Wildcats' true freshman Wilson runs like a veteran

Wildcats' true freshman Wilson runs like a veteran
Anthony Gimino
Anthony Gimino

By Anthony Gimino / Special for Tucson News Now

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Arizona Wildcats center Steven Gurrola, during last week's game against Nevada, tried to impart some senior knowledge to true freshman running back Nick Wilson.

Gurrola had spotted something about how one of the Wolf Pack's linebackers was playing, and how that affected the blocking scheme and Wilson's potential running lanes.

"He goes, 'Oh, I'm already seeing it,'" Gurrola said. "I was like, 'I don't even have to tell you.'"

It's been hard to tell that Wilson is a freshman. He has rushed 59 times for 345 yards in the past two games, when starter Terris Jones-Grigsby was out because of ankle injury. Wilson has produced 100-yard efforts in each of the first three games of his Arizona career.

In addition to the obvious running skills - the cuts at the line of scrimmage, the power to flatten second-level defenders, the speed to get to the end zone - is his understanding of the design of the play. Running backs coach and co-offensive coordinator Calvin Magee always tells his runners that their "first two steps belong to me."

In other words, no dancing in the backfield. No freelance running. Step where you're supposed to step. Read the defense. Make a cut into the correct lane. Just like Ka'Deem Carey did so well on his way to two consensus All-America seasons.

"I have just been trained by Coach Magee to follow my blocks," Wilson said, before adding with a smile: "That, and I get cussed out if I don't."

Such discipline is uncommon for a freshman.

"He's been disciplined with his footwork and his key reads, and he's trusting it," Magee said of Wilson. "He's doing that to a T. He's a student of the game. He's really understanding it.

"And then he's been phenomenal without the ball. He has picked up some key blocks on blitzes. He has put some people on the ground in his protection. ... Very unusual for a freshman."

Jones-Grigsby was not listed on UA's injury report this week, a good sign he will be available for Saturday's game against Cal (7 p.m.). Jones-Grigsby rushed 13 times for 124 yards in the opener.

Magee has joked with Jones-Grigsby about being "Wally Pipped." Then he had to explain to him who Wally Pipp was. (He was the New York Yankees first baseman in 1925 who, legend has it, took a day off because of a headache, allowing Lou Gehrig to play in his place. Gehrig went on to play in 2,130 consecutive games.)

"He had no clue who Wally Pipp was," Magee said of Jones-Grigsby. "But that's just the point. A lot of people don't know who Wally Pipp is. But they know the guy who replaced him."

We'll have to wait and see how Wilson and Jones-Grigsby co-exist in the same backfield. Jones-Grigsby, a fifth-year senior walk-on, had waited a long time and worked hard to get his first career carries a few weeks ago.

"Terris is a good kid. We still need him back," Magee said. "He sacrificed so much and he's worked his butt off. And he's still going to be a big part of it."

Anthony Gimino has covered University of Arizona athletics for more than two decades, including as the football beat writer for the Arizona Daily Star and the columnist for the Tucson Citizen.

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