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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Continued growth in the backfield

    With Chris Jennings and Xavier Smith returning to the Wildcats backfield and a senior and sophomore, respectively, last year, it seemed there was a slim chance that true freshman Nic Grigsby would see much action.

    That couldn’t have been further from the truth.

    Jennings’ best performance came against NAU, a school in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA), and Smith’s play wasn’t consistent enough in the coaches’ eyes to keep a spot on the field.

    Grigsby, now a sophomore, should be the main man in the Wildcats’ backfield this year. That is if he can keep his head on straight and continue to mature as both a player and person. Grigsby took a swing at cornerback Devin Ross at an Aug. 9 scrimmage at Arizona Stadium but he explained, “”That’s just me. If people get rough with me I’m gonna get rough back.

    I’m not going to show that I’m soft,”” Grigsby added. “”Once they know you’re soft they’re going to keep coming at you wrong. I want the defense to know, or whoever I’m playing against to know, that I’m not going to back down.””

    Grigsby also admitted he was too selfish at times last season, saying he wanted to get the ball in his hands on every snap.

    “”I know the whole offense can provide (this year), so I know we’re going to go to who’s open and get the play done,”” he said.

    If Grigsby reverts to his old habits – or if he gets injured – this season’s Wildcat team has a stable of running backs who are much stronger than in previous Arizona squads. There’s an experienced change-of-pace back in Smith, now a junior. Junior college transfer Nick Booth is a bruising runner who can also kick it into another gear if necessary and true freshman Keoloa Antolin is an Energizer Bunny who just so happens to wear pads and a helmet. With all these options, even an offensive guru like UA’s offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes isn’t quite sure how to get each one playing time.

    “”It’s a good position to have some depth,”” Dykes said. “”Very seldom do you get through a 12-game schedule and stay healthy at running back and so we need depth there. We need guys who are fresh.

    “”They all bring different things to the table,”” Dykes added. “”Some of them catch the ball really well. Some of them run the zone play really well. Some of them are a little more physical. Some of them are quicker in open spaces. It gives you a little bit of an opportunity to get them all in (the game) in certain situations.””

    And the added competition is something welcomed by coaches and players alike.

    “”I tell (the other running backs) everyday to keep working hard because when they work hard it makes me work hard,”” Grigsby said. “”Last year, I wouldn’t say I had it easy, but we didn’t have a guy who was pushing me. This year, there are a lot of guys who are trying to play.

    “”I’m just trying to stay on the field, so I’m going to do whatever I’ve got to do,”” Grigsby added. “”I’m not worried about it all. I like the competition.””

    Said Booth: “”Teams these days and offenses these days, they have lots of versatility and having lots of backs just helps out the whole team.””

    Even as a freshman, Antolin – who Dykes said was one of the most pleasant surprises in fall camp – has a positive attitude about working his way up the depth chart.

    “”We’re pushing each other everyday to get better. We’re working 100 percent everyday,”” Antolin said. “”This is a group of guys, regular guys, and they’ll help you through the whole process. I’m a freshman and they’re just helping me through it all.””

    The only certainty about the Arizona’s running back situation is that no matter who is on the field, the opposing defense will have its hands full.

    “”Any great program has competition at spots and I like those guys,”” Dykes said. “”They’re all competing hard and it’s bringing out the best in all of them.””

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