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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Big-play Wilrey

    Junior cornerback Wilrey Fontenot prepares to make a tackle against California wide receiver Sam DeSa in Arizonas 24-20 win over the Golden Bears Saturday at Arizona Stadium. Fontenot made five tackles and had two pass breakups, including a crucial third-down deflection on the next-to-last play of the game.
    Junior cornerback Wilrey Fontenot prepares to make a tackle against California wide receiver Sam DeSa in Arizona’s 24-20 win over the Golden Bears Saturday at Arizona Stadium. Fontenot made five tackles and had two pass breakups, including a crucial third-down deflection on the next-to-last play of the game.

    Third down and 4. Down 24-20 with just over five minutes to play Saturday, California has possession at its own 48-yard line.

    As the ball is snapped, Golden Bear quarterback Nate Longshore has options. He can swing it out to his slippery running back, Marshawn Lynch, or hit DeSean Jackson, who’s already twice burned Arizona with two electrifying scores earlier in the game, on a quick stop route.

    Longshore chooses Jackson. But Wilrey Fontenot sees that and breaks. Incomplete pass. Fourth down.

    “”Most people can’t make that play,”” said UA head coach Mike Stoops. “”That’s knowing the situation, knowing the play and executing.””

    It was one of a few crucial plays Fontenot made in Arizona’s 24-20 win over the then-No. 8 Bears, finishing with five tackles and breaking up two passes.

    “”That was the difference in the game,”” Stoops said. “”His play was the difference to me.””

    Ever since he came in as a freshman in 2004, the junior who has started every game in his career at weakside cornerback has seen his numbers steadily increase from 46 tackles and four pass breakups as a freshman to 51 and six last season.

    “”Wilrey’s a guy that I’ve always thought had huge talent – maybe underachieved – but he’s starting to get it now””

    – Mike Stoops,
    UA head coach

    “”I remember when I first got here compared to now,”” said quarterback Willie Tuitama, recalling his early struggles against Fontenot in practice. “”He still baits me on some things just because he’s a good player.””

    But this season, things didn’t start off the way he would have liked. After two consecutive seasons with a pick, Fontenot was interceptionless. A few weeks ago, the corner said he’d grade himself a “”D.””

    Then something finally clicked for the Humble, Texas, native, and he started making the plays he had been making earlier in his career.

    “”Wilrey is starting to show up, and now we got another playmaker,”” Stoops said after the game Saturday night. “”It’s been almost three years in the making, and he really jumps out at me right now. He’s playing with the most confidence he ever has.

    “”Wilrey’s a guy that I’ve always thought had huge talent – maybe underachieved – but he’s starting to get it now.””

    So what was the change?

    “”We’ve just been talking about making more plays and showing up more,”” said defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, who also coaches the defensive backs. “”He has the ability to make some outstanding plays, like he did Saturday, and that’s all I think it is, just playing more confidently.

    “”I think when the situation arose Saturday, he stepped up and he made plays when he had to.””

    The emergence of Fontenot really started after Arizona’s 17-10 loss to Oregon State Oct. 21. Frustrated, he approached Mark Stoops and strength coach Corey Edmond, asking what he was doing wrong and how he could improve.

    Their answers focused around one thing: Be aggressive.

    “”I’ve seen that sitting back. It’s hard to make plays,”” Fontenot said. “”You’re not going to make every play, but you’ve just got to go try and make every play.””

    Even if that means taking the occasional pass-interference penalty.

    “”Sometimes you’ve got to do what’s best for the team,”” Fontenot said. “”Fifteen yards is way better then giving up a touchdown.””

    And just like that, it clicked.

    Since that Oregon State game, Fontenot has doubled the number of passes he’s broken up, recording three to bring his total to six, and has seen his tackles steadily increase alongside that.

    “”I’ve always felt that he was a good player, and he just needed to let go and play hard,”” said cornerback Antoine Cason. “”And he did that.””

    Added Mike Stoops: “”Wilrey’s emergence has really helped us the last two weeks. He just contested a lot of throws and made some plays, and that’s really helping our defense out right now.””

    The need for Fontenot’s presence was magnified Saturday when backups Corey Hall and Michael Klyce filled both of Arizona’s safety positions because of injuries to starters Dominic Patrick (neck) and Michael Johnson (hamstring).

    “”Coach (Mike) Stoops told us that …me and Antoine had to step our game up even more, and basically we just have to keep doing that,”” Fontenot said. “”We don’t know if (Johnson’s) going to be able to play this week, and hopefully he will, but if not, we’re going to have to step our game up against some great Oregon receivers.””

    Injuries or not, it’s something his coaches have been counting on.

    “”If he can step up and continue to be playing like he’s been the last two, three weeks,”” said Mark Stoops, “”it’ll take us to a whole ‘nother level.””

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