Ka'Deem Carey could have strung his recruitment out for another six months, waiting for a better offer. He could have taken official visits to places like USC, Florida, Nebraska, Florida State or Miami this fall.

But he didn't. And won't.

"You can't really put a time and date on what you want to do in life," he said. "You just do it."

Carey, the Star's reigning Southern Arizona Player of the Year and the state's top running back, verbally committed to the Arizona Wildcats on Friday morning after meeting with the UA's coaches and academic advisers.

The Canyon del Oro High School star instantly becomes the face of Arizona's 2011 recruiting class.

Carey rushed for 2,738 yards and 45 touchdowns as a junior. The Rivals.com recruiting service lists the 5-foot-10-inch, 180-pound Carey as a four-star recruit and the nation's 16th-best high school running back.

Carey, 17, said he "fell in love" with the UA during an unofficial visit last weekend. He returned to campus Friday for meetings, then verbally committed.

Carey said he expects to qualify academically, though he admittedly still has some work to do. The UA's academic counselors laid out a plan for him Friday.

"They broke it down for me," he said. "I know what I have to do."

On the field, Carey - the nephew of former Cholla High School and UA star Vance Johnson - is without par in Southern Arizona.

Carey's highlight tapes are an Internet sensation. In one clip, Carey cuts across the field, hurdling a would-be tackler, on his way to a touchdown.

"It's one of those things that you can sell and make money off," CDO coach Dusty Peace said with a chuckle. "It's that entertaining to people.

"I've never seen a kid do what he's done on the field at the high school level."

Carey "received letters from everybody," Peace said, before narrowing his college choices.

Arizona State offered a scholarship, while a handful of other programs took a wait-and-see approach until Carey improved academically.

USC was interested, Carey said, but this week's NCAA sanctions eliminated the Trojans from his list of finalists. The Trojans received a two-year bowl ban and four years of probation, and were forced to forfeit a season's worth of wins after the NCAA ruled the university demonstrated a lack of institutional control over its basketball and football programs.

"That's just stuff you don't do," Carey said.

Arizona's coaches had an edge on USC, anyway. Coach Mike Stoops purposely did not recruit a tailback for the 2010 recruiting class. The omission sent a message: Carey could play right away in 2011.

"After I saw that, that's when my eyes opened up wide," Carey said. "That's when I started taking them more seriously."

Carey's decision is another sign that UA coaches are dead serious about landing Southern Arizona's best high school players.

The Wildcats have signed three local stars - Ironwood Ridge linebacker Jake Fischer, Palo Verde safety Adam Hall and CDO safety Josh Robbins - in the last two years. Tuesday, the UA received a verbal commitment from Salpointe Catholic offensive lineman Jacob Arzouman.

And now the UA has Carey, the biggest prize of them all.

"I want to stay in Arizona with my friends and family," he said. "I want to be around."