Rich Rodriguez hasn't been too thrilled with the team's effort this spring. "I've been too nice," he said. "I have nobody to blame but myself."


C.J. Parish wouldn't have believed all this a year ago, either.

After all, what were the odds that the Arizona Wildcats' veteran would miss most of his senior season with a concussion, receive a fifth year of eligibility from the NCAA, switch positions, crack the starting lineup and become a team leader in a span of 12 months?

A hundred to one? One thousand?

"Had you asked me a year ago, I would have been like, 'Yeah, I'm about to graduate. I'm about to be done with all this,'" Parish said with a laugh.

Instead, the fun is just getting started.

Parish will start at defensive end when the UA opens its season Saturday against Northern Arizona, the latest twist in a winding journey for the College Station, Texas, product.

Parish, 23, played 15 games over the last two seasons as a linebacker, H-back and special teamer before receiving a medical redshirt and switching positions in January.

Now, for the first time in his career, Parish finds himself in the spotlight. Defensive ends Brooks Reed, D'Aundre Reed and Ricky Elmore were all selected in last spring's NFL draft after stellar college careers, leaving a pair of gaping holes on the Cats' defensive line.

Parish and Mohammed Usman, a University of Houston transfer who missed half of his 2010 season due to an NCAA suspension, will try to take their place. Usman spent the second half of training camp bothered by a lower leg injury, but is expected to play in Saturday's opener. If not, a handful of newcomers, including true freshmen Reggie Gilbert and Dame Ndiaye, are ready to take his place.

Elmore, Reed and Reed registered a combined 325 tackles and 48 1/2 sacks during their UA careers.

Parish has eight career tackles, zero career sacks - and, he says, no worries.

"None at all," he said. "All I can do is just be me. I can learn from what they taught me, the little things that I can apply to my game.

"But when I go out there, I can only be me."

So far, coaches have been impressed with the quick adjustment. At a chiseled 6 feet 2 inches and 245 pounds, Parish is big, fast and strong enough to battle with offensive tackles on every play. He is famously fiery on the field, a good sign for a team looking for a spark.

Fundamentally, Parish hardly looks the part of a convert. He played the position exclusively at A&M Consolidated High School in College Station, and shuttled between end and linebacker while at Blinn College in nearby Brenham, Texas.

"I can now say he's really good. He's really developed," said Jeff Hammerschmidt, the Wildcats' defensive ends coach. "With C.J. and Mohammed out here and some young guys coming along, I think we'll be OK."

Parish, in fact, is sure of it. Given what he's gone through over the last year, that's saying something.

"It's not that big a deal," he said.

Up next

• What: NAU at Arizona

• Where: Arizona Stadium

• When: 7 p.m. Saturday

• TV: FSAZ, Ch 58