Jovon Hayes walked off the Arizona Wildcats' practice field sporting a bright white practice jersey, a replacement for one that, dirty and tattered, finally ripped off.
The UA's offensive lineman practically sparkled.
Three years after being diagnosed with Crohn's disease, an inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract, Hayes is finally receiving enough playing time to get dirty. The senior will start at right guard when the 15th-ranked Arizona Wildcats take on UCLA on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
"I know everything happens for a reason," the 22-year-old Hayes said this week. "Getting sick made me mentally and physically tougher than I was before. I could have easily said, 'I'm tired of this.' But I stuck with it."
That the 6-foot-2-inch, 300-pound Hayes is still on the team is a testament to his work ethic. He arrived at the UA in 2006 following a stellar career at Los Angeles Dorsey High School. After taking a redshirt season, Hayes figured to compete for playing time.
He first noticed something was wrong when, preparing for the 2007 season, he struggled to put up the minimum weight on the bench press. His own weight plummeted, too, from 335 pounds to 260 in a span of a few months.
"When you lose so much weight, it takes the nutrients out of your body," he said. "I was behind everybody else on my team."
A concerned Hayes visited UA head trainer Randy Cohen and Don Porter, the team's physician. They referred him to a specialist, who diagnosed Hayes with Crohn's.
There is no known cause or cure for Crohn's, which affects between 400,000 and 600,000 people in North America; symptoms begin to surface between the ages of 15 and 35.
Hayes' recovery was a two-step process. Doctors overhauled his diet - no spicy foods, little milk - to limit intestinal swelling. With the help of a nutritionist, Hayes then regained half of the weight he lost.
Hayes started every day with a breakfast of pancakes, rice, bacon and eggs; during the day, he ate four or five peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to keep his energy. Hayes ate normal lunches and training-table food after practices.
His diet amazed teammate Phil Garcia, who didn't initially know about his disease.
"I thought, 'What's this guy's problem? He eats and eats and never gains any weight,'" Garcia said.
While Hayes began to feel better, football was another matter.
Hayes said he didn't feel healthy enough to play until last season, when he appeared in two games before suffering a high ankle sprain and turf toe.
Hayes opened this season as the Wildcats' starting right guard, playing in two games before Vaughn Dotsy - recovering from off-season back surgery - was healthy. Hayes reassumed the starting job in the Wildcats' Oct. 9 loss to Oregon State. Dotsy is feared lost for the year because of his lingering back injury.
While Hayes wishes Dotsy a fast recovery, the guard believes it's fate that he stayed at the UA just long enough to contribute. Hayes said the illness has strengthened his Christian faith and boosted his academics.
On Thursday, Hayes - an interdisciplinary studies major - was named the western region winner of the Academic Momentum Award by the National Consortium for Academics and Sports. Defensive tackle Earl Mitchell won the award a year ago.
"You never know what can happen," Hayes said. "I worked hard, so that made me better as a person. When your number's called, you just have to step up."
His teammates agree that few players deserve it more. Left tackle Adam Grant said Hayes is "a great player, and people here are starting to notice that." Garcia called Hayes one of the team's weight-room champions.
"He's paid his dues, man," Garcia said.
Hayes said he will have to monitor his condition for the rest of his life, but is - so far - showing few ill effects.
After a rough three years, the Wildcats' guard said he feels like a new man.
"It doesn't bother me now," he said. "It's like I'm healthy."
Stoops: QB Foles to travel to UCLA
Quarterback Nick Foles will accompany the Arizona Wildcats to UCLA this weekend, the first step in what he hopes will be a quick return from a dislocated right kneecap.
"I think Nick's ready to go," coach Mike Stoops said. "We're pleased with the progress he's made. We expect him to be 100 percent on Saturday."
Stoops likely won't name a starting quarterback before kickoff.
Foles started the UA's first six games before injuring his knee in Arizona's 24-7 win over Washington State on Oct. 16. Matt Scott finished that game, then led the Wildcats to a 44-14 win over Washington on Saturday at Arizona Stadium.
Nose tackle Justin Washington is "ready to play" after suffering a knee injury two weeks ago, Stoops said, though it's unclear how many snaps he'll see. If he is unable to go, Sione Tuihalamaka will take his place.
• What: Arizona at UCLA
• When: 12:30 p.m. Saturday
• TV: FSAZ
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM