Cornerback Antoine Cason is considered to be the top cornerback in the nation by many analysts. And he's even got the hardware to prove it.
After deciding to return to Arizona for his senior year, Cason earned the Jim Thorpe Award, presented to the top defensive back in the country. The 6-foot tall, 191-pound defender made his case by grabbing five interceptions and returning two of them for touchdowns in 2007. He also made 71 tackles, including 57 solo shots, four tackles for a loss, one sack, defended 14 passes, forced two fumbles and even averaged 10-yards per return while fielding punts.
As a result of his outstanding work, Cason also became the first Arizona player to win All-Pac-10 honors on both defense and special teams in the same season.
Amazingly, though, the shutdown cornerback still has some doubters somewhere out there among the crowd of fans, media and draft prognosticators.
Undeterred by the rumblings, Cason proceeded to reaffirm his claim to the top spot at his position in this year's draft class with a 4.45-second 40-time at the Combine, quieting some rumors that he couldn't run that fast.
Scout.com's Ed Thompson spoke to the talented and confident cornerback a few days before his school's pro day about his accomplishments, his Combine experience, and how he's handled the unwarranted criticism after such an impressive college career.
Ed Thompson: Talk a bit about winning the Jim Thorpe Award after returning to school for your senior season...
Antoine Cason: It was a longtime goal of mine to win the Jim Thorpe Award, honoring the best defensive back in the nation. Over the past four years I feel I've consistently made plays and gotten better through hard work, listening to coaches, being coachable, and my leadership attributes. So after my junior year, when I came back, that was one of my goals — to be the best. I knew it wasn't guaranteed, but through hard work it could be attainable for me. It was an honor winning it and I feel like I deserved it because of how I played and the confidence I had in playing the game.
Antoine Cason reacts after making a big play.
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Thompson: A lot of people want to be the best, but they don't have the determination and focus to make it happen. Where does your dedication to that goal come from?
Cason: I'm a self-motivator, it just seemed to come natural to me. As a younger kid I was always competitive with my family. We have a family of about 22 cousins and a lot of them are boys and we always played football. I always wanted my team to win. Just being a competitor and a winner, I just don't like losing. A lot of people said I couldn't do it, and I knew I could, so I went out there and did it.
Thompson: Have you had any contact with last year's Jim Thorpe winner, Aaron Ross, who was a first-round pick by the Giants last year?
Cason: Yes, I did. When I went to the Jim Thorpe presentation banquet, they have a separate banquet for the winner and past winners and some of the high school All-State guys. And Ross and Michael Huff came back. It was great to see those guys, past winners, they had good advice on going into the NFL. It helped me a lot talking to him and just seeing how he handled himself. It was great.
Thompson: What was the most valuable piece of advice he passed on to you?
Cason: Hard work pays off. Every week it's someone good. Sometimes in college you get a receiver who you say "oh, I could take him a little lighter than the next one." But the way Aaron Ross said it to me — he played at Texas — he said it's like playing Oklahoma every week. Just take care of your body, work hard, and be on time.
Thompson: You and a friend raised over $7,000 for cancer research. Tell me more about that experience and what motivated you to do that.
Cason: Matt Brooks did a lot of work, and we did a lot of work together. I can't thank him enough for all we've accomplished. Community service was always something I wanted to get into because, when I was a kid, I always knew how it felt to look up to the college players and I could see it was that way with the kids in Tuscon. So just giving back made me feel that much better about who I was around Tuscon, not just an athlete, but as a person who cared about the young guys or girls who wanted to be whatever they wanted to be. And I hope I inspired them.
Thompson: You've started every game of your college career. Was it intimidating for you at all when you started as a freshman?
Cason: I was totally excited about it. I wasn't intimidated at all. When I was senior in high school and we would go to college games, my father always said, "You can start in this league, you can play in this league." At that time I probably couldn't have as a high school senior. But having that confidence, hearing him say that, I believed it. So coming into college, I believed it and went out and worked for it. It didn't come easy, but when it happened I was just excited and ready to play.
Thompson: You had 15 career interceptions. What do you think is your secret to success in that area?
Cason: The way I prepare hard every week — week in and week out — a positive attitude towards the game, paying attention to my coaches, and my teammates. In the secondary, helping other guys communicate can help your secondary be on the same page. The other corners played well and I give them a lot credit. With them playing well it helps me, of course.
Cason on the move following an interception against California in 2006.
AP Photo/ Wily Low
Thompson: You have a nice knack for your timing your leaps and you have great hands. Did you ever think about playing wide receiver? Or have you always wanted to be on defense?
Cason: I love defense. When I was a little younger in high school, I went to some camps — and even before high school, I had guys asking if I wanted to be a receiver because they thought I could play it. I like the position, but I always wanted to play corner, defense was my thing.
Thompson: I think you have one of the most unusual situations I've encountered out of the members of this draft class because despite the career you've had and the numbers you've posted, it seems like some people still doubt you. What's that do to you mentally?
Cason: It definitely toughens me up. I was told a lot of times — even before the Combine — after the season students and family would come to me and tell me that there were things online saying I was going to have a horrible Combine. I didn't understand it, but it was just fuel to my fire once again. I feel I have to prove myself every time I go out, so that's what I go out and do. It's always crazy to hear those things. I don't really look for it, but when I hear it, it's more fire.
Thompson: Was your Combine experience pretty much what you expected it to be?
Cason: No, definitely not. I didn't really go in with expectations because I didn't want to be let down or caught off guard. I decided I was going to be myself and do the things I was taught to do. It was a great experience seeing all of those guys in one place and all the teams and coaches you grew up watching on the sidelines, and you're getting interviewed by them. It felt really good. I was humbled by the experience.
Thompson: Which of the coaches you met really boggled your mind as you sat there talking to them?
Cason: Andy Reid, my brother's a big fan of him. John Fox, Marvin Lewis, Romeo Crenel — all of those guys. It was crazy to see those guys in a room talking to you. I even saw Mean Joe Greene in there. It was just a great experience.
Thompson: Were there any events you wish you could have done better? And were there any that you were surprised by?
Cason: Definitely not. I went in there with high hopes, high expectations of myself because I didn't expect anything less. I feel that's the confidence level you have to have as a cornerback and as a football player. I went in there and set goals for myself and I feel good about what I obtained there.
Thompson: What would people be surprised to learn about you as a person?
Cason: They would be surprised to know that I'm a humble guy. I'm just laid-back, relaxed and whoever I come across, I'm willing to just talk to them and not be a guy that's ahead of myself.
Thompson: What are you most proud of from your collegiate career?
Cason: I'm most proud of being around the guys, my teammates and being one of the leaders on that team. I feel that the guys that came in helped turn the program around from where it was, even though sometimes the record doesn't show it. The guys have a lot more camaraderie about them now. And that's what I'm most proud of, is how the team responded in difficult situations.
Patriots Player Interest / Visitor List