Arizona Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez jumped out of his chair with a big smile on his face. He was talking about his freshman walk-on from South Africa.
Rodriguez was explaining how the coaches moved Gerhard De Beer — a youth discus thrower of some renown who is guzzling the basics of football as if they were shot out of a fire hose — from defensive end to tight end early in fall camp.
The coaches asked De Beer to split out wide. He obliged. Rodriguez demonstrated what happened next as he promptly dropped into a four-point stance like an offensive lineman.
Rodriguez chuckled at the memory while chatting up reporters at last weekend’s team media day.
“I said, ‘No, that’s not exactly how you want to line up,’” Rodriguez said.
No, not exactly. But that’s OK. This worthwhile football experiment — the coaches had to show De Beer how to put on shoulder pads — has been a lot of fun in fall camp. It might just pay off some day. You never know.
It helps that the 19-year-old De Beer (6-7, 250) looks sculpted by the same DNA as Rob Gronkowski.
“Everything is new to him. Every day is like Christmas,” Rodriguez said. “But he has some skills. I can see him playing for us at some point.”
De Beer played rugby growing up in Pretoria, South Africa. He won a bronze medal at the 2012 World Junior Track and Field Championships in Barcelona.
“I did some research on YouTube. I watched a game on TV,” he said.
“My knowledge of the game is very limited. I don’t even know all the rules. We did kickoff drills, and when I tried to block somebody, I pushed him in the back. He got mad at me. I didn’t know why. Apparently, I’m not allowed to block him from behind.”
So, here’s the story of how De Beer ended up about 10,000 miles away from home, trying to play a sport he researched on YouTube:
He has a cousin, Simone du Toit, who was a thrower on the SMU track and field team. That’s how he learned of Estonian-born Margus Hunt, a world-class athlete in the discus and shot put who joined the SMU football team after the school dropped the track program.
Hunt, as a freakishly athletic defensive end, had 16.5 career sacks and blocked 17 kicks. He is now a rookie with the Cincinnati Bengals.
“Basically, his story inspired me to also be an NFL draftee,” De Beer said.
As for how he ended up at Arizona, he said the Wildcats, notably throwing coach Craig Carter, started to recruit him after the 2012 World Junior Championships.
“Coach Carter comes highly recommended. He has had some world-class athletes, like Julie Labonte,” De Beer, adding that he is also friends with UA thrower Jordan Young through international competition.
“I wanted a good coach and to train against constant competition. … They contacted me, and I was like, ‘OK, I can go to America.’”
And everyone agreed to let De Beer, who is on a track scholarship, try football.
“I like the adventure of trying something new,” he said.
His background in rugby helps. He said that’s a more physical game.
“In football, you get all these pads and helmets and stuff,” De Beer said. “In rugby, you don’t get that. You bump your head, you bump your head. You get a concussion. That’s too bad.”
He told the coaches after an early practice that he could kick the ball. Sure enough. He started booming 70-yard punts. The biggest punter in America?
“He can kick the ball,” Rodriguez said. “He has no technique, no form whatsoever. Typical rugby guy.”
It doesn’t seem likely that De Beer will play this season — he won’t even be at next Friday’s season-opener because he’ll be at an international track and field event — but he said Sunday he’s too intimidated by RichRod to even ask about his status.
“Going into Coach Rod’s office, you get all sweaty palms and stuff,” he said. “It’s an intense thing.”
So, we’ll see. For now, it’s a fun story. He has brightened up camp just with his personality. Rodriguez said De Beer “had us rolling” when he did a stand-up comedy routine at the team’s freshman talent show.
Football-wise, Arizona and De Beer can hope this will end up as successfully as Hunt’s transition.
“I can catch the ball. I can run routes,” De Beer said. “I’m not the fastest, I’m not the strongest, but I certainly have the will to try.”
* * *
DE BEER ON TWITTER
Football camp tomorrow from Aug 3rd!! Ready or not, here comes the BOOM!!!
— Gerhard de Beer (@Tarzan_Football) August 3, 2013
At the end of the the camp. Learning a lot but I have a looong way to go #Confused
— Gerhard de Beer (@Tarzan_Football) August 11, 2013
Had real fun at practice. Haha got passed the ball the first time and had a good run with it!!
— Gerhard de Beer (@Tarzan_Football) August 16, 2013