By Charles Renning
CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Junior free safety Darrell Brooks, center, and freshmen cornerbacks Wilrey Fontenot, left, and Antoine Cason each recorded an interception during the Wildcats' 21-3 win over NAU last weekend.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, September 10, 2004
Senior free safety Brooks counted on to help mold freshmen cornerbacks Fontenot and Cason
There's a reason cornerbacks Wilrey Fontenot and Antoine Cason didn't play like freshmen in the Wildcats' season-opening victory over Northern Arizona University last weekend.
It might have something to do with their big brother.
Fontenot and Cason aren't related, and as a matter of fact, neither is their "older brother," junior safety Darrell Brooks.
But the trio became a family the moment it stepped on the UA campus, and the results can already be seen.
Fontenot, Cason and Brooks each picked off a pass and totaled 20 tackles, three forced fumbles and one Pacific 10 Conference Defensive Player of the Week award - and the season is just one week old.
"Darrell Brooks is a great player, and I look up to him," said Cason, who recorded 13 tackles, two forced fumbles and one interception on way to the Pac-10 weekly defensive honors. "He makes me feel comfortable in the backfield with him."
Comfort level was the key in Cason and Fontenot's first game, and both attributed that to their junior captain and his ability to communicate with them.
"He does help direct things out there," said defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Mark Stoops. "I think there's more of a comfort zone from all the defensive backs when he's out there."
Going into the pair's first game Saturday, Fontenot said he and Cason were over-anxious during the opening minutes of the contest.
"We were so pumped up for that first quarter, we were running around making mistakes," said Fontenot. "He just told us to relax."
After the duo settled into the game, Brooks got the secondary into a groove.
"That's when we started making plays," said Fontenot.
In the Wildcats' opener, Fontenot was the team's third-leading tackler with five takedowns, and ignited the Wildcats' defense with the game's first interception.
The relationship between Fontenot and Brooks began at the start of last season, when Fontenot came in and redshirted his first year at Arizona.
Brooks went through a similar experience his first year with the Wildcats when he redshirted and was then thrust into a starting cornerback role.
"When I went through my redshirt year, he was there for me, he told me, 'Be patient. Your time will come,'" Fontenot said.
Brooks has also been a good resource for the two young corners because he experienced a lot of the things they are going through and knows what they can expect.
"My first game, very first play, they tried to go 80 yards deep on me," said Brooks, remembering his first action in a Wildcat uniform. "I just told (Cason and Fontenot) to be prepared and be confident in yourself and know you can play well.
"I told them people would (test) them. Being young and inexperienced, a lot of teams feel they can come out and exploit you," he said.
Brooks has not only been a vocal leader for the pair, he has also set an impression by the way he works.
Both Fontenot and Cason cited Brooks' efforts in practice and in the weight room as an example of how hard work in those two areas equates to success on the field.
Brooks was the team's third-leading tackler last season on his way to an All-Pacific 10 Conference honorable mention nod.
The defensive secondary will have an even tougher test this weekend with No. 17 Utah, but few within the program think there will be a falloff from its performance last week.
"I don't think it will have anything to do with their heads," Stoops said of the possibility of bigger egos after last week's breakout performance. "The challenge will be bigger," Stoops said. "As a defensive back, especially a corner, you better be able to prove it on every play."
Even Cason was ready to get back to work after finding out he was awarded the Pac-10 Player of the Week honors.
"I was excited, but it just made me want to work that much harder in practice," he said.
Brooks' work ethic is already wearing off on the young pair, and it doesn't stop on the field.
In the last several months, the trio has become closer off the field, which has led to more success on the field.
"We're real tight; you'd be amazed," Brooks said. "We hang out all the time. I like to think I'm like a big brother to them. Whatever they need, they know I'm there."
"We're a closer unit. We have each others' backs no matter what," Fontenot said.
"They're your family away from home."