LAS VEGAS - Nate Ness walked out of the Arizona Wildcats’ practice facility on Thursday with two Nintendo Wiis in his arms and a sly smile on his face.
Each UA player is only allowed one video game system for playing in Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl. Ness figured he’d push his luck. “It’s for my boy,” he said with a wink.
The ploy failed. But plenty of others haven’t.
Ness, 22, has been the Wildcats’ biggest prankster since coming to Arizona from El Camino Community College three years ago. Ness is quick with a joke, nickname or crazy dance move — he even won Wednesday night’s Las Vegas Bowl dance contest at the New York New York Hotel and Casino.
But he’s best on the field.
Ness, UA’s starting free safety and one of four team captains, has registered 70 tackles this season. The senior will cap his college career Saturday, when the Wildcats take on BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl.
“Nate’s a very energetic guy,” UA coach Mike Stoops said. “He has a great demeanor — he’s always got a smile on his face and he works awfully hard. I think that’s inspired our whole defense.”
Ness cracked the starting lineup as a junior in 2007, and has played in every game this season. Ness said he isn’t ready to be done with college yet.
“It just went by so fast,” he said. “It seems like just yesterday, I was going through physicals with Mike Johnson, Wilrey Fontenot and those guys. Now I’m a senior …”
Ness cuts the serious act and flashes a big smile. “I don’t like to say this, but I’m getting OLD.”
And, with that, Ness’ comedy routine — a performance worthy of amateur night at any Vegas nightspot — begins.
Stoops is his No. 1 target.
Ness and his fellow defensive players noticed while watching film one day that Stoops shuffles his feet, jumps and lurches during every play.
“We’d go back and forth, hit rewind and see it again,” Ness said. “He knew we were making fun of him.”
The next time the Wildcats practiced, Ness and a handful of teammates got behind Stoops and mimicked him as he shimmied. “And then he’d turn around, and we’d all stop,” he said. “Nobody would be doing it.”
And then there’s the smack-talk.
Ness said Stoops is too much of “an old-school guy” on the sidelines, screaming out the basics — “Touchdown!” when the Wildcats score and “We got ’em” following an interception — instead of mixing in newer slang.
“He tries to come at us with that 1980s stuff, but it’s not funny,”
Ness said. “Don’t tell him I said that, though. Tell them (teammate) Cam Nelson said that. Yeah — I’m Cam Nelson, and I’m reporting live.”
Stoops — and the rest of Ness’ targets — take it all in with a grin.
Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops said the fun-loving Ness “livens it up in the meeting room.”
Offensive tackle Eben Britton, another co-captain, called Ness “a vocal leader that really gets guys going.”
Ness can be funny, Britton said, but he’s never mean. “Not in an obnoxious, annoying way,” Britton said. “He can probably get away with a little more than most guys.”
For all his clowning, Ness takes football very seriously.
He’s quiet in the locker room, choosing to listen to R. Kelly — “that’s my theme music” — or talk quietly with teammates Anthony Wilcox and Corey Hall. Ness said he gets extra fired up when Arizona’s captains — him, Britton, quarterback Willie Tuitama and wide receiver Mike Thomas — leave early for the coin toss.
There’s no smiling then. Just emotion.
“I know when to be funny,” he said, “and when to not be funny.”