Johnny Jackson was the most pleasant surprise of spring drills, a walk-on-turned-contributor who forced his way into coaches' plans by doing things the right way.
With 15 days remaining before the Arizona Wildcats' Sept. 1 opener against Toledo, Jackson has evolved into more than just feel-good column fodder.
"Johnny," coach Rich Rodriguez said, "is gonna play."
Heck, he might start.
The 5-foot-10-inch, 179-pound Jackson played slot receiver with the first-team offense in last week's Fort Huachuca scrimmage, and projects as a major contributor in the transitional season.
Jackson will be asked to do a little bit of everything in the Wildcats' spread-option offense, whether it's blocking, catching screens or going deep. Jackson has more autonomy at the line of scrimmage; he can change his routes depending on how the defense is playing him.
The receiver said his training camp success has been "a good experience" - though it's not the ultimate goal.
"The next step is playing," he said. "I really want to get on the field. I feel like I'm ready to contribute. I'm just trying to work my way into that rotation."
Jackson joined the team last fall following a stellar career at San Diego's St. Augustine High School. In his final two seasons with the Saints, Jackson rushed for 823 yards, racked up 560 receiving yards and scored 10 touchdowns.
Jackson's size scared off many larger schools; it wasn't until one of his former high school coaches reached out to ex-UA assistant Jeff Hammerschmidt, the Wildcats' San Diego recruiter, that Jackson considered walking on at the UA. He went largely ignored as a freshman in 2011.
Rodriguez's hiring, and the UA's shift to, well, shiftier receivers helped Jackson's chances of contributing. He led the team in yards and receptions during three spring scrimmages.
Coaches love Jackson's versatility, character and work ethic.
"Johnny works extremely hard," receivers coach Tony Dews said. "He's very attentive; it's important to him, and it shows. He works his tail off, he prepares practice-wise like it's important to him, and it shows when he gets out there.
"He's been working hard, and he's made some plays."
And if he keeps it up, Jackson could find himself on scholarship. The UA has filed a waiver with the NCAA that would allow Jackson to be added to the 85-man scholarship rolls without counting against the 2013 recruiting class.
"He's done enough that we certainly think that if we have room for a scholarship, then he's right there in line - he's next in line - to get one," Rodriguez said. "He's really proven himself."
Ebbele learns from spring suspension
Offensive tackle Fabbians Ebbele said he was frustrated after being suspended for nearly all of spring drills for his role in a fight at a campus-area house party.
But Ebbele said he never considered transferring, even as he faced assault charges that were later dropped.
"I wasn't going to quit," he said. "If it got bad and I knew I did something wrong, maybe. But I didn't. I knew I was going to stay here the whole time."
Ebbele and nickel-back Jourdon Grandon were reinstated over the summer, after the charges facing them were dropped.
The tackle said he was "a little off, a little rusty" at the start of training camp, but has since gotten used to the pace of practices. The 6-foot-8-inch, 310-pound sophomore has been backing up starters Mickey Baucus and Lene Maiava so far, but could end up starting. Ebbele played in all 12 games a year ago, starting 11 times.
The Wildcats hope to have eight serviceable linemen ready for their opener, Rodriguez said. Ideally, coaches want five starters and backups at center, guard and tackle.
"I'm not sure we're there yet," Rodriguez said, "but we're working toward that."
Ebbele said the spring suspension and subsequent reinstatement taught him a few life lessons.
"The decision-making process, the people you let influence your decision and everything like that," he said. "I've got to be smarter with everything I do."
Camp closes with talent show
The Wildcats will hold their final practice of training camp this afternoon before being shuttled to a local hotel for the first freshman talent show and meal.
The team will spend the night there, then bus to Arizona Stadium for Saturday's scrimmage.
The team's final dress rehearsal of the offseason is open to the first 2,000 Wildcat Club members who RSVP, but closed to the public and the media.
The talent show is the only real initiation for the UA freshmen, many of whom will be rushed onto the field to combat the Wildcats' crushing lack of depth.
Training camp: Day 13
At Kindall/Sancet Stadium
• Temperature at start: 78 degrees at 8:30 a.m.; 90 degrees at 6 p.m.
• Walk-on watch: Running back Terris Jones joined the team in 2010 after rushing for 1,912 yards and 26 touchdowns as a senior at Whittier California High School. Jones, the younger brother of former Arizona running back Nicolas Grigsby, spent the 2011 season with the scout-team offense.
• The big number: 1/2: The Wildcats are exactly halfway through their preseason training. The team opened training camp Aug. 3; its season opener is Sept. 1, exactly 15 days away.