Nicolas Grigsby, Keola Antolin and Greg Nwoko met daily this summer to do the things most hypercompetitive, college-aged kids do.

They played video games, talked trash and - when there was time - saw movies. Then they played more video games.

"We'd play NCAA (football), basketball, Madden," Antolin said. "It was good. We're close. It hasn't been like this before."

The Arizona Wildcats three running backs are presenting a united front in the weeks leading up to their Sept. 3 season opener at Toledo.

They seem to be happy, finally, with their roles.

Grigsby will serve as the team's first-stringer, with the shifty Antolin backing him up. For the second straight year, the bruising Nwoko will take over in short-yardage and red-zone situations.

"We call ourselves the three-headed monster," said Grigsby, a senior. "Our goal is to have three 1,000-yard rushers. It's something the school's never had.

"We like running the pill; we like running the rock. There's nothing selfish going on."

The three running backs have gotten along off the field; on it, however, their competitive spirit often muddled things.

Grigsby has been the Wildcats starter since his freshman year; as such, he often bristled at the idea of sitting out, even for a few plays. Antolin has put up impressive numbers throughout his career, but - at 5 feet 8 inches and 195 pounds - has yet to stay healthy for a full season.

The 6-2, 228-pound Nwoko can handle the bruising of a long season, but he lacks the experience to be a viable every-down back.

The three work best together. The numbers back it up.

Grigsby, Antolin and Nwoko combined to rush for 1,477 yards on 269 carries a year ago. Their combined 5.49 yards-per-carry was more than Stanford's Toby Gerhart (5.45), a Heisman Trophy finalist. The trio combined to score 12 touchdowns, two fewer than Oregon's LaMichael James .

The UA backs picked each other up when injuries decimated the group. All three were hurt in 2009, limiting their effectiveness.

Grigsby suffered a separated right shoulder in Week 4, spoiling his promising season. Antolin received the bulk of the carries the rest of the way before going down with a neck stinger against Oregon; Nwoko started the UA's Week 12 win at Arizona State with a torn labrum in his right shoulder that required off-season surgery.

Oddly, Grigsby said, the injuries brought them together.

The three backs received treatment and worked out together during the off-season, a connection that naturally spilled over into off-the-field activities.

When Grigsby's own brother, Terris Jones, joined the team as a walk-on, he had a ready-made group of friends.

"Me, Keola and Greg bonded so much over the summer," Grigsby said. "We know that if anything happens, we've got another guy, right here, ready to go. We've all got each other's backs."

And this year, the trio may just be the backbone of the Wildcats offense.

Grigsby, Nwoko and Antolin combined to rush for 78 yards in Saturday's abbreviated "Meet the Team" scrimmage at Arizona Stadium.

Nwoko led the team with 58 yards of total offense, though he committed the offense's lone turnover. Antolin has recovered from a leg bruise that limited his availability in practice.

And Grigsby has been Grigsby, ripping off big runs in practice with a "first step" that's as good as any in the Pac-10.

Coach Mike Stoops said the rushing attack is a main reason why the UA offense was so dominant in training camp.

"I think our quarterbacks and running backs are the strength of this team. Having three healthy running backs right now has really helped," Stoops said. "Our execution offensively is light-years ahead of where we've been at this time since we've been here (2004)."

Up next

• What: Arizona at Toledo

• When: Sept. 3, 5 p.m.


• Radio: 1290-AM