African discus champ’s Arizona education includes football

TUCSON, Ariz. — Gerhard De Beer has been in Tucson all of three weeks and what he’s learned on the football field is, well, priceless.

Who knows? Maybe one day it’ll all be worth millions.

But first, De Beer, a 6-foot-7, 250-pound native of Pretoria, South Africa, must take baby steps (can a man that large take baby steps?) in learning all the intricacies of America’s version of football.

Like, you don’t get into a four-point stance when you’re playing tight end. And you don’t line up far from the rest of the line. (Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez got a kick out of it demonstrating De Beer’s error at media day.)

What Rodriguez is really getting pleasure from is De Beer’s potential. Arizona has him listed as a defensive lineman, but he could fit in just about anywhere.
De Beer is like a modern day Bruce Jenner.

Of course, having grown up in South Africa, De Beer has no idea who Jenner is, even though he’s in Tucson on a track and field scholarship.

De Beer was a junior national champion in the discus and will miss the Wildcats’ first game next week because he’ll be at a meet.

“I’ve never played football until two weeks ago,” De Beer said.

But, he has played rugby. And well. When the Arizona coaches found out he played rugby and could kick a ball 70 yards, they had him try it. Two weeks ago, he was consistently getting that kind of distance kicking the football.

“He can kick the ball,” Rodriguez said. “He has no technique and no form… he’s a rugby guy.”

But he’s fit in quickly — entertaining his teammates at their annual talent show with a 10-minute comedy routine — and has demonstrated plenty of potential.

“I think he knows how to put on his pads on now,” Rodriguez joked. “I don’t know if he has them on the right side or not, but what a great kid and a lot of fun, Everything is new to him. He’s got some skills. I could see him playing for us at some point.”

Probably not this year, however. He’s just too raw. But he does enjoy the sport, one he says he was inspired to play after hearing that Margus Hunt, a discus thrower from Estonia, was thought of so highly after walking on and eventually earning a scholarship at Southern Methodist that he decided to travel the same path. Hunt was drafted in the second round as a defensive lineman by the Cincinnati Bengals.

“It’s really fun; I enjoy playing football,” he said. “I enjoy every aspect of it. Everyone is a down-to-earth guy (at Arizona) with a great attitude. And the coaching staff is just brilliant.”

De Beer said Rodriguez was coach with a “strong personality and a strong leader. He’s a very inspiring man.”

And a bit intimidating. When asked if he’s figured out if he’s going to sit out the season as a redshirt or if he might find a way on the field a time or two, De Beer said he wasn’t sure … with good reason.

“I guess I could go (see) Coach Rod, but I haven’t asked that,” De Beer said. “You go into Coach Rod’s office and you get sweaty palms and stuff. It’s an intense thing.”

Until then, he’ll continue to learn not to get in a four-point stance and not block players in the back. And, oh yes, enjoy the campus he had never seen before arriving as a student.

“(My) eyes were big, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” he said of his first impression of UA. “This campus is so beautiful. The facility is great. The locker rooms, everything. It’s everything I’ve imagined and so much more.”