•This story is courtesy of the Arizona Daily Wildcat.
Dan Buckner is from Allen, Texas, and he attended the University of Texas for two years before transferring to Arizona.
Still, Buckner has a lot of love for the UA.
“I love the team, I love the new coaching staff, I love Tucson,” he said after Tuesday’s practice.
The final home game for the receiver came and went in a 41-34 loss to ASU on Nov. 23.
His dad, who was celebrating his birthday that same day, was in attendance, and Buckner said he wanted to put on a show for him.
But Buckner’s night was cut short after he tweaked his injured ankle toward the end of the first quarter.
After the first drive of the second quarter, the ESPN broadcast showed Buckner in tears.
“I was talking to [receiver] Austin [Hill] about not being out there and how he had to take the game on his shoulders,” said Buckner.
“It’s an emotional game,” he said.
Buckner has solid numbers this season — 59 receptions, 741 yards, five touchdowns — but only managed one catch for 11 yards against the Sun Devils before exiting.
It was all the more surprising to him, though, when a team athletic trainer called him over near the end of the fourth quarter. He was going back into the game on special teams, as Arizona would try to convert an onside kick with less than a minute remaining.
Buckner said that although it was his position on the kicking team, he was “still kind of surprised” that he was put in the game.
“I was pretty close [to recovering the ball],” Buckner said. “I think I went out of bounds to avoid someone. I was inches away.”
Head coach Rich Rodriguez said that it was a “mistake” to put someone in that wasn’t 100 percent, but Buckner was not complaining, because it hurt more that he wasn’t able to help his team out for most of the game.
“Dan is one of those kids that loves the game of football,” receivers coach Tony Dews said. “Like anything that any of us love, when it’s taken away from you and you can’t have it, it hurts.”
As Arizona’s lone senior wideout, Buckner has taken on a leadership role.
“He brings a great spirit, he always has,” running back Ka’Deem Carey said. “He’s a leader on this team.”
That’s a far cry from the man who came to the UA surrounded by questions about his maturity.
In January 2010, Buckner was charged with criminal trespassing and resisting arrest, and less than 24 hours later he announced he would be leaving the Longhorns.
Within a week, it was revealed he would be coming to the UA, and next month it will be three years since Buckner left the Lone Star State for the Old Pueblo.
“When I first came to college I was 17 years old,” Buckner said. “I’m 22 now. I think with time I’ve gained wisdom and maturity and things like that. I think I’m a little more grounded than I was.”
Dews believes that because his “focus has been better,” he’s become a leader for the Wildcats, and a better player.
Not that Buckner’s talent was ever in question.
A five-star recruit and the ninth-best receiver coming out of high school, according to Scout.com, he was recruited by prominent football programs like USC, Notre Dame, Florida, Florida State and Miami.
After limited playing time his freshman year, as a sophomore at Texas Buckner hauled in 45 receptions for 445 yards and four touchdowns and even scored a 2-point conversion in the fourth quarter of the BCS National Championship against Alabama.
In two years at the UA, Buckner has had 101 catches for 1,347 yards and seven touchdowns and was on the preseason watch list this year for the Fred Biletnikoff award, given annually to the nation’s best receiver.
On Dec. 15, Buckner will play his last college game against Nevada in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.
“I feel like I’ve done pretty well,” Buckner said. “I was watching some clips [on Monday] and I was like ‘Ah, I left that play on the field’.
“There’s always room for improvement,” he said. “The season’s not over yet, though.”