One of the biggest unknown components for Arizona this season lies on the defensive line, but the role of redshirt freshman Justin Belknap is not one to overlook.
“You’re going to see me out there making plays,” Belknap said. “Defensive end and rushing the passer are my main responsibilities. All of our coaches have preached aggression and chasing down the ball is the biggest thing I’m looking to do on every snap.”
With only 11 defensive line players listed on Arizona’s roster, Belknap caught the eye of the coaching staff this spring and admits his strong work ethic has him positioned to be a pivotal leader on the defense.
“I’m just always in my playbook,” he said. “Some guys dread reading the playbook, but it’s one of my favorite things to do. It’s the little things like the playbook and paying attention in meetings that go a long way with our coaches.”
Hauling from Coronado High School in the small town of Henderson, Nevada, Belknap never envisioned himself having a vital role as a second year walk-on.
“It’s been a crazy experience for me,” Belknap said. “The thought of playing for a Pac-12 program still blows my mind. Arizona is such a big program doing big things and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”
“Coach Yates and Coach Amey have been 100% supportive of my game and they know what I want to accomplish. Not too many programs spend much time with walk-on players and that made this place stand out.”
One of Belknap’s biggest adjustments to the Division One level has been the pace of play.
“It’s so much faster at the college level,” he said. “Redshirting last year helped me see that, but it doesn’t become obvious until you’re in pads everyday fighting for a starting spot.”
In addition to being a critical threat off the edge, Belknap is prepared to play multiple positions.
“I want to do whatever wins us games,” Belknap said. “You can’t think any other way if you want to accomplish big things. That’s the mindset that all of us have on the D-line.”
“Not only do I want to learn what I have to do, but I want to learn what everyone’s role on the D-line is. You never know what position the coaches will ask you to play and this defense requires a player to do everything.”