The early message from Arizona's all-new defensive staff was that the Wildcats needed to recruit longer, leaner, rangier defensive backs.
"I'm like, 'I'm right here,'" sophomore safety Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles said with a big grin.
"Long, lean? Hi, I'm here. How you doing?"
Long and not as lean as he once was -- and we mean that in a good way -- Flannigan-Fowles made that comment in the spring when he was trying to make a positive first impression on defensive coordinator Marcel Yates and safeties coach Jahmile Addae.
So far, so good.
With the Wildcats not quite two weeks into fall camp, Flannigan-Fowles is expected to start at safety in what remains a five-man secondary, just like it was under former coordinator Jeff Casteel. Flannigan-Fowles is working at Bandit -- the safety that plays on the boundary (or short) side of the field.
"He's been awesome," Addae said after Monday's practice.
"Now, is he perfect? No. We're asking for perfection, so he'll never be 100 percent, but I will say he's making strides and you can see a difference in him.
"I'd like to say that's all me and beat my chest, but he's come with a work ethic that is second to none. And at this level, that is what you need. If you come with a great work ethic, we'll put you in a position to make plays."
Flannigan-Fowles played important minutes last season as a true freshman, appearing in every game, often as an extra defensive back in passing situations. He finished with 28 tackles, including seven plus a forced fumble in his only start -- against Washington State on Oct. 24.
Flannigan-Fowles intercepted a pass against Northern Arizona.
But when he watches himself on film from last season, it's like watching a stranger -- a stranger with bad footwork who didn't always quickly decipher the chaos around him on every snap.
"I think, 'Dang, I'm not that dude no more,'" he said. "Plain and simple. I'm not him.
"I'm bulked up. I'm going to be more relaxed this season. My head isn't going to be scattering around. I'm going to be more focused and ready to go."
Flannigan-Fowles is listed at 6-foot-2 and 199 pounds, about 20 pounds heavier than when he arrived on campus last summer. Bulked up, he's still long and lean. He looks the way the Arizona coaches (and every other defensive staff in the country) would draw up a rangy, hard-hitting safety.
"He looks the way they're supposed to look," Yates said. "Now, he needs to play the way they're supposed to play."
Fair enough, but that Flannigan-Fowles contributed at all last season -- and showed intriguing potential -- was quite an upset. He didn't even play as a high school senior, ruled ineligible after transferring from Tucson High to Mountain View.
Flannigan-Fowles was originally considered a potential grayshirt candidate in the 2015 class -- meaning he would delay his enrollment until after the season -- but he received academic clearance from the NCAA in the summer, and the Wildcats still had an opening.
He joined the team and led Arizona freshmen in tackles.
"He's bigger and stronger," coach Rich Rodriguez said. "Certainly, he has some experience now. He's a great young man. We're expecting a lot of big things from him."
Flannigan-Fowles said the game didn't begin to slow down for him last season until the season was basically over.
"It didn't really click until New Mexico," he said of Arizona's opponent in the New Mexico Bowl. "During the game, I was like, 'OK, I'm getting used to this now.'
"But, man, honestly, I don't think I did anything well. I was just like an average player out there. I don't like hyping myself up and giving myself credit when I don't feel I deserve any credit. I think I played like a typical freshman."
But that work ethic is driving him to be more than typical as a sophomore. Addae said Flannigan-Fowles is most improved in his "eye discipline" as he's better able to diagnose to diagnose the play and react to it.
"My eyes have gotten better, my mind has gotten better and my footwork has gotten better, so I should be way better than I was last year," he said.
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