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Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey humble and hungry after rough offseason

A lot changed for Ka'Deem Carey since he was running away from Nevada tacklers in the New Mexico Bowl. Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A lot changed for Ka’Deem Carey since he was running away from Nevada tacklers in the New Mexico Bowl. Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona Wildcats running back Ka’Deem Carey reappeared Sunday.

College football’s leading rusher in 2012 hasn’t really been heard from in eight months as a pair of off-field incidents scuttled a publicity campaign for the consensus All-American and caused coach Rich Rodriguez to put his star player in media lockdown.

The blackout was lifted Sunday at Arizona’s Media Day. Carey went through a “car wash” of one-on-one interviews — print, internet, TV, local, national — in five- to seven-minute increments to address the past and look toward his junior season.

“Man, I’m more humble,” he said.

He can’t change the past. He was charged with misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct, stemming from a Dec. 26 incident with his pregnant ex-girlfriend (charges were dropped this summer). He was booted from an Arizona basketball game at McKale Center after a confrontation with event staff and local police. He even, much to his regret he says, used the line, “Do you know who I am? I’m an All-American.”

He messed up. He admits it. Now, what is he going to do about it?

For much of the past several months, those events have publicly defined him. As Rodriguez has said several times, Carey is going to have to prove to everyone, perhaps all over again, who he is really is.

“Ka’Deem is a good guy who made a couple of bad decisions,” Rodriguez said.

“If he was a bad guy, he wouldn’t be with us. I love coaching him. He’s a good teammate. He’s a good guy that I think will represent us well.”

Carey is ready to do just that. Sunday’s reappearance was just the beginning.

“I needed to lay low and get myself together, just really think about things and approach things a lot differently,” said Carey, from Canyon del Oro High School.

“Now, I feel like I’m going to have to do more interviews, get my face out there, get people to know who I really am. Especially in Tucson. I love Tucson. I want to do this for Tucson. I want to win games for Tucson.”

And now he’s playing for someone more than himself, more than his teammates, more than his university, more than his hometown.

He reconciled with his girlfriend, and the couple welcomed a son, Kaison, in July.

Being a dad has the potential to change someone in all the right ways.

“I’m loving it,” said Carey, 20.

“Waking up each night and just changing his diaper, it’s wonderful but tiring. I know as a young dad, I have a lot to prove. I have to help him and I have to help this team out. I have a lot on my back. But I’m looking forward to using it as motivation.”

There have been times during camp when he’s having a meal with Notre Dame transfer receiver Davonte’ Neal, who left South Bend this spring to be closer to his girlfriend and their baby daughter. Carey and Neal, from Scottsdale, have been friends since high school.

“Sometimes we’re talking and we just go into daddy mode and start talking about our kids and what they did recently,” Neal said with a big smile.

Expect many playdates together as their children get older.

Ka'Deem Carey

Ka’Deem Carey launched into the end zone for a touchdown vs. ASU. Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

The new dads might never get to play together on the field, though. Neal is still awaiting word from the NCAA about his potential eligibility for this season. If all goes well for Carey this season, well, let’s face it, he isn’t likely to return for his senior season.

Carey, who set school records with 1,929 rushing yards and 23 rushing touchdowns last season, says he’s at 207 pounds, about 10 pounds above his listed playing weight in 2012.

“I knew I was going to be a workhorse this year and people are going to come after me, so I have to stay healthy,” he said.

“Putting on weight is going to be a key. And I worked on my speed to separate better from the defense on the field.”

Rodriguez said the coaches still give Carey a bad time about being caught from behind on a couple of long runs last season. He calls Carey’s speed “good not great.” What makes Carey special as a running back is his relentlessness.

“It’s almost like he’s mad that you’re actually trying to bring him to the ground. That part is his greatest asset,” Rodriguez said.

“His ability to make you physically put him on the ground or he’ll keep running is the best I’ve ever had.”

Carey didn’t hide his desire to get to 2,000 rushing yards last season, put in reach by a fantastic November that included a Pac-12 record 366 yards vs. Colorado.

Getting close to that 2,000 level won’t be easy. In fact, it will be harder.

“Will it be more difficult to have 1,900 yards? Yep,” Rodriguez said. “Because he doesn’t have Matt Scott throwing it and some of those receivers on the outside.”

Defensive coordinators are going to scheme to stop Carey while taking their chances that an unproven quarterback and a receiving corps that lacks 2012 standouts Austin Hill and Dan Buckner won’t hurt them.

“They’ll be doing it all wrong,” Carey said of defensive coordinators stacking the line of scrimmage.

“They are just going to open up more things in the passing game. Once you start keying on my, I feel like we have great plays to go over the top that will bite you. And it’s going to hurt.”

When Carey looks out over Arizona’s remodeled practice field, he says a picture of himself, along with the school’s 10 other consensus All-Americans, looking down on the old centerfield wall at Kindall/Sancet Stadium.

As a consensus All-American and a national stat leader, he qualifies, twice, to have his name added to Arizona Stadium’s Ring of Fame. The school hasn’t done that, yet.

A reminder that there is still more work to do.

“You have to go out there every day, grinding,” Carey said. “I’m just looking forward to everything.”

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