OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - As he considered whether or not to return for his senior season at Arizona, cornerback Antoine Cason recalled one of his goals since high school - to win the Jim Thorpe Award.
So, despite being projected as a potential first-round NFL draft pick, Cason opted to return to the Wildcats. Sure enough, he received the honor annually given to college football's top defensive back.
In retrospect, the decision looks wise, Cason said during a visit to Oklahoma City on Tuesday to formally accept the award.
``It makes it all worth it,'' Cason told The Associated Press. ``But this is only one case, of me coming back. It may be different for other people, but in my case, it was worth it to come back and play one more year.
I prepared myself to do, listen to the coaches and play hard with my teammates. I owe a lot to them.''
Cason seemingly had every reason to jump to the pros after his junior season. He has NFL bloodlines, as his father, Wendell Cason, played three years for the Atlanta Falcons after a standout college career at Oregon. He also had the statistics, entering the 2007 season with 10 career interceptions and three forced fumbles.
But his coach at Arizona, Mike Stoops, advised the 6-foot, 185-pound Cason that he would be better off spending another year with the Wildcats.
``I thought he could still get better in a lot of different aspects in his game and physically mature,'' Stoops said. ``Plus, the competition we play in our league will always help him get better.''
Cason didn't disagree with that assessment, quickly rattling off a list of elite receivers he defended while at Arizona - Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith of USC, DeShawn Jackson of California, Demetrius Williams of Oregon and Jason Hill of Washington State, to name a few.
``Those guys were tough and they prepared me well,'' Cason said.
He said he and Stoops ``talked, extensively, in the offseason about how I wanted to attack things and how we wanted me to play ... I was put in situations to make plays and they counted on me.''
eptions, returning them for 164 yards and two touchdowns, and added 71 tackles, 14 pass breakups and two forced fumbles. He also returned 27 punts for 271 yards and two touchdowns for the Wildcats, who finished 5-7 but won three of their final four games.
Cason, an All-America selection, became the first Thorpe Award winner never to have played in a bowl game or been on a team that didn't record a winning record. He is the third Pac-10 player to win the award, joining Mark Carrier of Southern California (1989) and Darryll Lewis of Arizona (1990).
Stoops, who was the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma before becoming Arizona's head coach four years ago, compared Cason with Roy Williams, who won the Thorpe Award in 2001 while with the Sooners and now plays for the Dallas Cowboys.
``Antoine was a pretty unique guy to coach,'' Stoops said. ``He has a great blend of talent and charisma and toughness that you look for as a coach. He reminds me of Roy in a lot of ways. He has that energetic smile and a way with people. That's one of his strongest attributes.''
Ironically, Cason's NFL draft stock seems to have slipped a bit despite his standout senior season. That bothers Stoops, but it doesn't particularly worry him.
and I think he'll do the same thing in the league. People don't appreciate how good he really is.''

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