To use the football vernacular, Arizona Wildcats cornerback Trevin Wade is a ballhawk. At least that used to be his reputation.
He intercepted four passes as a freshman, despite very limited playing time. He followed with five picks as a sophomore starter.
Well, maybe Wade got a little too happy, a little too caught in the building hype before his junior season. He often struggled last season, losing his starting spot for one game.
“It all gets back to preparation, and in my observation, the lack of it,” said coach Mike Stoops. “The lack of preparation for a season and taking things for granted is something that can happen to even good people.
“That’s a great lesson to learn and, hopefully, he learned his lesson because we have great challenges out there on the perimeter.”
Stoops and defensive coordinator Tim Kish say they love what Arizona has at cornerback. Wade is the senior leader, a two-year starter. But as the coaches showed last season, they are not afraid to sit Wade if they have to.
Sophomore cornerbacks Jonathan McKnight and Shaquille Richardson are talented, athletic prospects. McKnight looks like the starter opposite Wade for now, but camp will further sort out the competition.
The bench is a great motivator?
“There’s competition,” Stoops said.
“He knows what Shaquille and McKnight are capable of better than anybody. They are all competing, and then the best players play. … We have to win and we have to cover people out on the perimeter in big games better than we did a year ago.”
Another sophomore Derrick Rainey has looked good in practice drills. Redshirt freshman Jourdon Grandon can play cornerback, too, although he might be needed more at safety this season.
For his part, Wade was re-dedicated in the spring, cutting down on mental mistakes and directing others in the secondary, secondary coach Ryan Walters said.
“I think part of the problem was that Trevin got complacent in his performance from a year before,” Walters said.
“I talked to him before spring ball and said, ‘You’re capable of being a game-changing corner.’ Last year was nothing that has to do with his ability. It is more to do with the intangible stuff. And that is the stuff where he grew this spring.”
Wade intercepted only one pass last season, although it was a game-changer — he returned it 85 yards for a touchdown against Iowa.
“Last year was not what I expected,” Wade said. “But you have mistakes and learn from it and it makes you a better player.
“You play how you practice, so if you come out and practice 100 percent and give it your all and you come off the field tired, then when you come to the game, it will all be easy for you.”
There is urgency for the defense, especially the secondary, to correct bad habits.
The Wildcats face Oklahoma State — with Biletnikoff Award-winning receiver Justin Blackmon and 27-year-old strong-armed quarterback Brandon Weeden — in the second game. The Cats have to try to stop Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, the likely No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, in the third game.
Then comes high-powered and versatile Oregon. Then quarterback Matt Barkley and USC. Then Oregon State’s Ryan Katz, who carved up Arizona for 393 passing yards last season.
The tough schedule and the competition from his fellow cornerbacks are the main reasons why Wade is on the spot.
Walters made a prediction about how Wade will bounce back after absorbing the lessons of last season.
“Because of his junior year performance,” Walters said, “his senior year will be that much better.”