An Arizona player wearing No. 55 came in for offense during the second quarter Saturday night. That was curious. There has not been a No. 55 on the roster.
Turns out, the new guy is an old guy.
No. 55 for the Wildcats is senior Jowyn Ward, a defensive tackle who has been practicing at offensive guard for all of about two weeks.
“I wish I would have moved him in the spring,” coach Rich Rodriguez said after a 56-0 victory over South Carolina State.
“I think he would have been in the mix. But at the time we were still looking for guys defensively. He’s clearly a second-team guard. He got a lot of reps today.”
In addition to seeing some time in the first half, Ward (6-2, 282) played with the second-team unit in the fourth quarter when backup quarterback B.J. Denker came into the game.
That line was, from left: Shane Zink, Cayman Bundage, Addison Bachman, Ward and Lene Maiava.
Ward started three games at defensive tackle last season and had 11 tackles in 19 career games entering the season. But with Arizona moving to a three-man front under new coordinator Jeff Casteel, and having an ample number of bodies up front, Ward was squeezed out of playing time on defense.
“He’s growing up pretty fast in practice the last two weeks,” said senior center Kyle Quinn.
“He’s got good feet. He’s big and strong. The second quarter, we rotated him in and he was a little nervous at first, but he was out there playing fast.”
Quinn’s advice to Ward?
“Just go fast and block the guy in front of you,” he said. “You can’t go wrong with that idea.”
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While the coaches switched Ward to offense with an eye for immediate help this season, they moved another player this week with an eye on the future. Redshirt freshman Dame Ndiaye is now a tight end.
Ndiaye (6-4, 220) arrived from San Diego’s Hoover High — the same school that produced basketball classmate Angelo Chol — as an athletically raw defensive end. Coaches tried him at outside linebacker in spring and fall camp, and now will see how his skills translate to offense.
He had a day or so of practice on offense before playing in the fourth quarter when the Wildcats went deep into the bench vs. the Bulldogs.
“I don’t even know if he knows how to get into a stance,” Rodriguez said with a smile. “He didn’t jump offsides. I’ll have to see the film to see if he blocked somebody.”
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Two defensive players who figure to be in the playing rotation made their season debuts Saturday night after missing the first two games because of injuries.
Sophomore defensive end Dan Pettinato (knee) played in the first half, and sophomore linebacker Hank Hobson (shoulder) came in after halftime. Each was credited with three solo tackles.
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Two true freshman linebackers — Dakota Conwell and C.J. Dozier — shed their potential redshirt seasons on Saturday night.
Conwell, coming back from a foot injury suffered in camp, had the team’s only sack against South Carolina State. Dozier drew positive reviews in the spring as an early enrollee but slipped on the depth chart in fall camp.
According to participation charts from the school, Arizona has played nine true freshmen. They are:
OL Cayman Bundage, DB Jamar Allah, DB William Parks, OLB/DE Keoni Bush-Loo, DB Wayne Capers Jr., S/LB Anthony Lopez, RB J.T. Washington, Conwell and Dozier. Most of their contributions have been on special teams.