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During Arizona Wildcats spring practices, there are a few players Mike Stoops tries to watch as much as possible to weigh their progress from the end of the regular season.

Running back Keola Antolin isn't one of them.

Stoops knows what he's going to get out of Antolin. A 5-foot-8-inch, 195-pound senior-to-be, Antolin has proven himself to coaches and teammates in his first three years.

Now, it's just about getting the excitement back to make it through an entire season.

"We need to make sure we keep him healthy," Stoops said. "He needs to have a complete season. We need him on the field and we need him to have a big year for us."

The Las Vegas product has battled injuries since the start of his career.

In 2008, Antolin suffered a turf toe injury in his second career game, then a separated shoulder later in the year.

His sophomore season was more of the same. Antolin sprained his ankle early in the season, then suffered a stinger against Oregon in the third-to-last regular-season game.

Antolin played all 13 games last season, but suffered a concussion from a helmet-to-helmet hit early in the first quarter of the UA's 36-10 loss to Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl. He did not return.

"I wanted to get a little bigger in the off-season so I can last longer throughout the season," Antolin said. "That's my No. 1 priority coming into the year. Just staying healthy and contributing."

Antolin has a chance to do more than contribute.

With Nicolas Grigsby gone after four seasons, Antolin is the first option at running back for now.

He'll surely face competition from juniors Greg Nwoko and Taimi Tutogi now and in fall practice. Freshman Ka'Deem Carey also will try to work his way into the mix when he arrives in August.

But Stoops said he likes what he has in his senior and thinks the other backs have more to prove with Grigsby gone. That makes sense considering Antolin has 374 career carries under his belt to go with 1,830 yards and 21 rushing touchdowns. He has two more TDs as a receiver.

"I think it's a bigger spring for guys like Nwoko and Taimi Tutogi," Stoops said. "Taimi had a disappointing year last year and Nwoko is trying to get himself in there. I think this is a time more for them to emerge than Keola.

"In the end, though, we need those three guys to step up and and be forces for us in the backfield."

Antolin said he is on the same page.

"I'm not worried about my number of carries or anything like that," the senior said. "I just want to win. I've always considered myself a team guy, and that hasn't changed."

The Keola Antolin file

• Height, weight: 5-8, 195

• Year: Junior

• Hometown: Las Vegas (Bishop Gorman High School)

• Career stats: 374 carries, 1,830 rushing yards, 21 TDs, 4.9 yards per carry

• Longest run: 76 yards

Up next

• What: Arizona spring game

• When: Saturday, April 16, time TBA