Following his team’s 35-0 win over NAU on Friday night, Arizona Wildcats safety Tra’Mayne Bondurant took off his helmet and led the marching band in a postgame rendition of “Bear Down, Arizona.”
As Bondurant stepped up on to the platform, fans got a look at his hair, which he dyed red for the opener.
It fit: For three hours prior to his debut as the Arizona Stadium bandleader, the junior from Vallejo, Calif., had NAU quarterback Kyren Poe seeing red.
Bondurant intercepted Poe twice, returning one for a touchdown, and tied for the team lead with seven tackles. The result: An impressive — and rare — shutout by a defense that ranked 118th nationally a year ago.
“Tra’Mayne is always around the ball,” senior linebacker Jake Fischer said. “It doesn’t matter where he is: The ball just sorta gravitates toward him. He just makes plays for us and the rest is history. The kid is always picking off passes, fumbles, whatever.
“He’s a ballplayer and he makes a ton of plays for us.”
Bondurant made the biggest defensive play of Friday’s game, and it flipped the momentum in a hurry.
The Wildcats led just 14-0 at halftime. And while NAU didn’t score in the first two quarters, Poe was on fire: The quarterback completed his first 10 passes and finished the half 11 of 12 for 95 yards.
The Lumberjacks received the second-half kickoff. Poe threw on the first play from scrimmage, but the pass was tipped by UA linebacker Scooby Wright. Bondurant secured the ball and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown.
Thirteen seconds into the second half, Bondurant single-handedly turned the game around. Poe and the Lumberjacks never recovered.
“When you score a touchdown on defense, it always feels great,” Bondurant said. “You just appreciate everything that you work for and then you go out there and I got that interception just by playing hard.
“I know my coaches will be happy about that.”
Bondurant knew right away that his interception changed the flow of the game.
“Once it happened, I saw everyone going crazy and then I knew the offense was going to go out there and do their thing,” Bondurant said. “We had to get our feet wet early on and then once we did that, we started establishing what we can do.”
Added defensive tackle Sione Tuihalamaka: “When Tra’Mayne got the pick-six, it allowed us to get more momentum. After that, we took it to them on defense. That turned everything around for us.”
Bondurant’s other interception came with 10 seconds left in the third quarter after Lumberjacks had driven 43 yards on 10 plays.
This one wasn’t tipped by a teammate; it was all Bondurant.
“I just read the quarterback’s eyes,” Bondurant said. “I dropped back in the zone and he looked at me once and I tried to bait him and he looked away and then he looked back and I knew the ball was coming, so I just made sure I didn’t drop it.”
Seeing red, indeed.
It was one game against an FCS school, but Friday’s developments could be huge for the Wildcats.
On a defense that surrendered 499 yards per game last season and ranked third-to-last in the FBS in total defense, finding a playmaker is a necessity.
As a sophomore last season, Bondurant started to become one. He registered 11½ tackles-for-loss, which was second on the team, and finished the season with 74 total tackles. With more talent and depth around him this season and another year of experience under his belt, Bondurant could take more chances and help swing the momentum of games like he did on Friday.
The Wildcats had three true freshmen register at least two tackles in Friday’s win, including six by Wright and two and a sack from linebacker Derrick Turituri.
“Coach (Jeff) Casteel and the staff have more bodies to put in and that helps when you’re getting to play a lot of plays,” coach Rich Rodriguez said. “But, there’s also some more talent there too.”
Added Bondurant: “We have young guys that are ready to step up and play and we’re proud of them.”