Backfield battlers

By Brett Fera
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, September 24, 2004

Arizona backups Gilbert Harris and Chris Henry form tailback triumvirate with starter Mike Bell

All-Pac-10 running back Mike Bell is undoubtedly the star of the Arizona football running attack. But while nobody within the program is ready to refute Bell's status as the team's offensive catalyst just yet, it's been Bell's understudies that have stolen the show as of late.

Gilbert Harris, a 6-foot-2, 223-pound back from San Antonio did all but supplant Bell as the team's top back over the past two weeks. He led the Wildcats in rushing both games, including gaining 56 yards on 11 carries during Arizona's heartbreaking 9-7 loss to No. 20 Wisconsin last weekend.

"It feels good because running back is my natural position," said Harris, who ran for 56 yards total last season as one of the Wildcats' primary fullbacks. "When I came in the opportunity to get on the field faster was at fullback, with Mike here and Clarence (Farmer) here."

Harris isn't the only one charged with the duty of spelling Bell. Redshirt freshman Chris Henry has given the Wildcats a three-headed monster in the backfield this season. Henry's numbers so far - 14 carries for 53 yards - may not compare to those of his counterparts, but the 6-foot, 220-pound back said he's happy just be on the field, playing with the team again each week.

"I really wanted to get back and compete with the rest of the guys," said Henry, who suffered a leg injury that sidelined him for most of the 2003 season.

With early season injuries once again hampering the UA running corps - Bell took a helmet to the knee on the first play of Arizona's 23-6 loss to Utah and was slowed last week after a season-high 34-yard run - it's a blessing for the Wildcats to have a pair of backups willing and able to pick up the slack for their teammate.

But that doesn't mean any of them are ready to go to work without their two backfield companions.

"We're a tripod," Henry said. "I guess we have enough balance to stand up, but we definitely won't be able to stand up for long. We all have to contribute, the three of us."

"We are a close-knit group," he added. "Doing it as a group is what we talked about all summer and what we worked hard for all summer."

Bell, slowed this season by both injuries and four fumbles through three games, is still the team's top back, Henry said, adding that while he thinks Bell is probably getting frustrated by the injuries, if anyone can get through it Bell can.

"Good players like Mike handle everything really well," Henry said. "Me and Gilbert are just trying to keep him up, keep his spirits up and everything. When he can't do it in a game, we'll do it, and when we can't do it, he'll do it."

Harris said support from his teammates - like Henry and Bell - has been vital to his success this season as well.

Harris was referred to the dean of students earlier this season, according to police reports, after he lied to police about his name. Harris and freshman defensive lineman Yaniv Barnett were reportedly sitting on top of Sixth Street Garage when they were approached by officers. Barnett tossed something over his shoulder, which officers later determined to be marijuana, reports stated.

A humbled Harris said the situation has made him understand that, as an athlete, his actions are likely to be under greater scrutiny. Harris said he thinks the situation became bigger than it should have, but added that he understands that it's something he's going to have to work through.

"That stuff happens when you put yourself in a bad situation," Harris said. "I just want to look past it and move forward and help my team the best I can."

Through troubles both on and off the field, Henry said that it's important for the Wildcats' trio of running backs to be the first ones there for each other in a pinch.

"If one of us ever needs it," Henry said, "there will be someone else there to pick them up."