Nelson, Ness bring leadership to secondary
Nate Ness makes a mean plate of spaghetti or ribs. The Arizona senior also has a nose for the football.
His roommate, Cam Nelson, keeps the Wildcats loose with his jokes. The junior also likes to lay huge hits on opponents.
The two safeties complement one another in the secondary, and Arizona will rely on their experience Saturday against a pass-oriented Toledo squad at 7 p.m. at Arizona Stadium.
“Nate and Cam have a chance to be big-time players and stabilize our defense,” UA coach Mike Stoops said.
The pair don’t make a move on the field without the other knowing what’s happening. They took it a step further off the field, deciding to room together.
“We felt for the secondary to be right, and to be the leaders, we needed to live together,” Nelson said. “We felt like for us to be good, we needed to know each other like the back of our hands.
“We moved together so that stuff in the house would carry over to the field, and I think it has.”
The only problem, Nelson joked, is that Ness sometimes burns a meal, although he compliments his roommate on his spaghetti and barbecue ribs.
Nelson and Ness are among only three returning UA starters on defense. They have been a stabilizing influence on new starting cornerbacks Devin Ross and Marquis Hundley with their football knowledge and humor.
“We are pretty silly when we get together,” Nelson said. “The coaches and players will tell you about that.
“But we spend a lot of our time watching film at home, so we know what each other is doing, and what the other teams are going to do. That’s been important.”
Nelson started all 12 games last year, but the mood on the field lightened up halfway through the season when Ness took over for an injured Dominic Patrick at free safety.
Although it took a few games to click, the pair worked out the kinks.
“When we are on the same page, we are really good,” Ness said. “Cam was already a good player before I started, but he said when I got there his game stepped up because I brought high energy. I always thought Cam was a good player, and somebody who was a hard hitter.”
Ness always seems to be around the ball. To prove his 19 interceptions at El Camino (Calif.) College were no fluke, he had five interceptions in six starts a year ago for the Wildcats.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Gardena, Calif., native returned eight of his interceptions at the junior college level for touchdowns.
“I have to be around the ball. That drives me,” Ness said. “Making plays changes the outcome of a game. You can go from an ‘L’ to a ‘W’ just like that.”
Ness has gotten off to a fast start this year. He intercepted a pass in UA’s 70-0 win Saturday over Idaho. And he had two interceptions in the Wildcats’ first fall scrimmage, returning one for a touchdown.
“He’s a playmaker,” Nelson said. “We have been trying to figure out how he does it all the time. There’s something about him finding the ball.
“There will be plays where there is nobody around, and we will look up and Nate will end up with an interception.”
Nelson is looking for his first interception, but not his first big hit. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Dallas native brings a physical presence and toughness to the secondary after winning the strong safety job weeks before last year’s season opener against BYU.
“He’s got it down now, no doubt,” Ness said. “He has a grasp of the system and he is more confident. He’s more sure of himself.”
Position: Free safety
Height, weight: 6-2, 190
Before UA: El Camino (Calif.) College; Gardena (Calif.) H.S.
2007 stats: Six starts. Had five interceptions (91 return yards), two pass breakups and 32 tackles.
Position: Strong safety
Height, weight: 6-1, 200
High school: Dallas Kimball
2007 stats: 12 starts. Had 60 tackles, including four for a loss.