FORT HUACHUCA - The timetable for Ka'Deem Carey's arrival as a franchise player, a 1,000-yard rusher and the sixth All-Pac-12 tailback in UA history always seemed to be fast-tracked and inevitable.
But the Pac-12 overflows with 1,000-yard, star-power tailbacks like Stepfan Taylor, John White, Cameron Marshall, Isi Sofele, Curtis McNeal and, now, USC transfer Silas Redd.
And at Oregon there are two star-kissed tailbacks, De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner, who are apt to combine for more than 2,000 yards this year, maybe 3,000.
So in this league, Ka'Deem Carey mostly gets the silent treatment. He's just another guy working out at a military base in the middle of nowhere.
Into this scenario comes UA running backs coach Calvin Magee, who at West Virginia coached 1,000-yard rushers Avon Cobourne, Quincy Wilson, Kay-Jay Harris and the electric Steve Slaton, who gained 3,923 yards in three seasons and very much helped to make Rich Rodriguez a famous football coach.
Calvin Magee can spot a special running back in the dark. He believes the light will soon shine on Ka'Deem Carey,
"I love him," says Magee. "He's very versatile - a big, powerful, strong guy. He's solid head to toe. He's got enough speed to be very good."
Someone asks Magee if it is likely the former Canyon del Oro halfback will get a chance to carry the ball 20 or more times a game this year.
"No question," he says. "We expect that."
This is not Carey, the freshman, breaking in slowly, gaining 481 yards as a fill-in for Keola Antolin, running behind a novice offensive line in a program that imploded at midseason.
This Ka'Deem Carey, the sophomore, locks in on your eyeballs and does not look away. He smiles, widely. He is both engaging and conversational. He seems to be having fun during two-a-day workouts - "He loves to practice," says Magee - and that is the surest sign of someone enjoying the process, confident of his place in college football.
"I love this offense," he says, his eyes lighting up. "They just like to run, to get the ball in the playmakers' hands, and they like to see big plays out of them."
When Rodriguez and Magee and their fellow coaches arrived to rebuild West Virginia's program in 2001, and then at Michigan in 2008, their evaluation of the tailbacks on hand was not as promising as it was when they got a load of Carey last winter.
At West Virginia, they inherited Cobourne, who would gain 1,298 yards in that first season. But Coubourne was not an NFL-type player. He was undrafted, a solid college back. At Michigan, the stock on hand was such that no Wolverine rusher gained more than 533 yards in 2008 and 2009.
Magee nods his head, up and down, twice, when asked if the UA's running-back situation can be a good one in Year 1.
Carey and his colleagues, tailbacks Daniel Jenkins, Greg Nwoko, Kylan Butler and several newcomers, had dinner at Magee's house Sunday night.
The food and bonding were good, but beyond that, Magee used the night to pique his players' expectations. He showed Carey his rings from the 2007 Fiesta Bowl and the 2005 Gator Bowl.
It left an impression.
"That was a big eye-opener," Carey says. "When you see that, you say: 'I want one of them. I want to be playing in big games.' As the running backs see that trophy case, it makes us want to get better."
At Canyon del Oro High School, Carey was always the most talented player on the field, no contest, as a sophomore, junior and senior. His first season of college football was such a transition that at times it seemed odd Arizona coaches chose to let him carry the ball just 7.6 times per game. They rarely explored his big-play potential.
Some of that was due to the fact that the 2011 Wildcats were coached by a 31-year-old offensive coordinator, as much a rookie at his business as Carey was at his. The other part was that Carey needed the break-in time. Even Oregon's Thomas, who has off-the-charts sizzle, carried just 55 times as a freshman in the Ducks' loaded backfield.
But now it appears to be Carey's time, although he insists, much like Magee, that Arizona's offense has space for four tailbacks, a rotation designed to keep Carey fresh and healthy and opponents guessing.
All five of Arizona's first-team All-Pac-12 tailbacks had breakout sophomore seasons.
Trung Canidate averaged 100.5 yards as a sophomore in 1997; Clarence Farmer gained 1,229 yards as a sophomore in 2001; Vance Johnson was a first-team selection, as a sophomore, in 1982; Ontiwaun Carter gained 739 yards as a 1992 sophomore; and David Adams led the Wildcats in rushing, 750 yards, as a sophomore in 1984.
That should be Ka'Deem Carey's cue. His time is now.
Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or firstname.lastname@example.org