David Lockwood remembers the exact thought that went through his head when he watched defensive back Jarvis McCall practice for the first time last year.
“It was like, ‘Oh my gosh, no way,’” the UA cornerbacks coach said.
It wasn’t a positive “no way.”
Lockwood watched as the 6-foot-2-inch, 182-pound freshman cornerback from Tampa, Florida, struggled to keep up in the most basic drills. He looked out of shape, overwhelmed and out of place in the middle of 105 Division I football players.
“Everything was just fast, fast, fast,” McCall recalled. “I never went that fast a day in my life until the day I got to Arizona. I was just totally shocked.”
The Wildcats redshirted McCall, hoping he could get into shape and adjust to the speed of Arizona football. The UA’s coaches were still intrigued by his long body and skills he had shown on film.
They weren’t ready to give up on him.
McCall wasn’t ready to give up on himself.
The cornerback let veteran Jonathan McKnight take him under his wing, and started following his every move. Once McCall started feeling more comfortable with Arizona’s scheme and speed, he re-dedicated himself to the weight room. He worked with the UA’s strength and conditioning coaches, and got stronger and faster. He reported to camp this year, looking like a different player.
“You look at him now, it’s like, ‘Is that the same guy? Did we get a different guy?’” Lockwood said. “In my 26 years of coaching, I’m not sure I’ve seen a guy make that much improvement in less than a year.”
Because of that, McCall has gone from an afterthought and a potential bust, to competing for the starting spot opposite McKnight.
McCall spent the majority of the first week of training camp with the first-team defense. He’ll try to hold off freshman Cam Denson, and keep that starting spot when the season begins.
“This year, I know the plays, I know the system and I’m moving around better,” McCall said. “I’m not hesitant like I was last year. I’m more in shape, so I can run to the ball now and make plays.
“My confidence is much higher because I know what I’m doing now, instead of being hesitant.”
This is the player Arizona coaches thought they were getting when McCall committed last summer. He was the final addition to Arizona’s 2013 recruiting class.
McCall graduated high school in 2012, and signed a letter of intent with South Florida, choosing the Bulls over offers from Vanderbilt, Indiana and others. But the cornerback never enrolled at USF because of an academic issue, and instead sat out the ’12 season altogether to get eligible.
Once he was, the Wildcats offered him a late scholarship, which he accepted.
“I’m really happy I got another opportunity to play at a Division I program,” McCall said. “I had a little bit of a relationship from my recruitment my senior year when some of the (UA) coaches were at other schools. Instead of coming out of here and not knowing any of the coaches, I had a comfort level out here. It would have been tough if I didn’t know anyone.”
Other than having to deal with the time difference, which makes phone conversations with his mom more difficult, McCall has adjusted to life in Tucson and is happy he made the cross-country move.
His emergence on the field and adjustment to life off it has come at a perfect time for the Wildcats.
The UA needed a cornerback to step up this camp. Shaq Richardson graduated and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, former four-star recruit Derek Babiash left the team after spring drills, and highly touted recruits Naijiel Hale and Jaleb Tabor opted not to sign with the Wildcats after giving verbal commitments.
Arizona moved Denson to corner to help with the shortage, but was still hoping someone else could improve enough to improve the depth at the position.
McCall has done that and more.
“He paid the price in the offseason and summer to get in shape, and now he’s having some success out here,” Lockwood said. “He’s so long that it’s tough to get the ball over him on some of those deep balls because he’s got that length. He moves a lot better than you’d think. Those longer guys don’t look like they’re moving, but he’s covering some ground.
“He’s learning how to work and how to push himself.”
- Arizona had several players sit out Saturday’s two practices with minor injuries, including defensive starters Jared Tevis and Reggie Gilbert.
Tevis is battling a hamstring injury that has kept him out of practice since Wednesday. Gilbert has a foot injury, and has been out since Friday.
Coach Rich Rodriguez doesn’t believe either injury is serious.
Defensive linemen Dwight Melvin and Jordan Allen also sat out Saturday with injuries, as did freshman wide receiver Kaelin DeBoskie. Rodriguez said DeBoskie is dealing with some “soreness.”
- Former UA wide receiver/tight end Terrence Miller signed with the New England Patriots on Sunday. Miller wasn’t selected in May’s NFL draft, and signed with the New York Jets as a rookie free agent. He was released before training camp, and had been out of work until New England inked him.