It was Mother’s Day, and Justin Belknap was in the car heading home from church when he received a phone call.
It was from an unfamiliar number, but Belknap recognized the Tucson area code, so he answered the call.
It was Rich Rodriguez.
“Is your mom there?” the Arizona head coach asked.
“Let me talk to her,” Rodriguez said.
Belknap passed the phone to his mom. She immediately started crying.
“I knew right away what it was,” Belknap recalled.
The Arizona Wildcats awarded the redshirt sophomore a full scholarship, rewarding him for his freshman season in which he started 11 games at defensive end.
“It was nice,” Belknap said. “I was focused on it from the financial standpoint. I wasn’t really focused on it from the football standpoint.”
As an out-of-state student, Belknap’s newly-earned scholarship will save his family tens of thousands of dollars, as the estimated cost of tuition for a non-resident at the UA for the 2017-18 academic year is $33,000 — at minimum.
Belknap isn’t sure if Rodriguez meant to share the news on Mother’s Day or if it was just a coincidence, but it turned out to be a heck of a present.
“It was nice for my mom,” Belknap said. “My mom’s a big part of my life and she helps me out with everything I need.
“It was a good day.”
Chuck Cecil is “inspiration for us walk-ons”
Belknap was unaware that Arizona legend Chuck Cecil, who was recently hired to be the football team’s Director of Player Development, was originally a walk-on at Arizona.
Of course, that did not prevent Cecil from becoming one of UA’s best players of all-time and having a successful NFL career (both as a player and coach).
“He was such a big player here and the NFL, so that’s inspiration for all us walk-ons,” Belknap said.
Defensive coordinator Marcel Yates only found out recently that Cecil was a walk-on, too.
“I mean he earned everything he achieved,” Yates said. “So having him in the room with me, with us, and with our team, it’s great.
“He’s already helped me out with — I can’t say what he helped me out with — but he helped me out with a couple things already. And I’m a guy that always wants to learn. I’m not stubborn.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire