Wilson’s start allows Arizona to dream of another Ka’Deem

Nick Wilson scores on an 85-yard run in his college debut against UNLV.

Rick Scuteri/AP

TUCSON, Ariz. — Meet Ka’Nick, the slightly faster and younger version of Ka’Deem Carey.

Well, that’s what fans and students are beginning to call Nick Wilson, Arizona’s so-far sensational true freshman running back who has amassed close to 300 rushing yards in Arizona’s two wins.

"Everyone in my class is starting to say that," he said, half smiling and laughing, at his new nickname.

How does he like it?

"Not so much," said Wilson, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound back. "I kind of just roll with it."

That’s the attitude he needs to have. Thinking you’ve arrived is a far cry from actually making the arrival. And two games don’t make a career. Wilson knows that. Coach Rich Rodriguez clearly preaches that. But there are similar body types and pound-the-ball styles between Wilson and Carey, a two-time All-American and the nation’s leading rushing in 2012.

Teammates were calling him "Little ‘Deem" in camp.

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"I don’t think we can compare them yet," Rodriguez said after Tuesday’s practice. "Ka’Deem did it over three years and ran as hard as anyone in the country — by far. Nick is running hard and doing a phenomenal job as a freshman. He’s not where Ka’Deem is just yet."

But it’s not as if Rodriguez is saying Wilson doesn’t have the potential to be a very good back. Saturday against visiting Nevada will be another test.

Rodriguez did, however, know early that Wilson would be able to help right away in the absence of Carey, who left early after last season to play in the NFL. Wilson showed that much potential out of high school.

Fall practice and beyond has just validated it.

"He was going to have an opportunity (to prove himself)," Rodriguez said this week. "We never promise anyone they will start or guarantee they will start because that’s not fair to them. (But) we don’t recruit anyone to be backups."

Rodriguez said many recruits have to get "physically and mentally ready," but there are exceptions. Wilson is one, although Rodriguez made sure to add a caution.

"He’s still learning … but Nick has a good feel for learning, too," Rodriguez said. "That’s one of the reasons why he’s playing so much."

Another reason is that senior Terris Jones-Grigsby, who started the opener, was out last week with a foot injury. It’s still questionable if he’ll play this weekend. Still, Wilson has surpassed senior transfer Adonis Smith on the depth chart and could realistically at least share time at the position when Jones-Grigsby gets back.

His 174 rushing yards against UTSA last week was the fourth most by an Arizona freshman. It came on the heels of a 104-yard performance vs. UNLV in his college debut.

"We’re super excited to see what he’s done the last couple of games," said Justin Garza, Wilson’s former head coach at Central High in Fresno, Calif. "I’m surprised that he’s done it so fast. I thought it would take him awhile but that’s not the case."

Hardly.

Wilson has been a bit Carey-like and, in fact, has done more than his predecessor. Of course, opportunity has played a part. Carey didn’t have the same opportunities as a freshman. He never had more than 13 carries in a game in 2011.

To his credit, Wilson hasn’t squandered the opportunity, either. He’s emerged with Jones-Grigsby from what was a six-man race at running back in camp. He was told before last week’s kickoff that he was going to start.

"I don’t know if there is pressure (to perform), but I got picked (out of) the committee," Wilson said. "I told my mom and dad I was getting the start. And I did pretty good."

If Wildcat Nation is proud, Fresno Central is proud and, well, not that surprised. Wilson, was rated a four-star recruit, the No. 23 running back in the country, by Scout.com. He rushed for 16 touchdowns and 1,600 yards a season ago. He had an impact every year, making the varsity as a sophomore. The only things that really slowed him were now-and-again injuries.

"He took over games for us when he was healthy," Garza said. "When he was healthy he was unbelievable. There were some games … he just took the game over, everything was on his shoulders."

It’s helped that Wilson consistently played with the older crowd growing up.

"I was usually the younger one with the older kids," he said last month. "It’s nothing I’ve had to adjust to or be nervous with."

There is, however, the proverbial wall that some freshmen hit during their first season.

"It’s higher-level football, (so) will he hit the wall as the season goes along as far as balancing athletics and academics?" Rodriguez said. "But Nick is balanced pretty well."

So far so good, of course, just two games in. In the middle of the fall camp, Wilson said he had adjusted well and "was up for anything."

"That’s why I’m here," he said.

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