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Las Vegas Bowl a real homecoming for 2 UA freshmen

Vegas natives Antolin, Criner at site of their high school success

UA freshman running back Keola Antolin

UA freshman running back Keola Antolin

For the past 10 years, University of Arizona football players have grown accustomed to going home to see family and friends in late December.

When the Wildcats broke their bowl drought this season, the late December trip home didn’t change for UA freshmen Keola Antolin and Juron Criner.

The pair, natives of southern Nevada, are home again this week as UA plays Brigham Young University in Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl.

“I never thought I’d be back playing there again,” said Antolin, a running back who last played at Sam Boyd Stadium in the Dec. 1 2007 Nevada Class 4A high school championship game.

“I had like 200 yards and three touchdowns there, so I’d say I like playing there.”

Antolin rushed for 175 yards and two touchdowns and caught a 28-yard touchdown pass in leading his Bishop Gorman High team to a state title.

While his UA teammates would love for Antolin to match those numbers Saturday, and for Criner to match the high school success he enjoyed at Las Vegas’ Canyon Springs, the Wildcats may not be as excited to use the freshmen as Sin City tour guides.

“Hopefully they will take them to all the good places to go,” UA head coach Mike Stoops said Monday.

Then again, maybe not.

Asked about the Las Vegas cuisine he most looked forward to enjoying this week, Criner’s answer probably didn’t exactly have the wow-factor Stoops and the Wildcats players might have hoped for.

“The Hamburger Hut,” said Criner, who grew up in North Las Vegas. “That’s nowhere near The Strip. It’s on my side of town. I love the chicken wings.”

Criner acknowledged he “was never a big fan of The Strip,” while growing up and hoped to spend some of his off time this week with his family.

But don’t expect him to dodge the bright lights experience with his teammates altogether.

“It would be good if we could all walk The Strip together and just have a good time,” said Criner, adding he hopes his older, of-age teammates, “don’t lose too much money.”

Antolin, who lived in Las Vegas for 12 years, said there was only so much fun to be had in the Las Vegas hot spots for those under 21. He plans on taking teammates to some of his favorite Las Vegas-area Hawaiian restaurants, including the Aloha Kitchen in the California Hotel.

He isn’t worried much about the trouble the Las Vegas scene can bring to his teammates.

“The guys are very mature; they know what is right and wrong,” Antolin said.

Both Criner and Antolin said that while they are grateful for the opportunity to play in front of hometown friends and family, they realize Saturday is about much more.

“I try and block out the fact that I’m going home,” Criner said. “It’s more about the fact that I’m going to a bowl.”

UA freshman wide receiver Juron Criner

UA freshman wide receiver Juron Criner

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SATURDAY’S LAS VEGAS BOWL

Arizona (7-5) vs. No. 17 Brigham Young (10-2) When: 6 p.m. Where: Sam Boyd Stadium TV: ESPN Last meeting: BYU won 20-7 in 2007 season opener

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