Arizona Wildcats running back Keola Antolin, if he really wanted a nickname, could have picked all manner of summer blockbuster superheroes.
He instead chose to borrow a phrase from short, blue, cartoon characters.
“He wanted to be Smurftastic tonight, he told me,” quarterback Nick Foles said after Arizona’s 41-10 victory over NAU on Saturday night. “And he was. He ran the ball well, and he was Smurftastic.”
Arizona’s Running Back Smurf rushed six times for 41 yards and caught five passes for 51 yards and a touchdown. That 18-yard score came one play after Trevin Wade’s momentum-turning interception early in the third quarter.
Taking a quick pass to the left, the 5-foot-8-inch Antolin broke a tackle, cut to the sideline and dived across the goal, sticking the ball out inside the pylon with his right hand.
“He made some plays, and he’s pretty happy about it,” Foles said. “He’s one of those guys who can catch it, and he can run it, too.”
Antolin played only three quarters. True freshman Ka’Deem Carey took over for Arizona’s first series of the fourth quarter. He ended up with a team-high 59 rushing yards on nine carries. He also had one catch for 5 yards.
“I thought both backs were special handling the football and catching the ball,” coach Mike Stoops said.
Carey took advantage of the absence of second-string running back Daniel Jenkins, who was out because of an ankle injury. Jenkins’ status for Thursday night’s game at Oklahoma State is uncertain.
“It was great, just great,” Carey said of his first college game.
But only Antolin’s night was Smurftastic.
According to the participation chart, 11 true freshman hit the field on Saturday for Arizona.
The most prominent were Carey and middle linebacker Rob Hankins, who started his first college game and made two tackles, including a crushing stop on a kick return. Hankins played when UA used its base 4-3 set but came out of the game when the coaches went to an extra defensive back to better match up against offensive personnel.
“He’s playing hard and he’s playing fast,” said defensive coordinator Tim Kish. “When you have an opportunity for him to gain experience right there in the first game, I think it’s awesome.”
Other true freshman to play: CB Cortez Johnson, LB Hank Hobson, DB Tramayne Bondurant, TE Michael Cooper, LS Josh Elias, DE Reggie Gilbert, DE Dame Ndiaye, WR Trevor Ermisch and DT Saneilia Fuiamaono. Most played late in the game and/or on special teams.
Right guard Trace Biskin, a junior, has been in line to make his first career start, but he has been bothered by a knee injury lately and did not play. He could be available for Thursday’s game at Oklahoma State, Stoops said. OL Shane Zink started in his place.
Jenkins (ankle) and second-string QB Bryson Beirne (knee) did not play. Stoops might have updates on their condition at his Monday news conference.