UA’s football future will be on display at opening practice

The future of the Arizona football program will be on the field tomorrow for the first practice of a new season – wrapped up in a 190-pound package of break-away speed and agility.

Ka’Deem Carey, the explosive running back from Canyon del Oro High School in Tucson, picked up his new helmet and pads yesterday and will put them to use tomorrow as the Wildcats open the first practice of the 2011 season.

The swoosh of air coming out of the Old Pueblo is a collective sigh of relief from the Arizona coaching staff, as they finally can feel they have their star recruit in harness.

Carey, a four-star prospect who was the Southern Arizona Player of the Year as a senior, appeared to be wavering in his commitment to the Cats, right up to signing day in February.  Arizona State had also courted the coveted prize, and Carey had taken a late official visit to the Sun Devil campus in late January.

But he appears ready and committed to helping the Cats work their way back up to the top-10 national ranking they briefly enjoyed last year before crashing amid five straight losses to end the season.

It may not come this year, as he first has to vie for the back-up role behind Keola Antolin, who is projected as the 2011 starter at tailback.  The compact (5’8″, 195 lbs.) speedy senior has been the team’s leading rusher the last two years, carrying for 637 yards as a junior and 668 last season.

Antolin, who came to Tucson from the national football power, Bishop Gorman High School in Nevada, has been a steady producer who averaged 4.5, 5.6, and 4.7 yards per carry throughout his first three years.  He’s rushed for 100 yards four times in his career and averages 28.4 yards on kick returns.

But Carey brings the flash that makes the highlight reels.  He gives Arizona a game-breaking threat every time he touches the ball – and a reason for Wildcat fans to get excited about the future.

He led Canyon del Oro to the state 4A-I championship as a junior, when he rushed for 2,738 yards and 45 touchdowns.  And he would likely have set state records in a number of categories as a senior, but was hobbled with injuries.

If he stays healthy, he should have an outstanding college career.  And the Wildcats can begin enjoying some much-needed respect.

Arizona was picked to finish fourth in the South Division of the new Pac-12, even though they are returning arguably the best quarterback in the conference in Nick Foles.  The senior led a passing attack last year that averaged just over 300 yards a game and an offense that was rated third-best in the conference.

But the Cats scored just 28 points a game, which left them in fifth place in that category at season’s end.

If Antolin steps his game up a notch this year to go with Foles’ passing prowess, and Carey fulfills the expectations of his coaching staff, the Cats just may rise above expectations.

They need to get it going right out of the chute, though.  After their cupcake opener with Northern Arizona University, the Cats face Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon, and USC.

If they’re still standing at mid-season, it should be a great year.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)