If you’re looking for the next defensive star to come out of nowhere for the Arizona Wildcats, look no further than cornerback Dane Cruikshank, a junior college transfer from Citrus College.
After redshirting last year, Cruikshank looks like he’ll be able to take one of the two starting corner spots this year.
Redshirting last season may have been more beneficial than if he had been thrust into a crucial position right away at Arizona.
"I’m thankful I did," he said about redshirting. "It put me in a position to make plays this year, and I’m more mature, more ready and I’m picking up schemes much faster. I’m just blessed to have redshirted last year."
Standing at 6-foot-1, 204 pounds, the size is what makes him a cut above the rest.
"He’s an athletic, tall, long, strong guy," head coach Rich Rodriguez said of the redshirt junior. "He’s right in the battle. I don’t know who the starters are but he’s going to be competing for one of the positions. He’s got a chance to make some plays and he has good ball skills."
"He’s learning the game and he’s being coached by a guy that is very detail-oriented," defensive coordinator Marcel Yates added about Cruikshank. "His learning curve is coming along much further as a corner."
"Dane is a unique talent," Arizona cornerbacks coach Donte’ Williams tacked on. "Any time you get a guy who’s 6’1", 6’2", 200 pounds and runs a 4.4 or 4.3 (40-yard dash), those guys don’t come around on a daily basis."
Having size is great, but you have to be able to use it to your advantage.
"I try to be physical with every receiver that I go up against," Cruikshank explained. "I try to use my speed and all that stuff; put that all in one package."
"People tell me I’m a prototype NFL corner or whatever, but I’m just trying to play that role."
That’s pretty high praise for Cruikshank and the work he’s put in, but he’s not satisfied with just hearing that.
"It makes me happy, but at the same time I know I gotta work for it," he continued. "There’s not gonna be no handouts, so I’m just working day by day."
As has been the case at Arizona for several years now, there’s a huge variety of wide receivers for Cruikshank to go up against every single day, which is only beneficial for his development as a lockdown corner.
"They really make me work harder and make me earn it," he said. "Makes me ready to go for Saturday nights."
So what’s he focusing on before that first Saturday night?
"To be honest, I just want to become a smarter football player," Cruikshank divulged. "I feel like I have all the skills and I can do everything. I just want to become smarter."
"Me sitting out, I was seeing what other guys were doing right and what they were doing wrong," he added about redshirting last season and learning the game. "That helped me to put me in position to make plays."
Arizona’s corner play definitely has to get better in 2016, and with a guy like Cruikshank now in the mix, we should expect an improvement from that position group.