TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Arizona running back Nick Wilson is right on the heels of two-time All-American Ka’Deem Carey so far in his short career.
Carey, a fourth-round pick of the Chicago Bears, averaged 152.6 yards per game his last two seasons at Arizona. Wilson is at 149.7 through his first three games.
Not bad for a true freshman.
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”I call him `Little Ka’Deem,’ with the way I see him run out there,”’ Wildcats junior safety Will Parks said. ”It’s pretty awesome. The first play from scrimmage in camp, he took it about 40 yards. When I had seen it, I was like, `We might have a little something right here.”’
For Arizona, Wilson has been the right guy at the right time in the right offense.
He rushed for 104 yards on seven carries as a backup in the opener against UNLV, then took over the starting role when Terris Jones-Grigsby had to sit because of an ankle injury.
Wilson has turned into a Carey-like workhorse in the past two games: 30 carries for 174 yards at UTSA, and 29 carries for 171 yards against Nevada.
”I get a little banged-up,” he said of the workload, ”but it’s nothing a cold tub can’t fix.”
Wilson and the 3-0 Wildcats begin Pac-12 play Saturday night against Cal.
With Wilson’s help, Arizona has produced a 100-yard rusher in 20 consecutive games in coach Rich Rodriguez’s run-based, hurry-up spread offense. That’s the longest streak for an FBS team since 1996.
”It’s been mind-blowing in a way,” Wilson said of his early success. ”But for the most part I just try to keep my composure. Some of my teammates try to hype me up, but I just go to my room and watch Netflix. I’m kind of to myself.”
Wilson has the most carries (66 for 449 yards) of any freshman running back in the country. He is seventh nationally in rushing, second among freshman backs behind Jarvion Franklin of Western Michigan.
Rodriguez and Calvin Magee, the team’s running backs coach and co-offensive coordinator, said Wilson is unusual for a freshman in two ways: He has great vision at the line of scrimmage, and he’s a full-service running back who doesn’t need to be taken out on passing downs.
”So many freshmen come in just used to running and they do a lot of what I call `taking the cheese’ – they take holes that look to be there but aren’t there,” Magee said. ”It’s important to get past taking the cheese.”
A four-star recruit from Central East High in Fresno, California, Wilson didn’t generate a lot of recruiting buzz because he committed early, in March 2013, and battled injuries as a senior.
When Carey left after his junior season, the 5-foot-10, 199-pound Wilson became part of a wide-open six-player competition in camp.
”He’s a freshman and is still learning, but he runs hard,” Rodriguez said. ”Nick is a smart football guy, and the competition we have at running back is keeping everybody on their toes.”
It’s not clear when Jones-Grigsby, a fifth-year senior who ran 13 times for a team-high 124 yards in the opener, will be back. Meanwhile, Wilson continues to further earn the trust of coaches with his production and mature approach to the game.
”My vision has improved tremendously,” Wilson said. ”I see things I don’t normally see. In my old high school habits, I kind of forced things to try to make things happen. But with the help of Coach Magee and some of my fellow running backs, I have been very successful in the last few weeks.”