Arizona Wildcats true freshman defensive back Tramayne Bondurant will be playing in his first Arizona-Arizona State game. He doesn’t really know what the rivalry is all about. He doesn’t need to.
If there is one player on defense you can count on to be playing hard, to be inspired no matter the circumstances, it’s Bondurant.
“I know it’s important to all of the players and a lot of the alumni who came here, and some of the coaches who actually played here,” Bondurant said of the rivalry.
“But it gets me fired up to play any game, this game especially. I have a lot of friends that go there, so that makes it more interesting.”
Bondurant, from Fairfield, Calif., has been the most interesting development of the post-Mike Stoops era. Hard to believe this guy was stashed away on the scout team and special teams units for the most of the first half of the season.
But then interim head coach Tim Kish inserted Bondurant into the starting lineup for the UCLA game in week 7 … and good luck getting him out of there for the next three years.
This is what Bondurant said after last week’s 48-29 loss at Colorado, in which he provided a rare Arizona highlight with a 29-yard interception return for a touchdown late in the third quarter.
“I told my teammates and coaches that I’m going to try and be a captain,” he said.
“I just want to make sure everyone’s on the same page and that we as a unit can go out and play. When this team gets back on track I’m going to be one of the leaders.”
Bondurant, even at a mere 185 pounds, has been playing a hybrid linebacker position. He’s often the flexed defender when Kish has deployed its double-eagle flex scheme to try to stop the run.
That flex position makes Bondurant an X-factor on defense, able to rush the passer or play close to the line of scrimmage in run support or drop into coverage, which is what he did when he stepped in front of a pass for the interception last week.
“I don’t think the quarterback even saw him,” Kish said.
Bondurant has 28 tackles, a sack, an interception and two pass break-ups in the past four games.
Kish was asked this week who will be the Wildcats’ best players next season, and he said this:
“I know one: Definitely, Tramayne Bondurant,” Kish said. “He has tremendous talent. He has a tremendous passion for the game. I think he’s a leader right now as a freshman.”
Why not? Especially if, as Kish and some players suggested after last week’s loss, some of the Cats have checked out emotionally, mentally and physically.
Perhaps just playing rival Arizona State will cure the Wildcats of their blahs.
Bondurant seems to need no extra motivation.
“I think I have a lot of energy to give,” he said. “I just try to be a leader any way I can — by being loud or making plays or keeping people’s heads up when things are going down. I think I can be a leader for these next two games.”
And into next season — whatever that will bring.
But think of a secondary that revolves around this: Passionate and hard-hitting safety Adam Hall, returning from an ACL injury; feisty Jonathan McKnight, who was the team’s best cornerback in camp before tearing an ACL; and the playmaking Bondurant at the nickel back spot. Kish called him “tough as nails.”
Add in a pair of returning starters — safety Marquis Flowers and cornerback Shaquille Richardson. Include a couple of sophomores-to be — cornerback Cortez Johnson and safety Jourdon Grandon. Don’t forget about safety Josh Robbins, who has sat out this season because of injury.
Some lucky position coach is going to inherit all that talent in the secondary — and none of those players will be a senior in 2012.
“I’m excited to see what’s next for my sophomore year,” Bondurant said.
He’s also excited for his first Territorial Cup showdown.
He said assistant coaches Jeff Hammerschmidt and Joe Salave’a — both former Arizona players — talked to the team Tuesday about the rivalry.
“They talked about how important it was to them and how real the rivalry is,” Bondurant said. “We’re going to go out there and get it done.”