Arizona football: A real shot in the arm

After difficult 2010, Usman has full season to live up to tattoos
2011-08-07T00:00:00Z 2014-09-15T09:47:55Z Arizona football: A real shot in the armRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 07, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Mohammed Usman's muscular right arm is a personal history, a road map and a prediction.

Just look. Tattooed onto the underside of the his right forearm are logos from the University of Houston, Navarro College and the Arizona Wildcats. Above them, on his right biceps, sits an inky NFL shield.

"It's my destiny," Usman said.

Three years after an NCAA investigation forced him to transfer and one year after serving a nine-game suspension, Usman can dream again.

The 6-foot-2-inch, 245-pound defensive end will open the season as a major part of the Wildcats' rebuilding efforts and a much-needed sparkplug. Already, the 22-year-old Usman has wowed coaches with his drive and intensity.

During Friday morning's practice at Rincon Vista, Usman rushed past an offensive tackle on a running play only to reverse course, cut diagonally across the field and take down the ball-carrier. On Saturday, he sparked the defense to key stops against the pass-happy offense.

"He's everything we thought he would be when we recruited him," defensive ends coach Jeff Hammerschmidt said. "We knew he was an explosive, athletic pass-rusher, he's strong, can play the run and all that bonus stuff. He has some football savvy."

But when he arrived on campus last summer, Usman was carrying some serious baggage.

Usman played nine games as a freshman at Houston while he was, in the eyes of the NCAA, ineligible to compete. At issue was his entrance exam: Usman said he took the ACT twice while trying to qualify academically. His second test score was so much higher than his first that the NCAA flagged him.

"They basically said my second test score was fraudulent," he said. "You know you can't argue with the NCAA."

Usman left Houston immediately and enrolled at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas. Within 18 months, he had earned both his associate degree and another scholarship offer - this time from the UA.

Usman moved to Tucson last summer and planned to play as a junior only to have the NCAA intercede again. The governing body suspended Usman for nine games - one for each game he played while at Houston. He offered to redshirt, but was told the suspended games must be served during an active season.

At the same time, the Nigerian-born and Texas-raised Usman was enduring a family crisis. Mohammed's father, Nasiru, was convicted in May 2010 on 14 counts of health-care fraud and money laundering related to a scheme he ran as the owner of an ambulance company. In October, a U.S. district judge sentenced Nasiru Usman to 15 years in prison and ordered him to pay back more than $1.3 million.

The case devastated the accomplished, athletic Usman family. Mohammed's younger brother, Marty, is a Division II national champion wrestler who is training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

Another brother is pursuing a pharmacy degree at Chicago State. The Usmans' mother and sister live in Texas.

"We're very family-oriented," said Mohammed Usman, who still talks to his father regularly. "You try to do everything for your family because your family does everything for you."

Just as his athletic and personal lives splintered, Usman found support - and even sanctuary - in football. Usman's bulging arms are a testament to thousands of bench presses; his instinctual play speaks to countless hours spent in the film room.

Defensive end C.J. Parish, a fellow Texan and one of Usman's closest friends, said the struggles made Usman stronger.

"When you can get away from all that, come to football, watch film and talk to the younger guys, it takes your mind off what's going on in your life," Parish said. "Football gives you a chance to break away from that. You want to prove other people wrong."

Usman made his UA debut in last year's loss to Oregon after serving the suspension, and was credited with a blocked kick in the Wildcats' rivalry game against Arizona State.

A stellar spring moved Usman to the top of the depth chart, the same spots occupied a year ago by NFL draft picks Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore.

The chaos that has defined Usman's college career and personal life appears to have cooled. His famous confidence has returned.

His body art, meanwhile, continues to speak volumes.

Tattooed at the top of Usman's left arm are three words, driven into his body with an artist's needle when things were at their worst.

"It says," Usman said, "'I will succeed.' "

TRAINING CAMP INSIDER

Day 3 at Rincon Vista

• Highlights: Receiver Juron Criner continues to shine in camp - his over-the-shoulder catch during Saturday's 2-minute drill moved the offense to the 2-yard line. Alex Zendejas capped the morning's practice with a "game-winning" field goal. The UA wore shoulder pads for the first time, and put them to good use: Three skirmishes raised the intensity level, though few punches were thrown. Jack Baucus has been moved from tight end to right tackle. The 6--6, 270-pound Baucus took snaps with the first unit wearing a new number - 67. Baucus' younger brother, Mickey, is expected to start at left tackle.

• Weather: 89 degrees

• Injury report: Safety Adam Hall, linebacker Jake Fischer, running back Greg Nwoko and defensive tackle Willie Mobley are all out indefinitely as they recover from offseason knee surgeries.

• Up next: Arizona will practice again this morning at Rincon Vista. Today's practice is closed.

• He said it: "I know the offense pretty well, I know where everybody's supposed to be at, so I think I'm going to pick it up pretty quickly and be in the rotation pretty soon." - Baucus, on his move to the offensive line.

Ryan Finley

Today

Practice at Rincon Vista is closed.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Pac-12 South football standings

  Conference Overall
Team W L T PCT W L T PCT
Arizona 7 2 0 0.778 10 3 0 0.769
USC 6 3 0 0.667 8 4 0 0.667
UCLA 6 3 0 0.667 9 3 0 0.750
Arizona State 6 3 0 0.667 9 3 0 0.750
Utah 5 4 0 0.556 9 4 0 0.692
Colorado 0 9 0 0.000 2 10 0 0.167

Pac-12 North football standings

  Conference Overall
Team W L T PCT W L T PCT
Oregon 8 1 0 0.889 12 1 0 0.923
Stanford 5 4 0 0.556 7 5 0 0.583
Washington 4 5 0 0.444 8 5 0 0.615
Cal 3 6 0 0.333 5 7 0 0.417
Washington State 2 7 0 0.222 3 9 0 0.250
Oregon State 2 7 0 0.222 5 7 0 0.417
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