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There may be a time down the road when DaVonte’ Neal reflects on his football career and says, “I should have moved from offense to defense a long time ago.”
If that turns out to be the case, well, that’ll be a good thing for the fourth-year junior who’s still trying to find his sweet spot with the Arizona Wildcats.
“It’s why I’m over there,” said Neal, who earlier this year asked to move from receiver to defensive back. “DB is a passion for me. It’s where I want to be. It’s not that offense didn’t work, but my love is somewhere else (now). And it’s on defense.”
Sometimes first-loves don’t work out and second ones do. That’s Neal’s hope.
Neal’s natural athletic ability should help with the transition to cornerback, where the Wildcats have a young and mostly untested group of players headed by sophomores-to-be Jarvis McCall (the most seasoned) and Cam Denson. Others in the mix are freshmen Jace Whittaker and Devin Brewer and sophomore Kwesi Mashak.
Progress will come in small steps and a few hundred quick backpedals. One doesn’t learn a whole new position overnight, but through more than 10 spring practices — and the rest of this week and summer to improve — Neal is headed in the right direction for what he hopes is a life-changing decision to move from pass catcher to catch preventer.
“It’s been good,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said of Neal’s switch. “He’s learning. It’s all new in what he’s learning.”
Rodriguez joked the one big difference is Neal is running about a 1/3 less than what he used to as a slot receiver.
“His legs are much fresher,” Rodriguez said.
Catch up on Steve Rivera’s reports at FoxSportsArizona.com
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Steve Rivera and Anthony Gimino released a book late last year about the pertinent stories behind what has made Arizona basketball what it is today. It is a must-read for any college basketball fan. Please contact Rivera by e-mail to inquire about buying a copy.
Steve Rivera is a longtime Tucson sports journalist was the Arizona basketball beat reporter for the Tucson Citizen for almost 20 years. He presently is a writer for FoxSportsArizona.com. He also is a guest analyst on KCUB (1290-AM) and editor-in-chief of Tucson-based Tail Winds magazine.