At the worst of times, Arizona senior defensive lineman Tevin Hood had a friend on the coaching staff.
Head coach Rich Rodriguez had sent Hood home with his parents from the New Mexico Bowl for fighting on the sideline with teammate Cody Ippolito, missing the thrilling finish as the Wildcats scored twice in the final minute to defeat Nevada 49-48.
Hood said he got a phone call within five minutes after the game. It was defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich.
“He told me that whatever happened, he’s going to go to bat for me,” Hood said this week. “I know if I have him in my corner, I really wasn’t worried about too much.”
Hood and Ippolito, a linebacker, did work themselves back in Rodriguez’s good graces after the bowl game and were ready to go at the start of spring ball. Hood gives the Wildcats something they otherwise lack — a true 300-pounder in the middle of the defensive line.
“Tevin is the toughest son of a bitch I’ve got,” Kirelawich said.
“I like Tevin. I love the way he plays. I think he’s a hard-noser. I think he’s dependable. I think he’s every good thing you can say about a football player. …
“He’s an all-around guy. He’s good in the weight room. He’s good in the classroom. And he’s good in the meeting room. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Hood — who began his career at Duke before transferring to the University of San Diego and then walking on at Arizona after the 2011 season — started three games last season, including the final two, displacing junior Sione Tuihalamaka.
Hood made 26 tackles, three for loss, and forced a key fumble against USC that Arizona recovered during its second-half rally en route to victory.
Hood doesn’t necessarily have to have big stats in the middle of the 3-3-5 defense, but he needs to successfully occupy a couple of blockers and the let the linebackers be free to attack the line of scrimmage. At 6-feet tall, Hood is a fireplug, tough to uproot.
“People say it’s a weakness, but I’m short, so the offense can’t really get underneath me and displace me,” he said. “I play heavy and can play big, and I think that lets me anchor the nose.”
Hood is on his way to being a cornerstone of the defensive line, but exactly what the three-man front will look like won’t be determined until the fall. The line is missing a few players this spring due to injury. Six defensive linemen who started at least one game last season return, but the Wildcats are desperate for pass rushers after coming up with a scant 16 sacks in 2012.
“When we switched to the 3-3-5, it was more of a learning experience for all us and we played more base defense,” Hood said. “But we’re integrating more blitzes and more packages. Coach Kirlav is letting us kind of do our thing inside and that’s allowing us to have high production.”
Kirelawich (pronounced “Kerr-LAV-itch”) is an old-school, cigar-chomping coach who won’t be impressed by anything less than full effort. So his endorsement of Hood should not be taken as common coaching platitudes.
“He’s smart. He’s a good guy. A really good guy. A good guy to coach,” Kirelawich said. “I’m glad he’s on our team.”
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Here is what Kirelawich had to say about some other members of the defensive front:
Junior defensive end Reggie Gilbert: “I like Reg. I think Reg is a good pad-under-pad guy. I would like to see Reg with a little more of a sense of urgency, but I think Reg is a tough kid. I think he’s a dependable guy. He’s got to learn to play through some little injuries along the way. I think Reg has done a good job this spring and he’ll continue to get better.”
Redshirt freshman Dwight Melvin: “Long way to go. Long way to go. And that’s on Dwight Melvin. Dwight Melvin will get there when he decides to get there. There is a part of me that thinks he has the tools to do what he’s doing. Now, he has to tie it all together. … I need to see more hustle, I need to see more sense of urgency, I need to see more of a lot of things out of him. Now, does he have the tools? Yeah, I think he has the tools. He’s a big, strong kid. He moves OK. He should be better than he is right now after 11 practices, and I will tell him that to his face.”
Redshirt freshman Kyle Kelley: “I think out of all the kids, he’s come the furthest in the spring. He may have a lot longer to go, but I think he’s improved. I think he’s another guy who tries like hell, shows up, does a good job for us. Is he game ready? I don’t know yet. He’ll determine that in summer camp, but he’s moving in that direction.”