PHOENIX - Cornerback Antoine Cason's decision to sign with the Arizona Cardinals earlier this year was fueled by a desire to return to the state where he spent his collegiate career – even though he now plays in the backyard of his school's archrival.
"Being here, it's a good feeling," he said.
Cason played for the Arizona Wildcats from 2004-07 and was an integral piece of then-UA football coach Mike Stoops' effort to turn around a program that was the worst in the Pac-10 a decade ago.
"I love Arizona. I love the people here," he said.
In his senior season at UA, Cason earned the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to the NCAA's best defensive back. He was also named a track and field All-American for the Wildcats in 2007.
Cason went just 1-3 in his football career against in-state rival ASU, and two of those losses prevented UA from advancing to a bowl game.
But in 2004, when he was named the Sporting News Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, the 2-8 Wildcats pulled off one of the rivalry's biggest all-time upsets, defeating the 8-2 Sun Devils, 34-27.
Not that win-loss records mean much in the Duel in the Desert. "It's crazy to say now, but yeah, in any rivalry game, a lot of times the records don't matter," Cason said. "Of course, you don't want to be under .500 when you face each other at the end of the season. But it's definitely one of those games that everyone gets up for.
"The '04 game for sure was my favorite moment (against ASU). We beat them. That was a huge moment, when we beat them down in Tucson."
Cason said the sports fan base in the Phoenix area is much different from that of Tucson.
"Tucson was more of a college town. Here, you have the four major pro teams," he said. "It's definitely more populated – a different feel, for sure.
"I really enjoyed Tucson. When we were there, it was just us and college students, and just being there with your peers really made a big difference, too. Everywhere you went, you knew you were going to be amongst someone that went to Arizona."
Cason said he still keeps up with UA athletics and fellow alumni who play professional sports, and he's a fan of Rich Rodriguez, who took over as the Wildcats' head football coach last season.
"I think he's going to do awesome," he said. "I had the pleasure of meeting him a few times, just talking football and life, and getting to know him a little bit.
"Sometimes it's an adjustment, especially coming from another conference. But I'm excited about him."
With the Cardinals' Tempe training facility located just 15 miles from ASU campus, Cason said he gets plenty of opportunities to banter with Sun Devil graduates and fans – and he's usually the one dishing it out.
"There are a lot of UA people here, and there are a lot of the other people (ASU fans), too. But I think I'm the one that really gives it to them more than they give it to me," he said.
And while ASU (5-2 overall, 3-1 Pac-12) currently has a better record than UA (4-2, 1-2), Cason didn't hesitate when asked to predict the winner of this year's Nov. 30 Duel in the Desert in Tempe.
"Arizona," he said. "Bear Down. There's no doubt."