If he had chosen a different path, perhaps Gerhard de Beer would be in Rio right now. The Arizona student-athlete, by way of South Africa, finished fourth in the discus at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships in June.

De Beer’s best throw was 4.12 meters short of the Olympic qualifying threshold. But bear in mind: De Beer was only a part-time thrower at that point. He picked it back up after spring football practice. He’s all ball now.

De Beer said in spring that he was committing himself full time to football, and that work is paying off with a probable starting gig at right tackle.

Still, de Beer can’t help but watch the Summer Games whenever he has the chance. He knows many of the athletes and trainers. He’s proud of his countrymen and women, such as Wayde van Niekerk, who won gold in the 400 meters and shattered Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old world record in the event.

“I embrace it,” de Beer said Tuesday after the UA’s morning practice. “I respect Olympians so much, everything they go through and the effort they put in. I love watching it. But I do take my naps in the afternoon.”

It’s hard to find time for anything but football during training camp, which is crammed with practices and meetings. Downtime is a precious commodity.

This year’s camp happens to coincide with the Rio Games. Given de Beer’s background, the Olympics were a logical jumping-off point for a post-practice Q&A with the thoughtful redshirt junior. De Beer also talked about Zach Hemmila, struggling to keep his composure while reminiscing about his teammate and fellow lineman who died last week:

You said in spring you were committed to football. But when you watch the Olympics, do you have certain pangs?

A: “Of course I do. Discus, it’s what brought me here in the first place. I’ve seen so many countries, especially in Europe, because of that. So I’ve got to be thankful for everything the sport has done for me. Of course I’d love to be there one day. Right now, I want to focus on football.

“When people talk about football, going to the NFL, a lot of people (have) dollar signs in their eyes. That was never the reason for me. When I thought about playing football it was about, how far can I physically push myself? That was my real goal, to see if I could do that — if it’s within my limits to take a sport I’ve never played before, and take it to the next level.”

Football-wise, you’ve obviously come a long way. Do you feel more comfortable this training camp than in the past?

A: “For sure. Every day is a competition, and you need to prove yourself every day. If you don’t do so, you’re going to move down.

“The main goal for me is to improve every single day — take what I have, take one or two things every day, and improve upon them. Today, for example, I worked on putting more weight on my inside leg during my pass sets. You do that, you’re more balanced and you have more control.

“Throughout camp, I worked on getting my hands into the chest more often. I need to get better at that, honestly; I’m not there yet. I’m not where I want to be.”

What has it been like in the offensive line room after Zach’s death?

A: “It’s been really heavy on us. Zach will always be part of our O-line. We still have his book there. Coach (Jim Michalczik) still gives him install (instructions). I would go after every meeting and label the install the way he puts it in his book.

“Everything that we do is a reminder of him. We’re really going to miss him. It’s been a little heavy-hearted and rough, but it’ll get better. We’ll be stronger for it. We’ll be closer for it — and learn to appreciate each other a lot more.

“I think one thing we can learn from this is to use the time we have effectively. I don’t say that in a negative way. We never know when our last moment can be. So just live life to its fullest and have no regrets.”

No debate about Tate

UA coach Rich Rodriguez was asked Tuesday whether freshman quarterback Khalil Tate could be an “all-purpose” threat. It’s a logical concept considering Tate’s running ability and the fact that he’s far behind veterans Anu Solomon and Brandon Dawkins.

“His only purpose right now is to try to learn quarterback,” Rodriguez said of Tate. “He’s not ready for ‘all-purpose’ — he’s ready for one purpose, and that’s to learn quarterback. A hundred percent.”

As for the battle between Solomon and Dawkins, there’s no news of note — at least any that Rodriguez is willing to share publicly.

“I like to keep answering questions every day about the quarterback competition,” he said with a smirk. “That’s why I’m not naming a starter.”

Extra points

  • Redshirt sophomore Jamardre Cobb, a former four-star linebacker recruit, is working at fullback, where he played last season. He had been at linebacker in spring.
  • Running backs coach Calvin Magee on freshman J.J. Taylor: “He’s a very smart kid. He understands football. He’s showing signs that we can count on him.” Magee has lost 80 pounds over the past eight months, mainly by eating less. He also had knee-replacement surgery in May. He feels healthier and looks great.
  • The Wildcats again worked out in full pads in the first of two practices. The evening session was closed to the media.
  • A Pac-12 Networks crew was on hand for a training-camp special that aired Tuesday night (with replays on subsequent days). Curtis Conway, Glenn Parker and Mike Yam were the on-air talent at Kindall/Sancet Stadium.
  • Rodriguez is a big Michael Phelps fan and once met the swimming superstar. “He’s so competitive,” Rodriguez said. “You could learn a lot from watching his competitiveness.”
  • Scouts from the Raiders, Texans, Seahawks and Dolphins attended practice.

Reporter

Michael is an award-winning journalist who has been covering sports professionally since the early '90s. He started at the Star in 2015 after spending 15 years at The Orange County Register. Michael is a graduate of Northwestern University.