The DaVonte Neal saga is over — for now.
Arizona football coach Rich Rodriguez announced at his Monday news conference that Neal, who filed a hardship waiver with the NCAA to play right away, has had his appeal denied.
Rodriguez said it’s already the second appeal the UA has filed with the NCAA, and both have been denied. The Wildcats will file one final appeal, but the coach isn’t optimistic Neal will play this season.
“Right now, he’s been denied eligibility,” Rodriguez said. “That’s a little disappointing — more than a little disappointing. I could go into great detail, but I don’t want to waste y’all’s time on what some of my opinions are on some of the NCAA’s rulings.
“There’s another appeal we’re going to try to make, but it doesn’t look good.”
Neal, a former Scottsdale Chaparral High School star, transferred to the UA from Notre Dame this past summer. He was attempting to bypass the NCAA rule that mandates a player must sit out a season before being declared eligible.
Neal said he left Notre Dame to be closer to his girlfriend and newborn daughter, who now live with the receiver at an off-campus apartment.
The UA filed the appeal on behalf of Neal on Aug. 1. After five-plus weeks, the Wildcats finally got an answer: Neal won’t be eligible until the 2014 season.
“The only thing I’ll say about some of the things with the NCAA is they’re consistent with being inconsistent,” Rodriguez said. “Now with this last ruling to come down, I’m not overly optimistic (about the third appeal being accepted), simply because I don’t understand some of the inconsistencies of the NCAA.
“We’re all frustrated by it and disappointed, but DaVonte has a great attitude about it and he’ll have three years of eligibility left starting next fall.”
Neal, a slot receiver and punt returner, would have provided an instant impact for the Wildcats had he been cleared. Neal played as a true freshman for a Fighting Irish team that played in the national championship game. He had just one catch on the season, but was the team’s primary punt returner.
Neal can still practice, and Rodriguez said if the team’s final Hail Mary attempt is somehow accepted, Neal will be inserted into the lineup, no matter how many games are left on the schedule.
“He’s a good enough athlete that with three games to go in the season, he can still help you,” Rodriguez said.
But, for now, Neal will be relegated to the UA’s scout team with Texas transfer Cayleb Jones.
“At practice, (Neal) has taken every rep like it’s a Super Bowl rep,” Rodriguez said.
“He’s been on scout team and done a great job on scout special teams. He has a super attitude.
“We talked a little last night that it’s hard to sit out and all that,” the coach added, “but he’s been doing everything we’ve asked him to do. Our scout team wideouts are pretty good with him and Cayleb Jones.”
Denker still No. 1 QB
Don’t expect to see a different starting quarterback Saturday when the UA hosts UTSA.
Rodriguez reiterated on Monday that Denker is still the man at quarterback and ahead of both Javelle Allen and Jesse Scroggins, despite the team’s passing woes in the first two games of the season.
Rodriguez said Denker’s “knowledge of what we’re doing” separates him from Allen and Scroggins right now, and the coach added that he’s been pleased with the senior’s decision-making.
The coach said Denker had a strong practice Sunday night and threw the ball as well as he has since camp started.
“I think that’s going to keep coming, and we have to keep working on it,” Rodriguez said.
Receiver Johnny Jackson said the receivers have to do a better job of helping Denker in the games and getting open more regularly.
“We can help just by catching the ball when we get opportunities,” Jackson said. “(Denker) is doing a great job. I myself have been given opportunities and haven’t got the job done. It just comes back to practicing hard this week and getting our timing down together. He’s doing an excellent job, though.”
Scroggins hasn’t appeared in either lopsided win, but Rodriguez said the junior is coming along.
“Right now, he is the third guy, but he has gotten better,” Rodriguez said. “The system is new for him, so he’s still learning as are all of the guys.”
OL has room to improve
After the team’s 35-0 win over NAU, Rodriguez was critical of the team’s play on the offensive line and said the unit was pushing defenders more than blocking them.
On Monday, he wasn’t nearly as critical, but still doesn’t think the starting group, which includes a senior, three juniors and a sophomore, is as far along as it should be.
“I think it was OK, but we are not grading out extremely high,” Rodriguez said. “Fundamentally, we could do a lot better job. Those guys are a very conscientious group. It’s not like you tell them your footwork is wrong and they look at you like you have three heads. They understand it, but fundamentally Coach (Jim) Michalczik is still working like crazy to get those guys to do all the right things. It was OK, but it wasn’t a great performance by any stretch of the imagination.”
The line has managed to help produce 300-plus rushing yards each game despite the struggles.