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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Early enrollee giving boost to thin linebacking corps

C.J. Dozier grew up watching former ASU linebacker Vontaze Burfict tear up opposing offenses at Centennial High School in Corona, Calif., just 45 minutes from Dozier’s home in Temecula, Calif.

From time to time Dozier would hop on the I-15 South to go watch Burfict dominate on his way to becoming the No. 9 recruit in the country.

When Burfict took his talents to ASU, Dozier was immediately drawn to the Sun Devils, and as Burfict and the Sun Devil defense continued to gain notoriety, so did Dozier.

At Chaparral High School in Temecula, Dozier showcased his linebacker skills, and like Burfict, eventually earned a scholarship offer from Sun Devil head coach Dennis Erickson. Because of the impression Burfict and ASU’s up-and-coming defense made on Dozier, he committed to ASU in July of 2011.

“I liked what they had going on,” Dozier said of ASU. “Burfict and their whole defense, swarming around and stuff like that, really got me going. The fact that it was close to home and an up and coming team really intrigued me.”

Four and a half months later, Erickson was fired. ASU fell apart toward the end of the season, and without Erickson at the helm, the intrigue vanished, causing Dozier to decommit in December.

“A lot of recruits started de-committing and I just wanted to explore my other options,” Dozier said. “(ASU) didn’t like that too much.”

While Dozier had several suitors — a handful of Pac-12 schools as well as San Diego State, Texas A&M, Boise State and Houston — he had to move quickly.

Dozier knew he wanted to graduate a semester early from high school in order to enroll at his new college for the spring and get a head start.

With little time to work with, Dozier chose Rich Rodriguez and Arizona. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound linebacker committed to the Wildcats on Jan. 14, just in time to achieve his ultimate goal and enroll for spring classes the next day.

“I de-committed from ASU and kind of had to weigh things out really fast because I didn’t want to waste a whole semester and stay at home, so I felt like this was the best opportunity, and this is where I came,” Dozier said. “The 3-3-5 really intrigued me. It’s a different scheme. With Pac-12 teams you don’t really see that too much so it got me excited.”

After a long road to the Old Pueblo, Dozier isn’t the only one excited about being in Tucson. Rodriguez and Dozier’s teammates have been pleasantly surprised by the 18-year-old freshman, who still gets some grief for being the only early enrollee and the youngest player on the field.

“He’s doing well,” Rodriguez said. “I think him getting enrolled early has been a big bonus to us because we’re so thin at linebacker. He’s a very, very intelligent guy. He’s a tough football player. He’s a quick learner.”

Arizona lost starting linebackers Paul Vassallo and Derek Earls to graduation, giving Dozier a huge chance to come in and contribute right away.

“He’s going to have a great opportunity to play,” Rodriguez said. “Most freshmen typically, particularly linebackers — you feel like they need to redshirt and get bigger and stronger and all that, but I don’t know if we can afford to redshirt him at this point. He’s shown enough so far in what we’ve done this spring that he should be able to help us come this fall.”

Dozier’s teammates agree. UA linebacker and leader Jake Fischer said Dozier has “great instincts” and will be a “hell of a player.”

If Dozier continues to progress at this pace, he’ll no longer be the young kid who idolized Burfict in high school. Dozier has a head start at making a name for himself in the Pac-12, and he’ll have no shortage of opportunities to do exactly that.

“Him coming in early helps him a lot because we’re depending on him to come in and get a lot of playing time,” Fischer said. “It’s going to help us out a lot.”

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