Azizi Hearn: A Visitor Where He Once Called Home, Only Now He Feels a Part of a Team
TUCSON -- It's homecoming, of sorts for Wyoming cornerback Azizi Hearn. He's back in Tucson, getting ready to play in the Nova Home Loan Arizona Bowl on Tuesday at Arizona Stadium -- the stadium he called home as a redshirt freshman for the University of Arizona a year ago.
"It is crazy," he said. "You never know. I walk by faith, not by sight. A lot of things, you don't see coming, but that doesn't mean it won't happen."
If Hearn ever needed to have that mentality reinforced it was delivered in the last year.
He was a non-qualifier out of high school in Oceanside, California, which limited his options for college football. He got into the University of Arizona in the fall of 2017, but was a walk-on, who spent his first year working with the practice squad and getting his grades in order.
With the academic issue in place, he was on the Wildcats roster in 2018, and even started the final three games of the season. But with Kevin Sumlin having replaced Rich Rodriguez as the Wildcats head coach following the 2017 season, that was not enough to earn Hearn a scholarship.
Hearn entered the transfer portal, and quickly renewed contact with the Wyoming coaching staff, which had recruited him out of high school before he wound up at Arizona.
"It wasn't that I turned them down," Hearn said. "I wasn't a qualifier when I came out of high school. A lot of schools, I couldn't qualify to get into. It's why I had walked on a Arizona. They wanted me and they worked with me and got me in school"
As it turned out Wyoming still wanted Hearn.
"Once I knew I was in the transfer portal, I reached out to Coach Boh and Coach (John Richardson)," he said. "It all happened so smooth. Everybody was all in."
Bohl admitted the relationship built with Hearn when he was coming out of high school was a key factor in the renewed interest, which included providing him with a scholarship.
"We are very careful about the guys we bring into our program," he said. "Not only the guys we sign, but also transfer. Azizi was vetted. We knew a lot about him from high school. We had a great experience with him and his family."
The initial plan was for Hearn to be a backup, adjust to the Cowboys' defensive system, and be ready to step in as a starter next year. He had limited playing time in the first three games of the season.
However, Antonio Hull, who was projected to start at cornerback, never got into a game, leaving school shortly after the season began because of personal issues. C.J. Coldon, who assumed the starting job in Hull's absence, suffered a broken arm in the third game of the season.
And Hearn found himself in a starting role the last nine regular season games.
"I was ready, the next man up mentality," he said of the Cowboys' mantra. "I knew I had to go in and get the job done. The person before me would have got it done. I didn't have an option. It would have been nice to take it slow, get the play book down and get acclimated, but that wasn't the case. I welcome the opportunity."
It's all about adjustments, he admitted, just like trading in the weather in the Southwest for life in Laramie.
"One thing I learned," he said, "is it is really mental. At the end of the day, are you going to let the weather effect you and what you need to do, even if it is just walking to your car?
"If we have to play a football game, are you going to let it affect you doing your job or are you doing to do your job? That's why I say it is mental. At the end of the day what has to be done has to be done. It doesn't matter if it is cold, hot, raining or snowy outside."
And now he is back in Tucson, a turn of events that adds to his excitement about playing in the Arizona Bowl. His family and friends are going to get to see him play in person, just like they did during the regular season when the Cowboys played at San Diego State, a short drive from his home in Oceanside.
"San Diego is like a four-, five-hour drive (from Tucson) so everybody in the family will be here," he said. "That's lovely but at the end of the day, I want to beat Georiga State. That's all that matters."