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Tevis comes up big for Arizona's defense

Undersized, overlooked Jared Tevis supplies jolt of energy for Arizona's defensive backfield.

TUCSON, Ariz. — He looks likes your average paper boy — the mild-mannered boy-next-door type.


Until you put him in a helmet and pads.


From Tonka truck to Mack Truck. The transformation is tremendous.


“Yes,” said Jared Tevis, Arizona's 5-foot-10-ish, 197-pound safety, “people look at me and, at first glance, you wouldn’t think I’d be where I am at.”


But he’s here — and one of the many Tucsonans on Arizona’s roster getting ready to play in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl on Saturday against Nevada. Growing up in Tucson, he remembers watching a few bowl games Arizona participated in, most recently Arizona’s not-so-memorable 33-0 Holiday Bowl loss to Nebraska in San Diego three years ago. Arizona hasn’t won a bowl game in four years. The Wildcats stayed home for the holidays last year after a 4-8 season.


“We have big expectations for Saturday,” Tevis said. “It feels good to be playing during the holiday season. We missed that last year. It’s good to be back, and I’m glad to be here.”


"Here" is at the center of Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 defense — with scholarship in hand, having earned one after impressing Rich Rodriguez and his new coaching staff during spring drills.


It almost never happened.


Tevis, a standout at Canyon Del Oro High (Ka'Deem Carey's alma mater), was a player without a home until he got a call from former Arizona coach Mike Stoops a month before his freshman year, saying there was a walk-on spot with his name on it.


“He was not going to play football, couldn’t even get a walk-on for NAU (Northern Arizona),” said Tevis' high school coach, Dustin Peace. “Jucos offered him, but all of a sudden Arizona called and he took advantage.”


Peace knew that all Tevis had to do was get a foot in the door — and he’d do the rest.


Tevis has instincts and intangibles you can’t teach.


“He’s a gamer, and people are starting to see that," Peace said. "He does things that don’t come up on tape. Instinctively, he does things that you can’t coach. He just has it. He’s a difference maker.”


The underdog has turned into a Big Dawg.


“That’s what has always driven me,” Tevis said. “I just say, ‘Come watch me play, and maybe I’ll change your mind.' ”


Maybe?


How about definitely?


Tevis’ success is no surprise to his former high school teammate, All-America running back Carey.


“Tevis is a hard-nosed football player and gives it everything he (has) every time he plays,” Carey said. “That’s why I like Tevis. That’s why I think we connect. You never have to worry about him.”


Carey said Tevis is so smart in the game of football, he’s the “coaches’ best friend.”


“He was the king of the high school because everyone loved him,” Carey said. “He was the dude.”


As part of Arizona’s defense, he’s been more than a dude. He’s been a man, starting 10 games as the team’s “bandit” safety and compiling 72 tackles — fourth among all players. He has two interceptions, six pass breakups and three forced fumbles.


And much of his success came after he suffered a horrible-looking ankle sprain against Oregon State in late September that caused him to miss two games and most of a third.


“Well, he was playing really, really well,” Rodriguez said of Tevis. “I think the first couple of weeks back, he just kind of fought through it a little bit, but he's healthy now. He's a good football player, a really good football player.”


Tevis never doubted he would return.


“It was just a matter of time," he said. "I was just hoping to get back as soon as possible.”