The Arizona Wildcats may have Tra’Mayne Bondurant this season; they may not.
His status likely won’t be settled for weeks. But the UA knows this — his backup isn’t going anywhere.
Although this isn’t the way he was hoping it would happen, Will Parks has spent the past two years waiting for this opportunity.
The junior safety from Philadelphia has played in all 26 games in his career and has 40 tackles to his credit. He started four games last year and had 31 tackles and two interceptions on the season.
The Defensive MVP of the AdvoCare V100 Bowl, Parks seemed to be on the outside looking in as recently as one week ago. Bondurant, a 30-game starter, occupied the “Spur” safety. Jared Tevis, a 22-game starter, has a hold on the “Bandit” safety, and Jourdon Grandon, a 26-game starter, didn’t seem to be going anywhere at the free safety spot.
So Parks spent his offseason working at every secondary position. His hope was that even though all of his game experience came at “Bandit” he’d be the first guy up if any starter went down, regardless of the position.
“I was in both safety positions, corner, free safety; I was at all the spots,” Parks said. Defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich “came up to me and said, ‘You should play nose tackle on fourth down’ since I was doing everything else.”
We know that’s not happening, but Parks has moved from “Bandit” to “Spur” while Bondurant tries to work his way back into the fold after quitting Saturday, just to return Sunday.
The senior safety returned to the practice field Tuesday, but served mostly as a spectator. It’s unclear when Bondurant will be a full participant. In the meantime, Parks is running with the first-team defense.
“I have to come out here with the same passion,” Parks said. “My mindset won’t change. I’m going to come out here like nothing’s given to me. Everything’s earned. I’m blessed to have this opportunity to play more reps.”
The move to “Spur” means Parks can get a little more physical. The “Spur” safety plays closer to the line of scrimmage than the “Bandit” and is similar to a hybrid linebacker.
There are times when Parks will have to line up and defend a tight end or get around an offensive tackle and rush the quarterback.
Safeties coach Matt Caponi is confident Parks can handle it.
“Things happen quicker at ‘Spur’ rather than playing ‘Bandit’ when you’re 10 yards off and you get more time to read everything,” Caponi said. “Will studies the film well and understands how offenses are trying to attack our style of defense.
“It won’t really be a big change for him.”
Parks said a major reason he expects the transition to be easy is because of his work in the film room. Even though he played “Bandit,” he always paid attention when Caponi broke down Bondurant’s play at “Spur.”
“Film is where the plays are made,” Parks said. “You can ask the best. All the All-Star players are the ones who are in the film room. This game is off smarts more than athleticism.”
Of course, Parks knows his stay at “Spur” may not be permanent. If Bondurant returns at some point during the season, Parks could return to being a super sub and go back to floating around the secondary.
He’s fine with that, and would like to have his teammate back.
“I’m hoping the best for him,” Parks said of Bondurant. “I was happy to see him out here, just to be around. He wants to be back on the team. It’s up to Coach. He’s the head man in charge. Hopefully he lets him back on the team. He’s like a brother to me.
“Hopefully he gets right and gets back on the team.”
If it doesn’t happen, Parks should hold down his spot, while sophomore Tellas Jones, a Miami native who is off to a strong start in camp, could shift into Parks’ utility backup role.
“Having some older guys in the program, guys that have been here two, three, four years, the depth helps a lot knowing when guys go down, the guys behind them in that room prepared just as hard,” Caponi said. “They might not have all the reps in practice, but their mental game is what they have to focus on when they’re not getting reps, and those guys are ready to go.”