ARIZONA FOOTBALL

Right in center with what's left

UA's 'heart and soul' keeps streak going despite knee injury
2010-12-01T00:00:00Z 2013-09-17T16:00:30Z Right in center with what's leftRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 01, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Colin Baxter sat on the Autzen Stadium turf, right knee throbbing and adrenaline pumping, two hours before Friday's game against Oregon.

The Arizona Wildcats starting center wasn't planning to suit up against the Ducks. Suddenly he had a change of heart.

Baxter leapt to his feet and screamed four words to nobody in particular.

Two of them are printable: "I'm playing."

Baxter always plays. The toughest sucker on a team full of them, the Wildcats lineman has battled injuries his entire career.

But nothing this bad.

Baxter, 23, has been playing for the past month with a torn meniscus in his right knee, an injury that few outside the UA program knew about before this week. Baxter will make his 48th consecutive start - and possibly the last of his college career - when the Wildcats face rival Arizona State in Thursday's Territorial Cup game.

"He's the heart and soul of this team. He's the leader," quarterback Nick Foles said. "He's the toughest guy I've ever been around."

Co-offensive coordinator Bill Bedenbaugh said Baxter's tough-guy reputation is what makes him the cornerstone of Arizona's offense. The 6-foot-4-inch, 295-pounder earned second-team all-conference honors as a junior; players unanimously voted him a captain before this season.

"The thing with Colin is: It's not his talent that makes him a good player. It's the intangibles," Bedenbaugh said. "It's his competitiveness. He's smart; he loves football. Those are the things that make him great."

Baxter's toughness makes him legendary. He injured his knee in the Wildcats' Oct. 30 win against UCLA when he went to cut block a Bruins defender on a screen play. Baxter's knee brace stuck in the Rose Bowl turf and his leg rolled under him. At first, Baxter didn't think the injury was too severe.

"I kicked my leg straight, it popped, and it felt better," he said. "It didn't really swell up. It didn't really bother me that much."

The injury continued to nag him in losses to Stanford and USC before flaring up last week. Baxter was stretching before Wednesday's practice when his right leg "just locked up," he said. Baxter missed the first practice of his college career and was questionable to play against the Ducks.

But when he arrived at Autzen Stadium, Baxter knew he had to play.

"How many chances do you have to go out there against the No. 1 team in the nation and have a chance to beat them?" he said. "I couldn't let that go by. Basically, I asked myself a question: 'Can I play?" I said 'Yeah.' I wouldn't have felt right if I could have played and was sitting there on the sideline, watching."

Arizona led at halftime but eventually fell 48-29. Baxter played well with his bad knee, neutralizing a tough Ducks front. Left tackle Adam Grant, a veteran of numerous knee surgeries, called Baxter's performance "tough as nails."

"He went out there and played his (butt) off," Grant said. "He could have said, 'I want to worry more about my career.' But he said, 'No, I'll worry about my team now, my friends and my teammates.'

"That's the ultimate sacrifice."

Thursday's showdown with Arizona State may mark Baxter's final college game. He needs surgery sooner rather than later to fix to the knee, especially if he wants to work out for NFL teams this spring. He has delayed the surgery for a month but knows he may not be able to hold off much longer and might sit out a bowl game.

"We're going to have to evaluate after this game. It depends on a few things," he said.

Baxter will play against Arizona State. He has dealt with worse.

Baxter had two separated ribs and a sprained ankle when Arizona played ASU two years ago. Though he was unable to bend over to wash his hands the day before the game, Baxter played - and the Wildcats won.

Toughest guy on the team.

"I guess so," he said. "That's what they tell me."

On StarNet: Read more and watch videos of Friday's post-game interviews with Mike Stoops and quarterback Nick Foles at go.azstarnet.com/finley

Up next

• What: Arizona State at Arizona

• When: 6 p.m. Thursday

• TV: ESPN

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)

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