Spring football has its detractors, those who believe the NCAA's 15 allotted practices invite injuries or, worse, mark misplaced priorities in an already screwy system.
They've never seen UA linebacker Dame Ndiaye, shirtless and sweating, working out by himself 20 minutes after practice has ended. Or Ndiaye lifting weights at the campus rec center late at night with his closest friend, Arizona basketball forward Angelo Chol. Or, for that matter, Ndiaye studying tape of NFL stars Patrick Willis and Ray Lewis in search of an edge.
No player has come further faster than Ndiaye, who will suit up for the UA in Saturday's spring game at Kino Stadium. A native of Senegal who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and San Diego. Ndiaye redshirted as a true freshman last fall only to see his coaches fired and his position changed.
Ndiaye - his full name is pronounced Dahm Jye - is likely to figure, somehow, into the Wildcats' 3-3-5 "odd stack" defense. The 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pounder has struggled to learn the basics in spring drills, but has enough potential to warrant a long look.
"It's going to take a long time for me to understand it," Ndiaye said. "But when I do understand it, it's going to be natural for me."
Ndiaye, who turns 19 today, should figure it out. After all, he's:
Still new to football. Ndiaye attended San Diego's Hoover High School with dreams of, like Chol, earning a college basketball scholarship. When his junior year passed without any major offers, however, Ndiaye switched sports. Though he had never played football before, he registered 36 tackles and a team-high seven sacks and forced three fumbles in 2010. Former UA assistant Jeff Hammerschmidt offered him a scholarship, intrigued by his frame and potential. Ndiaye played defensive end on the practice squad a year ago.
Finally healthy. Ndiaye suffered a nasty quad injury while he redshirted, limiting his chances to contribute in practice. First-year coach Rich Rodriguez offered him a clean slate, with a catch: Ndiaye had to switch to linebacker.
Ndiaye agrees it was "kind of a natural thing" to switch.
"I wasn't big enough to play D-end … . Linebacker is more of a natural thing, even though I've never really played it," he said.
Getting a chance. Arizona's thin linebacker corps and the "everybody plays" mentality in spring means Ndiaye is getting plenty of reps. Coaches continue to harp on his positioning and tackling technique - at 6-4, he doesn't "get low" enough - but like his attitude and work ethic.
And when his talent shines through and the hard work pays off, it's something to see. Ndiaye's sack of quarterback Alex Cappellini in last month's scrimmage stands as one of spring's biggest highlights.
Slowly, he's getting it.
"I'm not trippin' right now; it's spring," he said. "All I can do is work hard and continue getting better, slow by slow."
On StarNet: Ryan Finley will keep you informed on Wildcat football team happenings at:
• Where: Kino Stadium
• When: 1 p.m. Saturday
• Cost: Free