FOOTBALL

Arizona football: Shadow coming into focus at LB

2012-08-24T00:00:00Z Arizona football: Shadow coming into focus at LBRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 24, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Cliff and Nichole Williams wanted their baby, a boy, to inherit some of the family's best traits.

When it came time to name him, however, they went nontraditional.

Most people in the Williams' family figured they'd name the baby after Cliff; he had a better idea.

"He wanted me to be a shadow of who he was as a person," said Shadow Williams, now a college freshman and one of the Arizona Wildcats' surprises at linebacker. "So, Shadow."

So far, the walk-on is making a (unique) name for himself.

The 6-foot, 226-pound Williams started at middle linebacker in the team's Fort Huachuca scrimmage earlier this month and has been seeing regular reps in practice.

Williams and a small army of walk-ons may be the difference between Arizona's making a bowl game and struggling for the second consecutive season.

The Wildcats, who open their season Sept. 1 against Toledo, are especially short at linebacker. Akron transfer Brian Wagner and walk-on David Lopez both left the team over the summer for personal reason. Returners Rob Hankins and Hank Hobson have both been limited in practices, as has newcomer Dakota Conwell.

Williams said the unexpected playing time has been "definitely life-changing," he said.

"It's different," he said.

The linebacker's role in Arizona's new 3-3-5 "odd stack" defense is pretty much the same as in a 4-3; attack the ball-carrier, stop the run and - when the opportunity arises - sack the quarterback.

Williams racked up 62 tackles, had three sacks and forced three fumbles as a senior at Tampa (Fla.) Land O'Lakes High School.

He was recruited by a handful of major programs but soon figured out he would need to walk on to get a chance to play.

He had two connections to Arizona. His family lived for years in Laveen before moving to Florida.

He met Frank Davis, now one of the UA's assistant strength coaches, while in Florida. On Davis' recommendation, the aspiring football player moved to Tucson and joined the Wildcats.

"I knew I was going to have to work to get in there, and get on the field," Williams said. "I had no idea I'd be contributing so early."

Three players battling for two tackle spots

Fabbians Ebbele, Lene Maiava and Mickey Baucus continue to battle for the two starting tackle spots, coach Rich Rodriguez said. The two leaders vary, seemingly by the day.

Ebbele played with the second and third teams when the Wildcats were at Fort Huachuca two weeks ago. He was back with the first team this week. Maiava, a redshirt freshman from Tafuna, American Samoa, missed most of Wednesday's practice.

"Lene was progressing," Rodriguez said. "He's had a pretty good camp."

Replacing Washington

Justin Washington's suspension has left the Wildcats even thinner on the defensive line with eight days remaining before their season opener. Washington was listed as a co-starter, along with sophomore Kirifi Taula, at one of the two defensive end spots earlier in camp.

Now Washington is out indefinitely while he tries to work his way back onto the team, Taula is limited because of another injury, and fellow starter Dan Pettinato is nursing a sore leg.

The shuffle could mean even more playing time for Taimi Tutogi, a running back-turned-defensive end who has been hot in practice.

Extra points

• Cornerback Jonathan McKnight has been held out of some contact drills in camp because of a sore shoulder and a rehabbing knee but should be in the lineup for the opener. McKnight missed the entire 2011 season with torn knee ligaments; he injured his shoulder over the summer, an injury that he's determined to play through.

McKnight suffered a similar injury while playing at River Ridge (La.) John Curtis High School.

"I'm playing through it," he said. "I ain't going to stop."

• Though injuries have decimated the Wildcats' placekicking corps, John Bonano is expected to start the opener. Jake Smith played well in training camp but has been limited by a leg injury. Bonano knows the feeling: He battled a hamstring strain over the summer.

Arizona kickers hit just 10 of 18 field goal attempts a year ago; combined, they missed five PATs.

Rodriguez said, "I feel comfortable right now kicking anything from 50 (yards) in."

Up next

• What: Toledo at Arizona

• Where: Arizona Stadium

• When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 1

• TV; radio: ESPNU; 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)

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