For the past two years, the Arizona Wildcats had a masked man in the middle of their defensive line.
Nose guard Tevin Hood sported a ski mask over his face and under his helmet for games. It kept Hood from showing too much emotion to his opponents and made him look mean and a bit scary.
When the Chandler native cleaned out his locker in January after he completed his eligibility at the UA, he didn’t take the masks. Instead, he left them for teammate Dwight Melvin with the hope that it would instill some nastiness in one of his understudies.
“I have all the masks now and I’m going to wear them next year,” Melvin said smiling. “Tevin Hood basically taught me everything. He told me when you get on the field, you have to be ferocious — completely evil essentially. You have to be able to take punches and give punches.
“You have to let them know you’re the man and you’re not going anywhere.”
Before he sends that message to opponents, Melvin is trying to do the same thing to his coaches this spring.
With Hood gone and the Wildcats searching for a replacement, Melvin, a Laveen Fairfax High School grad, has a chance for some serious playing time during his sophomore season.
“Dwight Melvin is a guy who is developing,” defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said. “He just has to continue to get coached and work. He’s gotten stronger. He’s gotten heavier. So he’s getting it.”
Melvin, a piece of Rich Rodriguez’s first recruiting class in 2012, redshirted his first season in Tucson. He played in seven games last season as a backup to Hood and had one tackle-for-loss.
In other words, Melvin has been developing, which isn’t a bad thing. But now the clock is beginning to tick.
“Last season was a struggle,” said Melvin, who battled an ankle injury during fall camp. “I came back and tried to get back into it, but it never really got going. So last season was a starting point, but this year hopefully I’ll be able to bring more to the team.”
The first assignment for Melvin is to pack on the pounds. He was listed at 272 pounds on last year’s roster.
“We’d like that nose to be a 290- 295-pound guy for us,” Casteel said.
Melvin spent much of his offseason in the weight room with the strength and conditioning staff to get as close as possible to that weight range. An important step for Melvin is to not only get there, but r\to continue to improve his athleticism and speed off the ball.
“Dwight is coming along,” defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich said. “There are some things there to like with him. He just needs to continue to work hard and do what we tell him. But he’s got some potential.”
When Melvin came to Arizona, he didn’t have any experience at the nose position. He spent most of his high school career playing defensive end and outside linebacker. During his senior season at Fairfax, he had 47 tackles — seven for a loss — and five sacks. But once in Tucson, Casteel and the defensive staff moved him where they thought he could have the biggest impact — inside.
“At end, you basically have one focus,” Melvin said. “At the nose, you have three different things that can come up. You could have one guard coming at you, the other guard, the center. You could get double-teamed, triple-teamed, you have to read pass-run; it’s just a lot. But I’m getting it.”
The coaches are hoping he gets it sooner rather than later, because they need a nose guard for next season. Of course Melvin isn’t the only option, but is certainly a main one. He’s battling junior college transfer and former Boise State product Jeff Worthy this spring. The two could have even more competition if tackles Aiulua Fanene and Sani Fuimaono return to the Wildcats from a two-year mission as expected.
“I do have a sense that there is some playing time available, but I do know that I have to work for the position, and it’s not just going to fall in my lap,” Melvin said. “I have to work like everyone else for a starting position and right now, I don’t think I’m anywhere near it, so I just have to keep working.”