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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Cason: the ‘total package’

    ntoine Cason makes a tackle in last years 24-20 Homecoming win over California Nov. 11. Cason had a 39-yard interception which returned for a touchdown and won Pac-10 Player of the Week honors for his performance in the game.
    ntoine Cason makes a tackle in last year’s 24-20 Homecoming win over California Nov. 11. Cason had a 39-yard interception which returned for a touchdown and won Pac-10 Player of the Week honors for his performance in the game.

    Mike Stoops arrived at Los Alamitos High School in Long Beach, Calif. to watch the No. 1 prep player in the country practice.

    “”Randy looks good. He looks real good today,”” Stoops, then-defensive coordinator of Oklahoma told Los Alamitos football coach John Barnes as he watched the defensive back practice.

    “”That’s not Randy, coach,”” Barnes said. “”That’s Antoine Cason.””

    That’s how it happened four years ago, when Stoops mistakenly watched the wrong player in the high school practice.

    “”And at that point, that’s when I got recognized by Coach Stoops,”” Cason said. “”I still ask him to this day, ‘Why didn’t you recruit me at Oklahoma?'””

    But as Stoops pointed out, “”It’s a good thing we didn’t.””

    Now, as Cason enters his senior season as the star cornerback and poster boy of Stoops’ college team, Stoops’ mishap might have been the biggest luck charm he’s had as head coach.

    Stoops was looking for safety Randy Estes, who committed to Washington State in 2004, but never started college due to being arrested for conspiracy to sell marijuana.

    “”It’s funny,”” Cason said. “”You would think that Randy would be the guy in my position. But you get seen if you work hard and humble yourself in that.””

    Cason had only received offers in high school to play for Oregon State, Colorado and Arizona.

    The Beavers already had cornerbacks that were starting, and Cason never had serious interest in Colorado. He wanted to come into a program and play right away.

    “”Even if I didn’t play right away, I wanted to hear from the coaches that I would have a chance to play some,”” he said. “”I didn’t want to sit a year.

    “”Arizona had new coaches and they were looking for players… I felt it was a good situation to come into because I would take over and play right away.””

    Through his first three years of college, Cason has started all 34 games for the Wildcats, totaling 182 tackles, 10 interceptions, 18 pass deflections and three forced fumbles.

    And he has received huge recognition within the past year as a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award and is now on the Ronnie Lott

    Preseason Watch List. Cason also is on Playboy’s 2007 All-America Team.

    “”When I was younger in high school all I heard was I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t strong enough, I wasn’t fast enough,”” he said. “”Those things motivate me. I was never highly publicized.

    “”Someone would always tell me I was too small. That’s what I always heard. That’s what motivates me still to this day is all those coaches in California and college who would say that.

    “”It all turned out pretty good.””

    Covering the best receivers

    With Mark Stoops, the defensive coordinator, Arizona is one of the few teams with a strong boundary cornerback. With that coverage comes the responsibility of covering the best receivers in the conference.

    Cason is used to covering the best of the best. Just last season he was paired up with USC’s Dwayne Jarrett, 2007 Heisman Candidate DeSean Jackson and LSU’s Dwayne Bowe, among other elite college receivers. Two of the aforementioned receivers were drafted in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft in April.

    Against USC, Cason held Jarrett to only four catches for 36 yards and a touchdown and even got an interception.

    Against California and DeSean Jackson, Cason had the play of the year, electrifying a Homecoming crowd of over 55,000, reading a Nate Longshore pass, cutting off Jackson and getting a pick followed with a 39-yard touchdown return.

    “”We’re both competitors,”” Cason said. “”I like to say I got the better of him though. It’s great to go against a guy like that.””

    Stoops has coached several elite college cornerbacks to the NFL. The similarities Cason shares with some of his other students – like Roy Williams and Derrick Strait – Stoops said is “”eerie.””

    “”Just by the way he goes about his business,”” Stoops said. “”Number one, he’s a great teammate. The greatest players you look at, very few are as great as they could be if they only had a little more character, and I think that’s what makes Antoine very unique and very special.

    “”He’s got great talent, great instincts and a great feel for the game. He’s played a lot, his experience helps him. On the field, his God-given talent helps him. He’s long, he’s physical, he’s fast, he’s the total package, and I think those are the traits you look for in great players wherever. He exemplifies all those… He’s one of the truly premier players in the conference.””

    Cason is also set to be used for a bigger role this season than his previous three. On Monday, he was named the team’s starting punt returner, a decision that may draw gasps from worried fans who fear he is at higher risk of injury.

    But if his new role goes like the way his first one has gone thus far, there may be nothing to worry about.

    “”You always like to have guys that are consistent,”” said linebacker Spencer Larsen. “”You know what to expect from them. They’re going to go out and play their hardest and you know they’re going to be in the right position and you have confidence in them.

    “”That’s what Antoine brings – some consistency and maturity to the team. Definitely it’s been great playing next to him.””

    Back to school

    Cason has already cemented his name as Stoops’ biggest success at Arizona. To continue that trend, he spurned the NFL after last season to finish his college career, and try to accomplish all the goals he’s dreamed about since his first two seasons as a Wildcat brought him a combined record of 6-16.

    He talks about the goals for this season as if there is a huge sense of unfinished business. Cason admitted, however, that if the Wildcats had beaten ASU on last year’s regular season finale, it would have been a lot easier for him to leave Arizona a year early, because his team surely would have been in a bowl game with a 7-5 record.

    “”The decision to come back was tough for me,”” Cason said. “”It’s always hard to stay in school, rather than make that jump to the NFL.

    “”I felt I was two semesters away from graduating college. I always said to myself, ‘You can’t duplicate your college experience, and nothing will be like being around that group of guys in the locker room and on the field.’ You can’t trade that for anything, and that’s why I decided to stay and have a winning season and break that inconsistency.

    “”I couldn’t leave here too early … I’m just a small piece of this puzzle that we’re trying to put together.””

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