Bondurant ready to thrive in Arizona's 3-3-5 defense
Tra’Mayne Bondurant is not a defensive back. Tra’Mayne Bondurant is not a linebacker.
At 5-foot-10, 208-pounds, the sophomore doesn’t have the size to be classified at any position, at least not in the traditional sense of the word.
Tra’Mayne Bondurant is a playmaker.
“Tra’Mayne makes plays, you saw him last year — he’s just a ball-hawk,” linebacker Jake Fischer said. “He’s great at breaking off the ball and just great in coverage. He’s not afraid to step up and hit somebody. I wish we had a few more Tra’Mayne’s because the kid flies around and makes plays every game.”
In new defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel’s newly installed 3-3-5 defense, Bondurant’s role will be more defined, sort of. The sophomore will play the “spur” position, which head coach Rich Rodriguez described as a hybrid between an outside linebacker and a safety.
“The 3-3-5 is a great defense, I love it,” Bondurant said. “I love the whole concept of it — you get to make a lot of plays. I mean it gets everybody involved, you get an opportunity to make plays, to make big hits.”
Making plays is Bondurant’s favorite thing to do, and the “spur” position gives him an even better opportunity to do so.
“It is a playmaking position, you gotta do everything,” Bondurant said. “You have to be ready to take on linemen, tight ends. You also gotta be ready to cover. Its role is very big, one of the most important roles on the defense. Playing that position, coach gave me an opportunity, so I feel responsible and I just want to go out there and play it as hard as I can.”
Rodriguez understands that putting all of that onto the shoulders of a sophomore might be a lot to handle, but the new coach is confident in his ability to handle it.
“Tra’Mayne’s a guy that loves football and he’s a very competitive guy,” Rodriguez said. “I still think he’s got a lot he’s gotta learn yet … (but) I think Tra’Mayne is a football-smart guy.”
Arizona, and its opposition, took notice of Bondurant’s playmaking abilities last season when he was named honorable mention All-Pac-12 as a freshman. If not for multiple injuries to the defense, coupled with the switch from Mike Stoops to Tim Kish as head coach, Bondurant might never have even seen the field.
Instead, he recorded 45 tackles — 42 of which came in the last six games when Kish was interim head coach — and led the Wildcats in tackles three times. Over the last five games of the season, he was the team’s leading tackler, averaging 6.8 per game. Linebackers Paul Vassallo and Derek Earls, the Wildcats’ top tacklers on the season, averaged just 4.6 and 6.4 per game, respectively, in that same time span.
But Bondurant is not dwelling on the past or thinking about why Stoops didn’t want to play him. He’s looking toward a future with Casteel, Rodriguez and his future with the team as it’s currently constructed.
“Last year was last year. I did what I did but I gotta move on and do way better this year,” Bondurant said. “Last year was a good year for me, it was a good start good for me to see how the college game goes.”
The Fairfield, Calif., native’s playmaking abilities haven’t always been limited to the defensive side of the ball, as in high school he thrived at the quarterback position. In his senior year, he completed a remarkable triumvirate of statistics: he threw for 1,906 yards and 22 touchdowns, rushed for 1,011 yards and 16 touchdowns and recorded 102 tackles, two sacks and an interception. Despite his multi-dimensional abilities, Bondurant said it was never a question of what side of the ball he would play on.
“I knew that in college I wasn’t gonna be a quarterback, but I mean I had to transition myself before I came out here and do a lot of work,” Bondurant said. “I always had the defensive mindset in high school, so it wasn’t really much of a transition it was just becoming a better just-defensive player.”