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Arizona football training camp: Defensive backs stay competitive with receivers without crossing the line

Cornerbacks coach John Richardson
Arizona Athletics

With Arizona trying to continue to rebuild it defense after giving up the second-most points (36.5) in the Pac-12 last year, cornerbacks coach John Richardson is looking for his defense to compete on every down.

“We’re competitors in the West, that’s what we’re really trying to preach is compete every inch and defend every blade of grass,” Richardson said. “That’s what coaching is, and is always talking about, it’s all about the ball. We got to find a way to force turnovers, you got to find a way to compete with your brother and not let your brother down. So we’re just trying to just build a cohesive unit so everybody does their job, and make sure we have trust among all 11 guys on the field.”

Competition is what brings defenses to their full potential, and redshirt freshman Jai-Ayviauynn Celestine brings fire and a vocal personality to the defense.

“Competitive, athletic, but he’s growing every day,” Richardson said of Celestine, who goes by ‘G7’ for a nickname. “The goal is to continue to coach everybody in the room, continue to grow, but he’s doing some good things out there. He’s raising the competition level. And he loves being a part of the team.”

Another piece of the defense that the coaching staff has continued to see growth from and brings competition to the field has been junior safety Gunner Maldonado.

“Mentally, he’s, he’s more comfortable with what we’re doing and just playing faster,” safeties coach Chuck Cecil said. “I think physically, he’s gotten a lot better. He’s a lot quicker, he’s a lot stronger. He’s a lot bigger and I mean, all those things, combined with the fact that he’s more comfortable. In the defense he just makes plays.”

During training camp, Maldonado has brought pure competitiveness to the safety position, seeing him going back and forth with wide receiver Jacob Cowing. But there’s a line that doesn’t get crossed on the field with teammates.

“Respect is always mandatory,” Richardson said. “I think our guys don’t cross that line as far as respecting another competitor across the line, as well as being teammates. When we leave the field, we leave that stuff on the field, and we compete at a high level. The goal is to push each other to be the best that we can possibly be and then hopefully, we made the game a little bit easier.