in hopes of one day moving to the next level.

    “”Right out of high school I wasn’t highly recruited, so I knew I was going to be going to a juco,”” Hundley said. “”My plan was to go D-I, but I needed to get people’s interest.””

    That interest came in the spring of 2006 when the Universities of Kansas and Nebraska took note of Hundley’s strong 2005 season, putting the freshman on the top 100 juco prospect list.

    Then after a season in which Hundley recorded 16 tackles en route to becoming a junior college second-team All America selection, the Wildcats got into the mix and soon after he committed to Arizona.

    After spending one season as an understudy of former Arizona cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Wilrey Fontenot, Hundley is a now regular starter and already has 16 total tackles and an interception on the year.

    But the impact of junior college players on Arizona’s defense extends beyond the secondary. The linebacker position features juniors Sterling Lewis and Vuna Tuihalamaka, both of whom have moved into starting roles this season, their first out of junior college.

    “”Most junior college players you recruit to come in and play,”” said head coach Mike Stoops. “”You don’t recruit junior college players if you don’t think they have a chance to come in and start and make the team better.

    “”Our (juco transfer) players were talented at their previous schools as well,”” Stoops added. “”So it’s not much of a surprise that they’re making the impact they have been so far this season.””

    Out of these four regular-playing former juco players, none has fewer than 10 tackles. Both Ness and Hundley have picked off passes, and Lewis leads the team with 31 total tackles, 19 of them solo.

    The efforts of these players with the rest of the stout Arizona defensive unit has put the Wildcats into the No. 2 spot nationally in total defense with 221.75 yards allowed per game.

    Despite their effectiveness thus far in the year, many feel they are still getting used to their role as a leader on the team and admit the transition can be difficult at times.

    Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops echoed his players’ sentiments, saying he notices some of his juco transfers come to Arizona “”behind mentally.””

    “”Defensively, our guys have a great appreciation for the junior college players we have,”” Mark Stoops said. “”They all came into this year with great work ethic and great character which has so far translated onto the field.””

    The major advantage players such as Ness or Lewis have over their younger counterparts is maturity from their previous leadership roles at the juco level.

    While Ness said the adjustment from the junior college-level to D-I was a big one from a technical standpoint, he felt both he and Tuihalamaka – a teammate of his at El Camino – at least felt mentally prepared when they arrived in Tucson.

    “”Both of us have matured a lot,”” Ness said. “”Back in junior college, we used to run around on the field, but now we have to play with a lot more technique.

    “”We’re both very coachable,”” Ness added. “”And I think that’s a trait that many (juco transfers) on this team have thanks to that experience.””

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