Arizona football: Tevis recovers for starting job against UCLA

Despite missing two starts with a sprained ankle, UA safety Jared Tevis (38) ranks fifth on the team in tackles.

KELLY PRESNELL / ARIZONA DAILY STAR

Tra'Mayne Bondurant has manned five positions since enrolling at the UA three months ago.

His primary role, however, is playmaker. That he happens to line up - depending on the day - at linebacker, rover, nickel back, safety or cornerback is less important than the attitude he brings to the field.

"If you watch any of the game, he has a passion to play football. He wears it on his sleeve," interim coach Tim Kish said this week. "He's excitable. He's young. He doesn't know any better.

"I love that. That's great stuff."

Since being inserted into the lineup in the Arizona Wildcats' Oct. 20 win over UCLA, Bondurant has registered 16 tackles and has broken up three passes.

He'll man a new position, the hybrid "Sam"/nickel spot, when the UA hosts Utah on Saturday in its annual homecoming game.

Bondurant, 18, said he has received so much encouragement from his teammates and coaches that he hasn't had time to get nervous.

"Once you're out there, you're out there. You've got to be ready," Bondurant said with a shrug. "This is what we've all been recruited for, what we've come here for. When you get out there, you have to step up, be ready, know what you're doing and play the game."

Cornerback Trevin Wade said Bondurant is "real mature."

"He's ahead of all the freshmen," he said. "He's learning quick, and he actually asks questions. He's not afraid to ask you a question."

That Bondurant is in Tucson at all is a testament to the UA's scouting, and a load of good luck.

A quarterback and linebacker at Fairfield (Calif.) High School, Bondurant chose the UA over offers from Nevada and Fresno State; only one other Pac-12 Conference program, Washington State, showed interest.

That's probably because, at least physically, Bondurant is a bit of a "tweener." At 5 feet 11 inches and 185 pounds, he's a natural fit at cornerback. But Bondurant hits and pursues like a safety, or even a linebacker.

Kish noticed as much when, as the UA's defensive coordinator early in the season, he tried to convince head coach Mike Stoops to let Bondurant play linebacker. When Kish was named the UA's acting head coach Oct.10, he went about carving out a new spot for the Wildcats' do-everything freshman.

Arizona dusted off its double-eagle flex defense against UCLA, with Bondurant playing the role of "rover" - a spy that follows the opposition's running back. Bondurant made a tackle on the game's first play, and finished with a game-high eight stops. He replicated that performance against Washington, harassing UW quarterback Keith Price and disrupting his rhythm early in the game.

That UW rallied behind the play of tailback Chris Polk says less about Bondurant's play and more about the ability of the Wildcats to stop any running back this season.

"I knew my opportunity would come," Bondurant said. "I just waited it out. When it came, I was just happy I got my chance."

Injuries to the UA's depleted secondary led UA to carve out a new niche for Bondurant: He'll move to the "Sam"/nickel spot, allowing the UA to keep the same players on the field every down rather than swap different packages depending on the opponent's front. Jake Fischer was penciled in at the hybrid position before suffering a knee injury in spring ball.

Bondurant has already proven to be a stellar playmaker. And now that he has a new role?

"He won't come off the field," Kish said. "We'll find a place for him to play."

Up next

• What: Utah at Arizona

• Where: 4 p.m. Saturday

• TV; radio: Channel 58, FSAZ Plus; 1290-AM, 107.5-FM