As the only experienced running back on the Arizona Wildcats roster, Keola Antolin will be carrying some extra weight on his shoulders this fall.
And on his biceps and thighs, too.
The tailback gained 13 pounds of muscle during the offseason, bringing his measurements to (a generous) 5 feet 8 inches and 203 pounds.
Heading into a make-or-break senior year, Antolin is, for lack of a better word, built. Don't expect that to change in the weeks leading up to the Sept. 3 opener against Northern Arizona.
"Physically, I can handle it," he said.
That hasn't always been the case. The 21-year-old Antolin battled injuries for the first three years of his college career, a byproduct of his diminutive size and aggressive "downhill" running style. He suffered from turf toe as a freshman in 2008, and spent his sophomore season coping with a sprained ankle and a stinger.
And even though Antolin played in all 13 games a year ago, starting eight in place of an injured Nicolas Grigsby, his season ended in a blur. Oklahoma State's Markelle Martin drilled the Cats back with a helmet-to-helmet hit in the first quarter of December's Alamo Bowl, knocking him from the game. The Cowboys went on to defeat the Wildcats 36-10.
So, understandably, Antolin's goals for his senior season have more to do with staying healthy than looking good. He will try to add to a résumé that includes 374 career carries for 1,830 yards and 21 touchdowns.
"As long as he feels comfortable with it and as long as he can make the cuts and be explosive, it can only be a positive," said running backs coach Garret Chachere. "He knows his body better than anyone else. His body will tell him how he feels, and then he'll tell us. … Our goal is to make sure Keola plays 13 games this year. Whatever we have to do to do that, that's what we're going to do."
Arizona coaches will be creative in the ways they give Antolin the ball, in part to protect his body. They'll focus on total "touches" - catches and runs combined - instead of limiting him to a certain number of carries per game.
What they won't do, Chachere said, is ask Antolin to change his frenetic running style or beg him to avoid contact at the line of scrimmage. Antolin has averaged 4.9 yards per carry during his career in part because of his willingness to sacrifice his body.
"You don't want to discourage the aggressiveness," Chachere said. "He's a little man with a big man's running style. … When a guy's that effective running, I don't think you want to temper the style he's had since he was little. That's what makes him him. He's not a finesse runner."
Quarterback Nick Foles said he doesn't expect the player he calls "Mighty Mouse" to be indestructible. But Foles said Antolin's new body should make him more durable.
"I don't know if any back can do it every single down, but if here's a guy who can do it, he can," Foles said.
"He's definitely worked towards getting a little bit bigger, and that'll help him as we get closer to the season."
Antolin says the extra weight will stay, at least through training camp.
"With all the free food we have," he said, "I think I can keep the weight on."
On StarNet: Follow the Cats as they prepare for the season at go.azstarnet.com/finley
UA practice schedule
• Today: 7 a.m.-9 a.m., Rincon Vista practice facility
• Sunday: Closed practice
Freshman LB fails to qualify, won't play
One of Arizona's most heralded recruits will not play this fall after failing to qualify academically.
Duncan, Okla., linebacker Domonique Petties had petitioned the NCAA for a waiver that would have allowed him to enroll at the UA in time for the start of training camp. The waiver was denied.
At issue was the amount of time it took Petties to finish his high school career.
Petties spent his freshman and sophomore years at Oklahoma City's Del City High School before transferring to Duncan, a small school 80 miles away. In between schools, Petties told the Star in January, he took a year off to deal with a family matter.
The NCAA requires high school student-athletes to finish their core class requirements in four years; Petties took five.
UA coach Mike Stoops said today that he doesn't like to comment "about a player who's not here," but conceded that the Petties ordeal was a tough one.
"We've exhausted a lot of time trying to get this process to work to our advantage," he said, "but sometimes it doesn't work."
Petties was expected to compete for playing time right away on a defense that's been wracked by injuries.
The Rivals.com recruiting service listed him as a three-star recruit, the nation's 44th-best linebacker and the fifth-best player in Oklahoma. He committed to Arizona despite offers from Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Missouri, Texas A&M, Tulsa and Pitt.
Training camp insider
Day 2 at Rincon Vista
• Highlights: So much for a Day 2 lull: The Arizona's second practice of training camp was spirited and competitive, a step up from the businesslike approach the UA took Thursday. Wideout Dan Buckner looked stellar, beating Josh Robbins for a deep score during 7-on-7s and catching a 30-yard touchdown pass during the 2-minute drill. Fellow receiver Tyler Slavin made a leaping catch for a deep gain. Defensive end Mohammed Usman, a University of Houston transfer, had two sacks and showed an impressive motor while chasing the ball. Dan Pettinato, a freshman fighting for playing time at defensive end, stuffed running back Kylan Butler during scout-team drills.
• Weather: 84 degrees.
• Injury report: Safety Adam Hall, linebacker Jake Fischer, running back Greg Nwoko and defensive tackle Willie Mobley are all out indefinitely (knee surgeries).
• The big number: 45. Minutes later UA players can sleep in today, with the start of practice moving from 6:15 to 7 a.m. The extra time will be a welcome break for the Cats, who had 4 a.m. wake-up calls the first two days.