Former UA running back inspired by new breed of NFL rushers

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Colin Darland and Colin Darland | The Daily Wildcat Colin Darland / Daily Wildcat

Long gone are the days of Jerome Bettis-type running backs dominating the NFL.

While physicality is still the name of the game, smaller, more agile and elusive backs have carved out a niche in the league.

These scat backs, as they’re often referred to, have taken the NFL by storm. Guys like Maurice Jones-Drew (5-foot-7, 208 pounds), Ray Rice (5-foot-8, 212 pounds), and Darren Sproles (5-foot-6, 190 pounds) have created a market for less physically imposing players, and former Arizona running back Keola Antolin couldn’t be more thankful.

“I’ve watched a lot of MJD, Darren Sproles. They open up doors for little guys like me,” said Antolin, who stands at 5-foot-7, 196 pounds. “They motivate me.”

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Although Antolin isn’t expected to hear his name called by Saturday’s end of the NFL Draft, there’s a market for players like him in the NFL, and he’s been working to prove that.

He was rock solid in his four years at Arizona as he rushed for more than 500 yards every season and racked up 26 career rushing touchdowns, good for fourth in Arizona history. Antolin’s 10 rushing touchdowns in 2008 were a freshman school record.

The Las Vegas native also proved his worth catching the ball out of the backfield. Antolin caught 25 or more passes in each of his final two seasons and accumulated 401 receiving yards and three touchdowns during that time, while leading the Wildcats in rushing last season.

“I always thought Keola was awesome. I was really happy to see him get a much bigger role,” said former Arizona offensive tackle Eben Britton, who was selected 39th overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2009 NFL draft and played with Antolin in 2008. “I know last year and the year before that they started utilizing him more. I’ve always thought Keola was a tremendous player.”

After last season came to an end, Antolin continued training in Tucson with former teammates Paul Vassallo, C.J. Parish and David Douglas in preparation for the UA’s Pro Day and eventually the 2012 NFL Draft.

“We really pushed one another,” Antolin said. “I’ve just been training and keeping in shape just to get that phone call.”

Antolin’s hard work resulted in a solid Pro Day, when he ran a 4.54 40-yard dash, put up 20 reps on the bench press, showcased a 35.5-inch vertical, and completed the 3-cone drill in 6.96 seconds, among other solid times.

He said he received good feedback from his agent, Wynn Silberman, and scouts, although he’s expecting to go undrafted.

“I’ll probably be a free agent, but we really don’t know,” Antolin said.

Even if he doesn’t ever get off the draft board, former Arizona cornerback Nate Ness — who went undrafted in 2009 and has been a member of the Jets, Seahawks, Dolphins, Redskins and now the Rams — assured him that going undrafted doesn’t mean his football career is over.

“He gave me a lot of good information, talking about if your name isn’t called, there’s still opportunities for you to get on a team and make it,” Antolin said.

That’s most likely what Antolin will have to do, but he’s willing to work his way up anywhere that gives him a chance. Britton believes whoever ends up with the former Wildcat running back will be happy they took a risk on the 5-foot-7 bowling ball.

“I’m sure somebody’s going to get a diamond in the rough with him,” Britton said. “I’m sure that he really hasn’t had any kind of exposure but he’s tough as nails and he’s a great football player.”

For now, Antolin said he’ll sit back and avoid the stress that comes with watching the draft.
“I don’t think I’m going to watch it. I just want to not worry about it,” he said. “I’ll probably chill out, hop in the pool a little bit, and hang out with the family.”


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