The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

90° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Tantalizing Antolin now dual threat RB, returner”

    Sometimes a player only gets one chance to instill confidence in his teammates. For Arizona running back Keola Antolin, that moment arrived during the Wildcats’ season opener against Idaho.

    Late in the second quarter with Arizona on the 3-yard line, quarterback Willie Tuitama called a power run. Before leaving the huddle the senior had a message for his freshman back.

    “”I told him, ‘You better get your little ass in the end zone,'”” Tuitama said, smiling. “”That play, he got in the end zone. He’s gonna be good.””

    During fall camp, Antolin began making a name for himself among coaches and players as the 5-foot-8-inch, 180-pound freshman used his speed and agility to work his way up the Wildcats’ depth chart.

    In the team’s first scrimmage, Antolin was among several Arizona running backs who took advantage of sophomore starter Nic Grigsby’s ejection, running for 55 yards and a touchdown on nine carries.

    “”We saw (Antolin’s potential) from the first days,”” said running backs coach Dana Dimel. “”We think his upside is drastically going to improve.

    “”I just think his knowledge of the offense, his knowledge of the intricacies of the tiny parts of the game are what are going to continue to improve for him,”” Dimel added.

    The coaches showed faith in Antolin by giving him touches in Arizona’s 70-0 rout of the Vandals.

    Despite carrying the ball only four times for 11 yards and a touchdown, the effort – along with strong performances in practice – paved the way for the running back to move into the No. 2 spot on the depth chart behind Grigsby.

    Antolin was given the spot prior to Arizona’s game against Toledo last Saturday, and was given an even greater opportunity to prove himself during the Wildcats’ 41-16 home win.

    While Grigsby took breathers on the sideline, Antolin’s number was called nine times, giving him a chance to tally 23 yards.

    “”All of (the backs) are battling for that two spot, but right now Keola is just slightly ahead,”” Dimel said. “”Keola just runs it up in there so hard and hits the hole so quick and brings a different dimension because of his size.””

    Antolin admitted that one of his main strengths as a running back comes from his small stature.

    “”I’m short so I can hide behind the line,”” Antolin said with a laugh. “”That way I can just follow my lineman and the defense can’t see me.””

    While Antolin’s size may be one of his advantages, another is his hands – which led him to becoming one of Arizona’s main kickoff return men.

    Against Idaho, he started the game as the Wildcats’ deep man and took a touchback for his first play as a collegiate football player.

    Antolin got the nod again

    Saturday when he returned the majority of kickoffs against Toledo. In addition to his role as a running back, Antolin appeared comfortable as a returner, taking three kicks for a total of 98 yards with his longest return being 41 yards.

    “”I was used to (returning kicks) in high school so it’s very natural for me,”” said Antolin, who attended Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas.

    “”Our special teams was pretty good (Saturday) and once I saw the hole I hit it and tried to make some people miss,”” Antolin said.

    His effort Saturday did not go unnoticed as the Pacific 10 Conference honored Antolin as the Special Teams Player of the Week Monday. Over the course of his three returns, Antolin averaged more than 32 yards per return – a mark which puts him at the top of the list of returners in the Pac-10 and places him 13th in the nation.

    “”It feels good, it makes you want to work harder,”” Antolin said of receiving the honor. “”I didn’t expect (to make this big of an impact) this early. I was just trying to learn everything and get used to being here, so it’s great that I can

    contribute this early.””

    Antolin attributed his early

    success as a returner to the experience he received as a prep player in high school. He did admit, however, the difference in height of collegiate kicks has taken some getting used to – though no one would have known it from his performance Saturday.

    Although Antolin was impressive Saturday, there was one incident he regrets and wants to correct in the future.

    It occurred on his longest return of the day when he was tripped up along the Wildcats’ sideline.

    “”(My teammates) told me on the sidelines that if I had broken (the tackle), I would have gotten the first kickoff return for a touchdown in like 10 years,”” Antolin said. “”I was like, ‘Ah, really?’

    “”I just hope I get another chance to take one back this year.””

    More to Discover
    Activate Search