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If it’s Saturday, it’s a holiday for Arizona Wildcats running back Ka’Deem Carey

Ka'Deem Carey

Ka’Deem Carey needs three more rushing touchdowns to tie the school season record of 21, set in 1954 by Art Luppino. Photo by Rick Scuteri-US PRESSWIRE

Too bad a Pac-12 player already has the nickname “Teeth.”

The moniker might better suit Arizona Wildcats running back Ka’Deem Carey, who has had more to beam about this season than the guy who goes by that nickname because of his constant smiling — Washington quarterback Keith Price.

It’s not just that Carey is tied for second in the nation in rushing, or that he is coming off a Pac-12 record 366-yard game, or that he is having one of the best seasons ever for a UA running back, or that he is becoming one of the school’s best local-kid-makes-good stories.

It’s that he is having so much dang fun.

“Ka’Deem really, really loves football,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said.

“The way he practices, the way he runs, the way he prepares, it’s just infectious. Every game is like a holiday to him.”

That last comment was passed along to Carey after Tuesday’s practice, as he conducted interviews while sitting in an ice bath to aid with soreness and muscle recovery.

Naturally, he broke out into a big smile.

“I thank God every game that I get to go out there, just to perform and showcase what he gave me,” Carey said. “It is a holiday that I can have another Saturday and just go out there and ball out.

“My mom made me that way. ‘Everyone doesn’t get to wake up to see another day.’ And I get to wake up and play a game that I love. I mean, it’s a blessing.”

Saturday is another holiday when the Wildcats play at Utah (8 p.m. MT, ESPNU). And Arizona fans really hope that Carey can make the day after Thanksgiving, when the Cats play host to Arizona State, feel as joyous as Christmas Day.

Carey, a sophomore, has rushed 224 times for 1,381 yards and 18 touchdowns. The CDO grad was the gem of coach Mike Stoops’ 2011 recruiting class, but you never know how good a kid is (or isn’t) until he gets to camp and gets to work (or doesn’t).

“I don’t ever have to worry about Ka’Deem getting ready to play a game because he just can’t wait for game day to get there, and I think the way he runs shows that,” Rodriguez said.

He has run hard all season after a freshman debut in which he split time with Keola Antolin. Was Carey underutilized or not ready for more? He never rushed more than 13 times in a game last season. This season, he’s had at least 13 carries in every game (and that low total was because he played in only the first half against South Carolina State).

With the increased success has come the willingness to let that smile shine and be a team leader.

“You have to have success behind it for them to follow you,” he said of his teammates.

“My freshman year, I wasn’t really loud or trying to get it to rub off, and then my mom actually told me, ‘You should try and have that rub off a little bit.’ The first time I tried it, it was against USC. It was a perfect time to try to have it rub off.

“And I think it’s starting to sink in.”

Sure sounds like it.

“He’s an awesome person,” said right tackle Fabbians Ebbele.

“You never see him down. He’s never down on us. If the O-line is having a bad day, you never hear him talk down to us. He’s always behind us 100 percent.”

Carey’s record-setting 366-yard rushing day against Colorado is behind him. What does he envision for a follow-up?

“Get another ‘W,’” he said. “As long as we get that ‘W,’ then it’s a great follow-up.”

And a happy holiday.

Ka’Deem Carey and teammates celebrate the win over USC. Photo by Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

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