Arizona football's Capers excites coaching staff with athleticism
Before the New Mexico Bowl in December, sophomore Tra’Mayne Bondurant had played in 24 straight games for the Wildcats, or every Arizona football game played up to that point in his UA career.
At the “spur” position, a sort of safety-linebacker hybrid, in the Wildcats’ 3-3-5 “odd stack” defense, Bondurant had to be a playmaker. And he was.
He finished second on the Wildcats with 11.5 tackles for loss with two interceptions and two forced fumbles in 2012.
But, in the days leading up to the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 15, Bondurant hurt his ankle in practice and was listed as questionable for the game against Nevada.
Tyler Baker / Arizona Daily Wildcat The University of Arizona's Football during practice on Wednesday April 3.
Enter Wayne Capers Jr.
On a defense decimated by injuries, head coach Rich Rodriguez calling on a freshman or walk-on to fill became commonplace.
But Capers had barely played throughout the season, and he was in the midst of his first ever playing experience as a defensive back. In high school, he was a quarterback, and a basketball player. Never a defensive back.
At Chartiers Valley High School in Pittsburgh, Capers threw for 1,044 yards and 9 touchdowns and ran 59 times for 330 yards and 7 touchdowns. As a guard for Chartier’s basketball team, he scored 17.2 points per game.
“He didn’t have a whole lot of experience playing anything,” Rodriguez said. “He was raw. He was an athlete and a basketball player. Frankly we needed guys, we needed guys at the safety position and he’s got a natural athletic ability.”
Prior to the New Mexico Bowl, Capers had five total tackles in 10 games, mostly coming on special teams, and he dealt with an intestinal problem all season.
Bondurant’s participation was a possibility right up until game time, so Capers wasn’t assured of the starting nod. But he knew it was a possibility.
“I knew it was a possibility the whole week that I was going to start,” Capers said. “It was the beginning of the game where Tra’Mayne warmed up and he couldn’t go and they told me.
“I was mentally prepared all week. He got hurt on a Monday so that whole week I prepared to do what I had to do.”
He finished the game with seven tackles, including one for loss, as the Wildcats defeated the Wolf Pack 49-48. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means — it was his first-ever start, as a freshman, after all — but he did enough to impress Rodriguez about his future.
Don’t expect him to challenge Bondurant for his starting job anytime soon, but Capers’ athleticism excites the Wildcats coaching staff.
“Wayne has a good feel for the game,” said new safeties coach Matt Caponi. “He seems comfortable out there. He’s extremely athletic but understands that athleticism alone wont cut it. He’s easy to coach and if he keeps working like he has this spring and how I expect him to work, he’ll make an impact.”
Height/Weight: 6-foot-1, 201 pounds
2012 Stats: 11 games (1 start), 12 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 forced fumble, 1 pass breakup
Quote: “Hes a good athlete, he’s a quiet guy, but as he grows into his role I think he can have a really good career here.” — Rich Rodriguez
The Daily Wildcat spoke with Capers recently about his transition moving across country, the transition to defensive back and much more.
On his experience in the New Mexico Bowl:
That was something I’ll remember for a long time. It was a great experience. My teammates helped me out, helped me adapt to the speed that I wasn’t normal to the whole year.
On his relationship with Bondurant:
Every time I came to the sidelines he had something to tell me, told me what I was doing wrong and make sure I don’t do it again and made sure I’m helping the team instead of hurting it.
“I’ve learned a lot. He’s been a big bro to me just watching me and telling me what I’ve done wrong. Where my eyes should be, where my feet should be at the same time. He’s really been that person there for me since I’m so far away from home I don’t have anyone else watching me.
On being so far from home in Pittsburgh:
It’s difficult. It was harder at first but now I’m starting to adapt.
On the transition from offense to defense:
Sometimes, sometimes it affects me because I’m used to looking for the ball instead of keeping my eye on the man so that’s something I had to adjust to.
On the departure of former safeties coach Tony Gibson, who left for West Virginia:
I’ve known him for years. Always been one of his recruits, I’ve always gone where he was. It was all of a sudden. It was hard at first, I thought about leaving but this is where I’m supposed to be. I talk to coach Gibson all the time, so it’s nice to have him leave and still keep communication with me.