Sophomore running back Daniel Jenkins sees UA's spring game as an opportunity to earn more playing time this fall. GREG BRYAN / ARIZONA DAILY STAR

Daniel Jenkins' mother, father, sister and niece will be in the stands for Saturday's spring game at Arizona Stadium. His brother, William, will be on the field as a backup wide receiver.

So what if it's a glorified practice? For Jenkins, it's a big opportunity.

"I've been waiting two years for this opportunity," Jenkins said. "I want to make the best of it."

Nobody has improved his standing more this spring than Jenkins, the Arizona Wildcats' tailback. The 5-foot-9-inch, 187-pound sophomore has led the team in rushing in each of their two public scrimmages.

Jenkins ran nine times for 42 yards and a touchdown in last week's workout at Arizona Stadium; he enters the spring game as the second-string running back, behind starter Keola Antolin.

"Daniel's had a nice spring," coach Mike Stoops said.

Playing time has been hard to come by for Jenkins, a high school star at Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley, Calif. Jenkins redshirted as a true freshman in 2009 and spent most of last season buried behind Nicolas Grigsby, Antolin and Greg Nwoko on the depth chart.

A departure - and an injury - fast-tracked Jenkins' move up.

Grigsby's career ended after Arizona's Alamo Bowl loss to Oklahoma State. Nwoko, the Wildcats' backup, suffered a torn ACL in his knee during the first week of spring drills. That left Jenkins with an opportunity - and a mixed blessing.

"Greg going down broke my heart. We're like brothers," he said. "I didn't look at it as an opportunity to get my foot in the door, but it did give me an opportunity to get out there a little bit more."

It couldn't have come at a better time. Jenkins has added eight pounds of muscle to his frame since the end of the 2010 season. He's playing with a confidence not seen since high school. And, for now, he has far less competition.

The Wildcats are expected to add two newcomers, Canyon del Oro star Ka'Deem Carey and Los Angeles Loyola star Jared Baker, this summer. Both could compete for playing time right away, meaning Jenkins has little time remaining to make an impression.

"I'm not looking at anybody in front of me or anybody behind me," Jenkins said. "With the freshmen coming in, I'm looking at it as an opportunity to improve the program. It's another two guys added to the brotherhood in our (meeting) room. There's not going to be any bad blood. I'm trying to get them up to speed, teach them everything I know, and hopefully they'll be ready when they come in for fall camp."

For now, though, Jenkins is enjoying his big chance to spring ahead.

"Any time you get a chance to perform in front of people, you want to put on a good show," he said. "I want to make plays and get some oohs and aahs out there."

Up next

• What: Arizona spring game at Arizona Stadium

• When: 1:30 p.m. Saturday

• Admission: Free