Keola Antolin has heard the same thing so many times this summer that he figures it must be true.

"Everybody's telling me this is my year," the Arizona Wildcats' starting tailback said with a grin. "But it's a long season. I'm going to fight through every game."

To do that, Antolin needs to be fresh. That's why Arizona coaches limited both Antolin and standout wide receiver Juron Criner to mostly noncontact drills during training camp.

Coach Mike Stoops figures Criner played maybe 20 snaps in preseason scrimmages, "and I don't know if Keola played any."

Still, the coach isn't concerned heading into Saturday night's game against Northern Arizona.

Criner figures to be one of the Pac-12's top receivers and playmakers. And Antolin, a senior and preseason candidate for the Doak Walker Award, could shine without former backfield-mate Nicolas Grigsby taking half the carries.

In three seasons of part-time play, Antolin rushed for 1,830 yards and 21 touchdowns. He'll be Arizona's first option as a senior.

"These guys have played so much football," Stoops said. "I'm not worried about those guys one bit."

Here are three reasons why Antolin's slow preseason could lead to a fast start:

1. He's healthy. The Wildcats scatback has been dogged by injuries his whole career, the byproduct of his 5-foot-8-inch frame, physical running style and willingness to take the ball as much as possible. In the past, Antolin had Grigsby to share both the workload and the physical pounding.

Not this year. Antolin, who added 15 pounds of muscle during the offseason, says he feels better physically than at any time in his career.

"I feel rested," Antolin said. "I don't feel behind."

2. He now has backup. Antolin's slow summer allowed Arizona's younger tailbacks to get extra touches, experience that could help the team if Antolin needs a break or has to miss any extended time. Backup Daniel Jenkins led the team with 24 rushing yards in its Fort Huachuca workout, while Ka'Deem Carey - who, for now, is listed fourth on the depth chart - dominated the annual meet-the-team night scrimmage with 69 yards on eight carries. Kylan Butler, who played in two of the UA's three scrimmages, continues to show great improvement since the spring.

"I've got these young guys coming behind me," Antolin said. "I've got to show them up. I can't have them showing me up. Everybody's going to play, man."

3. He can do more than just run. Antolin said he wasn't offended when, earlier this summer, Stoops said he was comfortable throwing the ball 50 times a game if the Wildcats' rushing attack fizzled. The way Antolin sees it, running backs can be pass-catchers, too: He caught 52 passes for 311 yards and two scores during his first three seasons, and figures to factor more into the passing attack as a senior.

"Passing the ball is going to open up the run game for us - and the running back catches a lot of balls, too," he said. "You really can't argue with it. Basically, it's just like a pitch play, but it's a pass."

Antolin said the Cats offense "can do anything" it wants when the rushing and passing games are clicking. After a month-long rest, he's ready to be a part of it.

"We can go deep, we can run," he said. "We've just got to come out and play that way on Saturday."

college all-star game coming to tucson

One of college football's annual all-star games is leaving Tempe for Tucson.

The Eastham Energy College All Star Game, formerly known as the Blue-Gray Football Classic and the Inta Juice North-South Game, will be played Jan. 16 at either Kino Stadium or Hi Corbett Field, game officials told the Star on Wednesday.

By then, the annual game will have a new title sponsor. Officials have agreed in principle to sell naming rights to a Tucson company, but the new sponsor won't be unveiled for a few weeks.

Spokesman John A. Gray said Wednesday that game officials "want to give Tucson fans something that they can wrap their arms around and be a part of."

"The community made us feel welcome, like we're part of the family," he said.

The game pits two teams of NFL draft-eligible college players - the Stars and the Stripes - against each other in a showcase for fans and scouts. The contest will be televised on Fox Sports Arizona and other Fox Sports affiliates.

Last year's game drew 6,954 fans to Sun Devil Stadium.

Ryan Finley

Up next

• What: NAU at Arizona

• Where: 7 p.m. Saturday

• TV; radio: FSAZ, Ch. 58 (Cable Ch. 8); 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Sp)