ARIZONA FOOTBALL

UA football: Last year's 'latest things' at cornerback ready to step up

2014-03-27T00:00:00Z UA football: Last year's 'latest things' at cornerback ready to step upBy Zack Rosenblatt Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

First came the four-star, then the five.

Then the five-star left, and then the four.

The Wildcats were supposed to have an embarrassment of riches at corner coming into 2014, an idea cornerbacks coach David Lockwood loves.

“You know,” Lockwood said, “I’m one of those guys who’s greedy. You can never have enough depth.”

The Wildcats lost senior Shaquille Richardson from last year’s team, but return Jonathan McKnight, the starter on the other side, for his senior year.

In June, they added Patrick Glover, a junior college transfer from Scottsdale Community College.

In July, Naijiel Hale — a four-star corner from California — committed to the Wildcats. Then, in January, Jalen Tabor — a five-star corner from Washington D.C. — picked the UA over Alabama.

Oh, and there are the “other guys” coming back — Derek Babiash and Devin Holiday, last year’s prized cornerback recruits. Babiash is a former four-star, Holiday a three.

But that’s, like, so last year.

Which makes Holiday smile.

“I wasn’t worried,” he said. “Of course I’m going to welcome them as teammates, but I wasn’t worried about them coming in, because they weren’t even here yet.”

Added Babiash: “We weren’t really looking at all the media talking about these four- and five-star corners. If they come in, they still have to compete for a spot just like we’re doing.”

Why the past tense?

Well, in February, Tabor and Hale both had a change of heart before signing day — Hale signed with Washington, Tabor with Florida.

Now there’s a starting spot open opposite McKnight. Who knows if Hale or Tabor would’ve competed for it, but Babiash and Holiday have an edge, anyway, since they both avoided a redshirt last year and played as true freshman for the 8-5 Wildcats.

“As a true freshman, to play is pretty rare, especially at that position,” coach Rich Rodriguez said. “They gotta still get bigger and stronger, but they’re very conscientious guys, both of them, and they want to be good. This is going to be a big spring for them.”

Now, their stats won’t overwhelm you.

Babiash had two tackles in nine games, mostly on special teams. Holiday had seven and an interception in 13 contests, mainly on defensive substitution packages.

But there are 29 redshirt freshmen on Arizona’s roster, and Babiash and Holiday are not among them. That’s huge.

“Now when they get out there for next go-around, it won’t be quite deer-in-the-headlights,” Lockwood said. “They’ll know what to expect a little bit, and the biggest thing is confidence.”

For Babiash — listed at 6 feet 1 inch and 174 pounds — he’ll be working on perfecting a new position. He played inside for most of the season, but now Lockwood moved him back to the outside.

“I just think I need to be more aggressive,” Babiash said. “An aggressive corner ready to hit, ready to cover, and work on my man-to-man. I need to work on everything.”

For Holiday, it’s about getting stronger, and maybe a little bit bigger. On Arizona’s online roster, Holiday is listed at 156 pounds.

That’s 4 pounds less than Casey Skowron, and 7 less than Jack Flatau.

Skowron and Flatau are UA kickers.

“Yeah,” said Lockwood, laughing. “For him, the biggest thing is just getting stronger.”

Holiday claims he’s already started — saying he’s added 12 pounds since the end of the season, to make him a clean 168.

He admits covering bigger receivers last year was an issue, but he’s committed to getting stronger. He wants to be the starter, and is ready to make the freshman-to-sophomore jump that Rodriguez often talks about.

Babiash wants to be the starter, too.

They’re both from San Diego, both cornerbacks, both 2013 recruits, and they’re roommates.

Now they’re each other’s competition.

“We know we’re competing for one spot right now,” Babiash said, “and we don’t let that affect our friendship or nothing. It’s all competitiveness on the field, and friendship outside.”

Added Holiday, “We’re just trying to get each other better. There’s no jealousy, no hate.”

Well, maybe a little jealousy. Last year, Babiash watched as Holiday recorded his first career interception in his first-ever game, the season-opening win against NAU.

“There was a little jealousy, of course,” Babiash said, laughing. “But that was awesome, and I was happy for him. More happy than jealous.”

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Pac-12 South football standings

Team W L T PCT
Utah 6 1 0 0.857
Arizona 6 1 0 0.857
ASU 6 1 0 0.857
UCLA 6 2 0 0.750
USC 5 3 0 0.625
Colorado 3 5 0 0.375

Pac-12 North football standings

Team W L T PCT
Oregon 7 1 0 0.875
Stanford 5 3 0 0.625
Washington 5 3 0 0.625
Oregon State 4 3 0 0.571
Cal 4 4 0 0.500
Washington State 2 6 0 0.250
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