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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Baxter Arizona’s true leader

Michael Ignatov / Arizona Daily Wildcat

University of Arizona meets Central Michigan University in an NCAA mens football game in Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., Sept. 5, 2009.
Michael Ignatov
Michael Ignatov / Arizona Daily Wildcat University of Arizona meets Central Michigan University in an NCAA men’s football game in Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., Sept. 5, 2009.

The flowing blonde hair and NFL size of Nick Foles makes for a perfect Arizona football cover boy.

While Foles is one of the most productive and touted quarterbacks in the nation, the true leader of the Wildcats’ offense lies in a far-less marketable and popular player — senior center Colin Baxter.

Sixth-year senior and fellow offensive lineman Adam Grant said it best: “”The guy epitomizes leadership.””

Baxter, a two-time co-captain, hasn’t missed a practice during his four years at Arizona and is viewed by teammates and coaches as the unquestioned leader of the Wildcats. He’s started 37 consecutive games and is the model of consistency.

“”I’ve coached for 15, 16 guys and I’ve never had a guy not miss practice, but that’s just him,”” co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh said of his center.

“”That’s his toughness, that’s his leadership, that’s his mentality. He loves playing football and the great thing about him is that he doesn’t want to let anybody down.””

Bedenbaugh, along with the rest of the Wildcats, raves about the starting center, but nobody had more love for Baxter than the man who holds his hands below his rear-end thousands of times throughout a given season.

“”I love him to death,”” Foles said of his starting center. “”Guys follow him. They know he’s going to give it his all. He’s probably the toughest guy on the team and that’s who you want at center.””

“”He’s a great leader for this team,”” Foles added. “”I wouldn’t have any other center. I’m glad he’s on my side of the ball. I’m glad he’s on my team.””

Although Baxter isn’t the one breaking off big runs, tossing 60-yard touchdowns, or delivering stadium-rattling hits on Saturdays, he’s one of the best at what he does in both the conference and the nation.  

His technique and ability alone separates him from other college centers, but what makes him such a valuable asset to the Wildcats is his dedication and work ethic.

“”He’s always the first one up in line, he’s the first in everything,”” Grant said. “”He runs harder than everybody else and he works harder than anybody.””

As he whips back his long brown hair, readjusts his grey headband and slams on his white helmet in preparation for battle, you can’t miss the toughness glowing from the 6-foot-4, 295-pound Baxter. He’s a no-nonsense type of guy who doesn’t dance away from reality.   

“”He comes out here and he tells you how it is,”” Grant said. “”You’re going to get a straightforward answer and that’s why he’s our leader.””

Baxter’s deidcation doesn’t go unnoticed among his other teammates. His unblemished record has inspired others on the offense to immitate his work ethic.

“”When you have a leader that’s never missed a practice, fights through all of the injuries he has, that automatically shows you how great of a leader he is,”” Foles said. “”It makes you fight if you have a broken foot, broken hand, anything you fight through because that’s what he does.””

Baxter leads by example through his toughness and dedication, traits he attributes to his childhood when he was preferred hanging out with an older crowd.

“”I just kind of grew up with that mentality,”” Baxter said. “”I was always hanging out with the older kids. You’ve just got to be tough. You can’t let anyone else be better than you.””

Through three full seasons at Arizona, few have been better than Baxter. He was voted team offensive MVP in 2009, and earned second team All-Pacific-10 Conference honors as well.

He is the catalyst for an offense that averaged 384.5 yards per game in 2009, and expects an even more impressive output in 2010.

“”I think we’re real hungry to do some special things as an offense this season,”” Baxter said.

Although the average Arizona football fan probably doesn’t even know who Baxter is, with being an offensive lineman comes an expected lack of attention.

“”When you’re on the O-line you kind of know that you’re not going to get all this recognition like Nick (Foles) or the receivers,”” Grant said. “”We just play for each other. We work our butts off for the guy next to us and Colin (Baxter) knows that.””

Despite missing the notoriety of a Foles, running back Nic Grigsby or receiver Juron Criner, with a solid senior season Baxter should be NFL bound and could expect a solid career in the league, whether members of Zona Zoo know his name or not.

But as of now, Baxter still has one more Wildcats team to lead — a team that has a legitimate shot at the Rose Bowl.

So although Baxter’s No. 64 isn’t featured on billboards across town, he is the true heart and soul of the Arizona football team, and should be viewed that way.

“”The guy is a phenomenal player.”” Grant said. “”He doesn’t care (about recognition) and he just wants to win.””

Bedenbaugh added: “”When you’ve got guys like him, you’ve got a chance to win.””

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