The Arizona Wildcats will have a fighting chance this season because of a decision quarterback Matt Scott made more than a year ago.
On the other side of the ball, another fifth-year senior will try to follow Scott's lead.
Defensive end Dominique Austin has impressed coaches in training camp after redshirting the 2011 season as an upperclassman. He started Saturday's Fort Huachuca scrimmage at left end, and figures to be a rotation player when the team opens its season Sept. 1 against Toledo.
Off the field, Austin has become an unlikely testament to perseverance.
"Dom, he's probably one of the hardest working guys on this team," nose tackle Sione Tuihalamaka said. "He's one of the older guys, so he coaches us. We all look up to him. we need that kind of leadership on this team."
Here's a look at the 6-foot-5-inch, 285-pound Austin's climb from scout-teamer to starter.
• Too much, too soon. Austin, a product of the famed La Puente (Calif.) Bishop Amat High School program, arrived at the UA in 2008 without a true position.
As a result, his role - and weight - seemed to fluctuate by the season. Austin played as a true freshman at 255 pounds, then bulked up when coaches decided to move him to defensive tackle a year later. Austin tipped the scales at 292 pounds in both 2009 and 2010, but his career remained stuck in neutral.
Over his first three seasons (2008-10) at the UA, Austin appeared in 27 games as either a defensive end or defensive tackle. He registered just eight tackles, one for loss.
• Bummer. Austin switched back to defensive end in spring 2011, and promptly lost about 25 pounds for the new role. But the slimmed down pass-rusher wasn't viewed as quick enough for coach Mike Stoops' scheme. Austin was buried on the depth chart while C.J. Parish and Mohammed Usman, two quicker ends, played.
Coaches put Austin on the scout team with the understanding that he could redshirt if he wanted, since it was unlikely that he'd play at all.
For the entire 2011 season, Austin - and the rest of the Cats' scout-team defense - mimicked the opposition to give the starting offense a better look during practices.
Still, Austin's attitude suffered the less he contributed. He called the wasted season "definitely a bummer."
Tuihalamaka said the season humbled Austin.
"I feel like he learned his lesson," Tuihalamaka said. "He did what he had to do then, and now he knows what he has to do now."
• Fresh start. While Austin redshirted, the Wildcats' defense fell apart. Stoops was fired in October, and the UA finished 2011 with one of the nation's worst units.
Rich Rodriguez's November hiring marked just the fresh start Austin needed.
As an end in Rodriguez's 3-3-5 "odd stack" defense, Austin must keep containment on the outside and rush the passer. The scheme's attacking nature should only help Austin's chances.
"The 3-3-5 is definitely a little more secretive than most defenses," he said. "It hides a lot of blitzes and stuff, so it's fun."
Austin is one of a half-dozen defensive players who have thrived under Rodriguez after being thought of as fringe players under Stoops.
Cornerback Derrick Rainey is playing with the first team following two up-and-down seasons, and Shaquille Richardson has taken on a leadership role. Former walk-on Jared Tevis is starting at safety.
Now here comes Austin, the most unlikely starter on a defense filled with longshots.
"A year ago, I was upset that I was on the scout team," he said. "Now, I'm happy because I worked my way back up from the bottom."
On StarNet: Follow the Cats through training camp at azstarnet.com/finley
Training camp: Day 12
At Kindall/Sancet Stadium
• Temperature at start: 93 degrees at 6 p.m.
• Walk-on watch: Safety Keahi Hogan joined the team last month after spending the previous two seasons at Orange Coast (Calif.) College. Hogan grew up in Honolulu, and was an honorable mention all-state player as a senior at the Iolani School. The name Keahi means "fire" in Hawaiian; Hogan claims Hawaiian, Chinese, German, Irish and Yugoslavian ancestry.
• The big number: 2: Number of changes in the UA's regular-season practice schedule under Rich Rodriguez. The Wildcats will practice Sundays and take Monday off, according to a schedule released by the UA on Wednesday. Previous teams took Sundays off and worked out on Mondays.