TUCSON, Ariz. — For Connor Brewer and DaVonte’ Neal, you can go home again.
OK, Tucson isn’t Phoenix — simmer down, Arizona and Arizona State fans — but it is Arizona, and apparently close enough for the former Scottsdale Chaparral stars. And, like the proverb says, you make a home where the living is best.
For Brewer (a transfer from Texas), Neal (Notre Dame) and Cayleb Jones (Texas), Tucson and the University of Arizona are now home.
“Texas is a great program and they have a great coach (Mack Brown), but I needed a new place and a new home,” said Brewer, a pocket passer who transferred to Arizona last month to be closer to home and play with his former Chaparral High School coach, Charlie Ragle, who now works with UA’s offensive line.
“Coming here is perfect. There’s family (nearby). I just needed a new home. I’m the kind of kid where I can be fine where I go, but being home helps.”
Ditto for Neal, an elite talent at receiver/running back who was the state’s top recruit out of Chaparral two years ago and picked the Fighting Irish over the Wildcats. He played sparingly at Notre Dame his freshman year, primarily returning punts, but it hasn’t yet been determined whether he’ll be eligible to play this season. The NCAA typically requires a redshirt year for transfer, but Neal has petitioned to be able to play right away.
“I’m fitting in very well, so I can’t complain,” Neal said. “I’m good either way.”
As for his time in South Bend, what Notre Dame did was “teach me how to be a man and be coachable,” he said. “It was a great learning experience just being there.”
Now, he returns to what he calls a family at Arizona — and his immediate family is just up the road. But does he feel the pressure of the high expectations and increased recognition that come from playing in his home state?
“I think there is less pressure for the Arizona guys,” he said. “Your family is here, and that takes a lot of pressure off you. You just have to go out and play.”
Jones, a 6-foot-3 wide receiver who will sit out the season, feels the same way. Coming to Arizona means a fresh start after an altercation with a fellow Texas athlete over a female student in the spring. While in Austin, Jones was charged with felony aggravated assault for hitting a player on Texas’ men’s tennis team. Charges were reduced to a misdemeanor, but he was suspended for the first game and decided a fresh start was for the best.
“I wanted a change, a restart,” Jones said. “I wanted to be around new people and new culture of people. There’s no better place to start. I want to make a new first impression, to be able to play in a system where I will be able to contribute.”
That sentiment was echoed by Neal when asked, simply, what made Arizona his choice.
“We see what Rich Rod is doing and want to feed into it and be a part of what’s going on,” Neal said. “I’m just trying to go out and practice and get bigger, stronger. I’m trying to do my part in making this team better.”
Brewer says he’s doing the same, albeit with the knowledge that he won’t be able to play until at least next season. But the decision to sign with Arizona was, in his words, “a no-brainer” after opting to leave Texas.
Brewer looked good in Saturday’s scrimmage, connecting on his first pass and leading the offense to a touchdown on his first series.
“I felt comfortable,” he said. “Coming from a school like Texas, it really prepares you to be a player.”
Growing up in Austin, however, doesn’t prepare you for living in Tucson. Jones, who said he had been in Phoenix a time or two to visit his uncle, former Cardinals quarterback Jeff Blake, said there are some significant differences he’s still adjusting to in terms of the climate (Austin is more humid) and the landscape.
“The mountains are crazy; I have never seen anything like it,” said Jones, whose father, Robert, played for the Cowboys. “I’ve seen it on TV. But they are unbelievable and so different than I’m used to.”