FORT HUACHUCA - Growing up in Germany, Chris Putton was blissfully unaware of blocking sleds, gassers and the three worst words in the English language: two-a-days.
"It was definitely a 180, dude," Putton said. "I can still remember: I was 7 years old, I played soccer and rode my bike every day. I didn't care about anything. I was just having fun."
Putton laughs about it now; after all, what are the odds of a Munich-born soccer fan playing the ultimate American sport - football - on an Army installation?
The 6-foot-4-inch, 295-pound Putton will open the season as the Arizona Wildcats' starting left guard. The sophomore practiced with the first team Thursday, when the UA opened its four-day trip to Fort Huachuca with a pair of practices.
Well-traveled and worldly, the 20-year-old Putton fits the mold of an "Army brat."
Only he isn't. Putton spent the first seven years of his life living overseas before relocating to Glendale when his mother, a German national who had family in Hawaii, was transferred stateside as part of her job in computer technology.
Putton landed at Sky Harbor International Airport unsure of what, exactly, he was getting into.
"When my mom said we were moving to Arizona, I was basically like, 'What's that?'" he said. "Basically, I saw mountains and brown. In Germany, it's the exact opposite: Green everywhere, as far as you can see.
"The first day we were here, it was 115 degrees. I couldn't breathe right the first couple days."
Putton and his sister were enrolled in English-as-a-second-language classes for six months before becoming, as he said, "pretty Americanized." He discovered basketball right away, and played his first football game at age 9. Putton was the largest player in his Peoria city flag football league, even if he played a bit fast and loose with the rules.
"I got in trouble for tackling everybody," he said, "when I should have been pulling their flags."
Putton started at Cactus High School and committed to the UA in 2009. He redshirted as a true freshman, then played in five games as a backup in 2010.
Intelligent and outgoing, Putton - a legal permanent resident - speaks without a trace of an accent. Still, fellow guard Trace Biskin swears he can see Putton's heritage in his teammate's face. Putton is intense, focused and serious on the field.
"His mannerisms are definitely German, you can tell," he said. "You can definitely see in meetings, in the way he eats and the way he talks. Definitely German."
Putton plans to attack his starting spot with Teutonic efficiency.
He inherits the position from Conan Amituanai, who signed with the NFL's Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent last month. How Putton fares could dictate whether the Wildcats survive a hellish five-week stretch early in the season: The UA will play Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon, USC and Oregon State with an offensive line that, heading into the season, has started just one college game.
Still, Putton thinks the inexperience is overrated. After all, he's still a relative newcomer to the sport - and the state.
"This year, I think it's my time to shine," he said. "I've been waiting for two years. I'm ready."
Coming Aug. 28
The Star's 2011 college football preview section.
• Season opener: Sept. 3 vs. NAU
TRAINING CAMP INSIDER
Day 7, at Fort Huachuca
• Highlights: The Wildcats opened their fourth annual camp on the Army installation with a pair of spirited - if occasionally chippy - practices at Sentinel Field. Wearing shoulder pads and helmets but no leg pads, the UA zoomed through a 2-hour night practice. Mohammed Usman had a timely sack in team drills, and Robert Golden and Jonathan McKnight continued to impress at cornerback. Freshman cornerback Cortez Johnson practiced for the first time Thursday and made an immediate impact, swarming the ball and mixing it up. The Wildcats' offense capped the second practice with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Nick Foles to David Douglas on a fourth-and-long. Juron Criner dominated the morning practice, catching a 50-yard pass from Foles in stride for a touchdown. Fellow receivers Garic Wharton and Gino Crump continued to impress, and fullback David Hill - a junior college transfer who has remade his body since coming to the UA - plowed a defender in a short-yardage drill. Jack Baucus, who was moved from tight end to tackle last Saturday, is also taking snaps at center.
• Weather: 71 degrees and rainy for the night practice; 80 degrees and cool in the morning, the byproduct of a little elevation.
• Injury report: Nickel back Jourdon Grandon is out for three weeks with a sprained meniscus. Wide receiver David Roberts missed the night practice as a precautionary measure, and running back Daniel Jenkins played with a heavy wrap on his left hand. Safety Adam Hall, linebacker Jake Fischer, running back Greg Nwoko and defensive tackle Willie Mobley are all out indefinitely as they recover from offseason knee surgeries.
• Up next: The Wildcats will practice at Fort Huachuca again today from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.
• He said it: "Doing this means a lot. These guys, they're our heroes. Every year, we get to talk to them, hang out with them. … To meet them as people, it's a great experience for all of us." - Nick Foles