By Danny Martinez
Practice is over. The scout team heads for the cold tubs, in search of relief from the pain of attempting to tackle Ka’Deem Carey. The Heisman candidate heads off the field with his token smile. It matters not if you are head coach Rich Rodriguez, quarterback B.J. Denker, a student equipment manager or a member of the academic staff, Carey stops to chat, to high five, to shake hands or to joke.
You would never know if he were a member of the scout team which he routinely runs over, or that he is the nation’s second-leading rusher and a candidate for a myriad of college football’s top awards.
His 3,707-career rushing yards have not changed him. His fame and his popularity have not changed him. He has been showing off his big heart and even bigger smile since the day he stepped on campus over two years ago – two characteristics he prominently displays most Saturdays when he rushes for an average of 150.3 yards.
Though his attitude and approach have remained constant, he has undergone a transformation that mirrors that of most college students – a leap in maturity.
“I’ve matured a lot,” said Carey. “I’ve really grown as a young man on and off the field. From reading blitz pickups to going to school on time and doing the right things. All of the above.”
Rodriguez is delighted with his running back’s development.
“I’m proud of him,” said Rodriguez. “He’s earned that. He had some issues in the offseason which he has worked very, very hard the last six or seven months to rectify. He worked hard to earn the trust back of everybody. Ka’Deem’s a good guy.”
“He led the country in rushing last year,” said Rodriguez. “That’s kind of a big deal to me. He’s one of the best football players I’ve ever coached.”
His offseason troubles were well-documented. As a high-profile student athlete, the lights are bright and microscope is large, both on and off the field. Most would consider themselves fortunate their mistakes as college sophomores were not broadcast to the world.
Carey has accepted it, learned from it and moved on. Carey did the only thing he knows how to do when adversity strikes, grind through it. When life presents a problem, he does not back down.
He keeps his legs moving and powers through, much like he does when he is first met by a linebacker five yards down the field.
“My family was there beside me,” said Carey. “They were guiding me through. It was rough, especially being from here. Everybody knows what’s going on; everybody knows your business. People judge you without really knowing the whole story, or knowing who you really are. So, it was rough, but I knew better things would be happening in the future.”
It was a summer of learning and growing for Carey, who, during the process, became a father. It was the ultimate update in perspective for the to-be junior.
“Being a father has shown me a lot,” said Carey. “You can’t worry about just yourself. Every decision you make is affecting you and your son. It rounded me as an overall person.”
After serving his one-game suspension, Carey came back hungry and, almost as if scripted, took his first carry of the season 58 yards for a touchdown against UNLV. He has accumulated 1,353 yards on his 242 carries this season, including 12 touchdowns, giving him 3,707 yards and 45 total touchdowns for his career.
In the next few weeks, Carey should surpass Trung Canidate as Arizona’s all-time leading rusher and Art Luppino as Arizona’s all-time leading touchdown scorer. Heading into Arizona’s meeting with Oregon, Carey trails Canidate by 117 yards and Luppino by three scores.
As if his numbers are not impressive as they are, consider that he has done it all in less than three years.
Consider that he did not start a single game as a freshman and averaged just eight carries per game in the campaign.
Consider that Canidate and Luppino, numbers one and two on most career rushing statistical categories in Arizona history prior to Carey’s arrival on campus, each played four years at Arizona.
“That’s crazy,” said Carey laughing and shaking his head. “As of right now, I haven’t achieved it. It’s still on my to-do list. Being from here, it’s going to mean a lot to my family.”
He is referred to by many as the best running back in the nation, and with numbers like these, it is hard to argue. It is nearly impossible to argue, though, that when it is all said and done, he will almost certainly be referred to as the best running back to ever put on an Arizona uniform. When that word – best – gets thrown around, it can go to a player’s ego.
“I don’t worry about his head getting too big,” said Rodriguez. “As much as individual accolades and all that are important, he’s still a great team guy. You should see him daily around his teammates and how happy he is when the other running backs have success. He’s all in for Arizona. I’m lucky that he’s on our team. He plays hard. When he makes a mistake, he’s going to want to make up for it.”
He racks up the compliments about as fast as he racks up the yards, leaving opposing coaches nearly in disbelief postgame.
“If there is a better running back in America, I want to see him,” said Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre. “He’s the best I’ve seen in a long, long time.”
“He was great last year and he’s even better this year,” said UCLA head coach Jim Mora.
Despite all the praise from around the country, Carey does not let his success go to his head.
“How can you?” he asked. “How can you with all these great people around you? If I were somewhere else, I could see things being different.”
The selfless Tucson native credits a strong group of supporters. He credits his family for helping him through his tough times. He credits his friends, teammates and support staff for keeping him grounded and humble. And he credits his offensive line for his on-field success.
In the coming weeks, Carey will etch himself permanently in the Arizona record books and undoubtedly be rewarded with some hardware. The junior’s bid to become Arizona’s first ever Heisman Trophy winner is under way.
Whether or not the season ends with him possessing the 25-pound bronze award, Carey’s dashing through and over opposing defenses has been a once-in-a-lifetime display of heart, toughness and hunger that will be permanently imprinted on the minds of those lucky enough to bear witness.