C.J. Dozier will return to his hometown of Temecula, Calif., in early June with a semester's worth of college credits to his name and a spring's worth of football practices in his rearview mirror.

All of which makes the reason for his homecoming - high school graduation -so special.

"I'm going back to walk with my graduating class," he said.

The Arizona Wildcats' linebacker enrolled at the UA in January with hopes of getting an early start on his college football career. He has spent the last three months learning the details of Arizona's 3-3-5 "odd stack" defense, working out in the weight room and taking general education courses on campus.

Dozier, 18, is hoping that early enrollment will lead to some playing time this fall. The Wildcats must replace starting linebackers Paul Vassallo and Derek Earls, meaning the 6-foot-2-inch, 210-pound Dozier has a real shot of contributing.

The Wildcats will take the weekend off before embarking on their final four spring practices of the year. The April 14 spring game, held at Kino Stadium, is free and open to the public.

Coach Rich Rodriguez said Dozier is "doing well" in limited action. Dozier is the second UA football player in as many years to rush into college: Quarterback Daxx Garman enrolled at the UA in January 2011, a semester earlier than planned. He has since transferred to Oklahoma State.

"C.J.'s a very, very intelligent guy, a tough football player and a quick learner," Rodriguez said. "He's going to have a great opportunity to play.

"Most freshmen, particularly at linebacker, you'd like to redshirt them and continue to get bigger and stronger and all that. (But) I don't know if we can redshirt him at this point."

Dozier was one of Southern California's top linebacker prospects as a junior at Chaparral High School, a year in which he averaged 10.3 tackles per game and was named his team's defensive MVP. Dozier transferred to Bellflower St. John Bosco High School in January 2011 but returned to Chaparral last fall to finish his high school career.

By then, Dozier already had picked a college: Arizona State. He verbally committed to the Sun Devils with plans to graduate from high school a semester early and enroll in January. His plans changed, however, when ASU fired coach Dennis Erickson and replaced him with Pitt coach Todd Graham.

Choosing the UA, which had offered Dozier scholarships twice - former coach Mike Stoops and Rodriguez were both interested - was "a real quick decision," he said. Dozier took an official visit to the UA on Jan. 15 and enrolled two days later.

"I had to weigh things out pretty fast," he said. "I didn't want to waste a whole semester staying at home. I felt like this was the best opportunity, and so it came."

Dozier has no ill will toward ASU, he said.

"I just let that go," he said. "I don't feel any loyalty to them at this point. This is where I'm at. Red and blue feels right to me."

But challenges remain. Dozier, the youngest player on Arizona's roster, is still adjusting to the physical and emotional challenges of college. Working with strength coaches, the linebacker has already added seven pounds of muscle and wants to add 10 more. He's faring well in classes, though he has yet to declare a major. On the field, Dozier has been playing with the first and second units as an outside linebacker.

The 3-3-5 "odd stack" defense puts a premium on "playing fast." Because he arrived a semester early, Dozier has more time to learn how.

"It's weird - when everybody else goes home for spring break, nobody's there. But when I went home for spring break, everything was the same," he said. "It's a little bit weird, but it's what I knew I wanted to do for a while."

On StarNet: Read Ryan Finley's blog at azstarnet.com/finley for more news about Wildcat football.

Up next

• What: Arizona spring game

• Where: Kino Stadium

• When: April 14, open to the public