If you’re a undersized walk-on playing defense for the Arizona Wildcats, there is one sure way to get the coaches’ attention. Bring down punishing 260-pound fullback Taimi Tutogi.
That was a litmus test of sorts in the spring. Coaches didn’t allow in cut tackling in practice, so it was big-boy tackle football — stick your face in there, wrap up, get the ball-carrier to the ground.
Up stepped walk-on safety Jared Tevis, all 5-10 and 198 pounds of him.
“I came out and didn’t stand down to anybody and was hitting,” Tevis said as fall camp started last week.
“Me and Taimi had a few battles, and nobody likes to go up against him. We went heads-up a few times … We stalemated. He keeps his legs moving, but I brought him down pretty much every time, and I think I just proved my physicality to the coaches.”
That’s it right there. The physicality.
Spring was a fresh start for everyone in the program. The new staff didn’t care that Tevis was a walk-on. If he was tall or short. It didn’t matter that he was a local kid from Canyon del Oro. A clean slate.
Can he play?
“The first thing you saw is that he is a hitter,” said safeties coach Tony Gibson.
“Every day in practice, if you heard someone get popped pretty good, you looked up and Tevis was the guy at the bottom of the pile. He’s a great competitive kid, works hard, is smart. That’s what we really like as a staff.”
First-year head coach Rich Rodriguez, duly impressed, awarded Tevis a scholarship after the spring.
“I have been working a couple of years in the program and finally got the opportunity to catch the coaches’ eye. It was a blessing,” Tevis said.
“I have had goals all along. It’s been cloudy at times, but I have always stuck to it. I’m in the position I want to be in to succeed and I’m going to accomplish the goals I have in mind.
“I knew there was no stopping there,” he added about being on scholarship. “That was just one of the notches I wanted to get to.”
The secondary needs another hitter after safety Adam Hall suffered a torn ACL in the spring game.
Tevis is listed as the starting “Bandit” in Arizona’s 3-3-5 odd stack defense. Gibson said that is like a strong safety kind of position that can be interchangeable with the free safety spot.
The new scheme relies on disguise, so it’s necessary to have the built-in versatility of guys like Tevis.
“Physicality is always a good way to get the coaches’ attention, but it’s gotta be more than that,” said Tevis, a redshirt sophomore.
“You have to be able to run around and make plays. In my position, you have to be able to cover and get to the ball, too. Physicality was just a way to get my foot in the door.”
And then he walked through that door with the chip on his shoulder he has been carrying around since high school. He helped lead CDO to a 14-0 record and a state title as a senior in 2009 — making 114 tackles, with eight interceptions and five forced fumbles — although his only scholarship offers were from small schools that he said he didn’t much consider.
“I wanted to be on the big stage, and that’s where I am and what I’m trying to do,” Tevis said.
He is overlooked no more.
He had to battle the “too small” label in high school and grew up having to compete with older brother, Aaron, who became a standout linebacker at Boise State and is now in camp as a rookie with the New Orleans Saints.
“I got roughed up a little bit, but that just made me tougher,” Jared said.
“I always feel that I’m going against the grain and I just have to keep working and have that self-determination. I always had a chip on my shoulder, and that brings out the intensity that some people don’t have.”