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Arizona's all-conference safety, Chuck Cecil, is an impact player. His bone-jarring, teeth-rattling tackles refute the laws of physics: No 185-pounder should be able to hit that hard.

"He's just like Chi Chi Rodriguez hitting a golf ball," says coach Dick Tomey. "Everything he has is there at the right time." Last year Cecil, an unrecruited walk-on in '83, had six interceptions, broke up a league-high 19 passes and made 122 tackles, no more than 100 of which were life threatening. He also caused two fumbles in Arizona's Aloha Bowl victory over North Carolina.

Last season's other noted ball-hawking menace, linebacker Byron Evans, the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, has moved to the NFL. But Tomey is even more concerned about replacing Ruben Rodriguez (no kin to Chi Chi), the first punter taken in the pro draft.

Tomey, who came to Tucson last winter after 10 years as Hawaii's head man, has installed a hybrid offense that mixes run and shoot, the I and some wishbone. Though the only returning player who has ever completed a pass for Arizona is wideout Derek Hill, the Wildcats aren't the least bit concerned. They profited from the SMU misery by corralling Mustang QB Bobby Watters.

Another expatriate Mustang, guard Kevin (Hog) McKinney, will line up beside all-conference center Joe Tofflemire. Though Tofflemire has a linebacker's quickness and agility, Tomey has never considered moving him.

"Center is where it all starts," Tomey says. "It's real comforting, in the middle of both units we have real catalysts."

Last fall against Arizona State the catalytic and cataclysmic Cecil returned an interception 106 yards for a TD, the coup de grace in Arizona's 34-17 win. "They have played it on TV here 1,000 times," Tomey says. "In one highlight film, it is shown four times."

Cecil's heroics this season should be no less picturesque.