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‘Light bulb is coming on’ for Arizona freshman linebacker Rob Hankins

Rob Hankins

If Rob Hankins really wanted to be like Tedy Bruschi, he's start riding a scooter around campus.

Arizona freshman linebacker Rob Hankins, at this early age, often is compared to Wildcats legend Tedy Bruschi. Maybe that’s fair. Maybe not. But here’s one more thing to feed into the connection.

Hankins, like Bruschi in 1991, could start the first game he plays in at Arizona.

“I’m getting a lot more reps,” Hankins said after Monday’s practice, “and I feel the light bulb is coming on right now.”

Now, whether he starts or not depends on two factors:

–The decision of the coaches, who are also evaluating junior college transfer David Lopez at middle linebacker.

–The kind of offense that Northern Arizona puts on the field for its first play on Saturday.

Arizona will use three linebackers in its base 4-3 defense, with someone joining senior returning starters Paul Vassallo and Derek Earls. But the Wildcats’ preference is to use two linebackers and five defensive backs, especially when teams line up with more than two wide receivers.

“He’s coming on,” coach Mike Stoops said of Hankins. “He has a ways to go like more freshmen. His eyes have gotten pretty big here this past week.”

It’s always nice to be an official starter — and it would be a nice addition to Hankins’ burgeoning bio to start his first game — but it is ultimately a bit of trivia. The bottom line is that Hankins has put himself in position to contribute early.

“There are things I need to figure out. I just need to hesitate less and be more comfortable out there,” he said.

“If it ends up working out this weekend, and maybe the rest of the year, I couldn’t be happier. But I’m happy to get to help the team out any way I can, wherever I fit in.”

It’s his effort and hustle that drew the original comparisons to Bruschi, who played defensive at Arizona and is tied for NCAA lead in career sacks (52). But playing hard is only one prong of success, as Hankins is finding out.

“I have no time to think whatsoever,” he said of the speed of the game during camp.

“If I take one wrong step, then I have someone blocking me, or the ball is already gone and there’s nothing I can do about it. So, not only do I have to give 100 percent every play, but I also have to make the right decision, which is tough.”

Hankins (6-1, 220) is half of Arizona’s freshman linebacker corps, the other being Hank Hobson, who is competing for playing time at an outside position.

Rob Hankins. Hank Hobson. Hank you very much.

“If we hear ‘Hank’ at any point (in practice), we both run, or else we get in trouble,” Hankins said.

Just as Vassallo and Earls arrived together in the spring of 2010, becoming good friends and roommates, the same has happened with the Hanks.

“He’s my best friend on campus,” Hankins said of Hobson. “We work together, we study together, and I think we really helped each other out during camp.”

Hankins, from Parish Episcopal High in Dallas, said his parents and some of their friends are traveling from Texas for Saturday night’s game. He said his father, Rob Hankins Sr. — who posts on multiple Wildcats-related message boards — is, naturally, excited.

Then the younger Hankins joked (showing another Bruschi trait):

“Dad is also happy that school is free.”

Rob Hankins Sr. likes the TucsonCitizen Sports Network page on Facebook. Shouldn’t you too?

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