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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Ross taking advantage of playing time

    Arizona cornerback Devin Ross, 6, leaps to break up a pass during the Wildcats  31-10 win over UCLA on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
    Arizona cornerback Devin Ross, 6, leaps to break up a pass during the Wildcats’ 31-10 win over UCLA on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.

    If patience wasn’t a strength for Arizona cornerback Devin Ross before this season, it sure is now.

    The junior came to Tucson as one of the highest touted defensive backs in the nation, as he had the interest of over 40 programs, including Pacific 10 Conference schools Oregon and USC.

    So when the high school All-American committed to Arizona for the 2006 season, he was not familiar with being a backup.

    But with cornerbacks Wilrey Fontenot and Antoine Cason both leading the Wildcats’ secondary – and both being selected in the 2008 NFL Draft – a freshman being given a starting role was not much of an option.

    “”It was pretty hard because I had always been a starter all of my lifetime,”” Ross said of the situation. “”But I’ve just been patient, waited my turn and I came out every day and learned from Antoine and Wilrey, who were great players.””

    While being an understudy of Cason and Fontenot, Ross was not completely confined to the sidelines, with the Arizona coaches working the underclassman in sparsely on special teams as a cover guy and return man.

    In his freshman year, Ross returned two kicks for over 60 yards, and completed seven tackles on special teams coverage.

    During his sophomore campaign last season, Ross improved upon his defensive efforts as he finished the year with 16 total tackles split between special teams duty and defense.

    Now, with both Cason and Fontenot gone to the professional ranks, Ross looks back on the past two seasons as a positive experience, despite the initial frustration over the lack of playing time.

    “”These last couple years were actually really good,”” Ross said. “”I got the opportunity to mature and just become a better player. So now I’m fully ready to step in and take over the role as a starting cornerback.””

    Coming into the 2008 season, the Arizona coaching staff also took note of the junior’s increased maturity and placed Ross atop the depth chart at the beginning of fall camp.

    A strong performance in the preseason solidified Ross’ starting spot at cornerback opposite senior Marquis Hundley.

    Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops’ decision to start the 5-foot-11, 170 pound Ross proved to be a smart one, as the cornerback has helped anchor an Arizona defense, which has allowed only 62 points over the first four games this season.

    So far this year, Ross has compiled nine solo tackles and four assists. He has also flown around the field to break up three passes.

    Still, the junior said he “”needs to be more aggressive,”” something Stoops said is a trait already ingrained in his newfound leader.

    “”He’s playing disciplined, not guessing,”” Stoops said of Ross. “”You just can’t guess out there at that position or you can give up a home run in a hurry. But he’s been very disciplined which is a good thing to come along with an already aggressive player.””

    Ross’ impressive production early in the year has gone beyond impressing just his coaches. His large defensive presence has been a pleasant surprise to many of his teammates as well. Starting safety Cam Nelson said Ross was one of the several young, talented Wildcat defensive backs lost in anonymity behind Fontenot and Cason the past two seasons.

    “”(Hundley) and (Ross) are two very good corners that a lot of people didn’t even know we had,”” Nelson said. “”(Fontenot) and (Cason) started for four years and (Ross and Hundley) were just kind of no-name guys, but now they’re starting to make a name for themselves.””

    Both Ross and Hundley are two of several defensive players lacking experience coming into the 2008 season – a trait many thought could be a key weakness in the Arizona defense.

    But with four games already in the books, the Wildcats have put much of the talk to rest, especially in the secondary. The group has allowed only 413 passing yards – 103.25 per game – along with just two touchdowns allowed through the air. Only South Carolina has allowed fewer yards per game than Arizona, who are heading into the Wildcats’ first bye week of the season.

    “”I never really paid attention to all the talk (about being inexperienced),”” Ross said of the Arizona secondary’s preseason criticism. “”I have a lot of faith in our guys and I know what they can do.

    “”As a (secondary) unit, we’re just going to keep on coming out and working hard,”” Ross added, “”and doing the same thing we’ve been doing all season long – playing hard on Saturdays.””

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