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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Running backs’ time to shine

Michael+Ignatov+%2F+Arizona+Daily+Wildcat%0A%0AFootball+vs+Washington+Huskies.+NCAA+college+football+game+at+Arizona+Stadium+in+Tucson%2C+Ariz.%2C+Saturday%2C+Oct.+4%2C+2008.+Arizona+won+48-14.
Michael Ignatov
Michael Ignatov / Arizona Daily Wildcat Football vs Washington Huskies. NCAA college football game at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., Saturday, Oct. 4, 2008. Arizona won 48-14.

The 2008 season was then-quarterback Willie Tuitama’s time to shine. He was the leader of the Pacific 10 Conference’s third-ranked passing offense, which averaged 244 yards per game and produced 24 touchdown passes on the year.

Arizona’s rushing attack could not keep up the pace — its rushing offense finished fifth in the conference with 158 yards per game and ball control issues plagued starting running back Nic Grigsby all season.

In 2009, Tuitama is gone and questions surround the quarterback position as two players with no starts under their belts vie for the starting role. Meanwhile, the Wildcats did not lose any of their running backs and even added to their depth with talented redshirt freshman Greg Nwoko.

“”There’s really (three) guys who have done a good job this spring carrying the football,”” said running backs coach Seth Littrell. “”There will be one guy who everyone perceives as the starter and that’s OK. But when it’s all said and done, there’s probably going to be three starters out there on the field.””

Arizona’s preseason depth chart lists Littrell’s potential “”three starters”” as Grigsby, Nwoko and sophomore Keola Antolin.

After redshirting his freshman season, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Nwoko was impressive during fall camp with his power. That strength was evident in the team’s final scrimmage, when Nwoko ran over safety Robert Golden on one of his three carries. The freshman finished the night with a team-high 54 yards.

“”Greg Nwoko continues to shine and show what a physical runner he can be,”” head coach Mike Stoops said following the scrimmage. “”We just need to keep giving him (repetitions) but I feel really good about our running back position.””

While Arizona appears to have its power running back, Antolin will look to fit into the Wildcats’ offensive scheme as part of their speed attack. At just 5-foot-8 and 186 pounds, the sophomore saw significant playing time in 2008, carrying the ball 117 times, and racking up 525 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Antolin’s biggest advantage comes from his small size and ability to sneak his way through holes en route to big gains. However, the sophomore admits that sometimes his size became detrimental last season.

“”I’m trying to get bigger so I can last a little longer in the season,”” Antolin said. “”I felt I was running out of gas at the end (of last season) but I feel good now. Last year I was new to (the college game) so I didn’t really know what was going on, but now I feel more comfortable in myself.””

With a strong supporting staff, Arizona’s most seasoned all-around running back, Grigsby, is looking to distance himself from his reputation as a player who couldn’t hold on to the football in 2008. But despite a nagging fumbling problem, the now-junior still finished fifth in the conference in rushing with nearly 89 yards per game and 13 scores on the year.

For the Wildcats to be successful this season, however, Arizona will need a more mature and less fumble-prone running back to take pressure off the young quarterbacks during their growing pains.

Grigsby said he has focused on his ball-handing abilities this off-season and expects himself to be a better overall back this season.

“”The ball hasn’t been on the ground all camp,”” Gigsby said. “”It’s a growing-up thing. You have to grow up every year and get better. But I’m ready and I just want to be a great team player and provide for my team anyway I can.””

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