By Eric Wein
Arizona Daily Wildcat
ntiwaun Carter will soon sprint out from the back field and step into the University of Arizona record books.
He is on the verge of becoming the No. 1 tailback in terms of yardage gained. Ninety-six yards separate him from that distinction and he could likely do it tomorrow night against Cal while record-holder Art Luppino watches from the stands.
The UA senior tailback will stand alone once he passes Lupino's 3,371 yardage mark set from 1953-56.
"It means a lot but winning means more to me," Carter said. "It's nice, but I'm not going in there thinking about it. When it happens, then I'll think about it."
To stand alone as the top UA running back for the most ground gained seems ironic since his initial recruiting trip went awry.
Before boarding a plane in Phoenix for Tucson, a flight attendant pointed him toward a plane where other recruits were waiting. After landing, he saw snow on the ground and became puzzled not knowing if it snowed regularly in Tucson.
While riding on a small bus with the others, Carter saw a big lumberjack statue and realized something was
wrong. He was at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
"I said, 'Man, this isn't where I'm supposed to be at,'" he said. "I was panicking. I didn't have enough money to get anywhere."
Meanwhile the UA coaches were alarmed as well when one of their prize recruits was nowhere to be seen. But the people at NAU treated him well, putting him up for the night and helping him on his way to his intended destination.
Upon arriving at Arizona, Carter was immediately put in action and carried for 606 yards his freshman season.
He has given the Wildcats a threat out of the backfield throughout his career, rushing for 739 yards in 1992 and 837 yards in 1993. After missing 1,000 yard seasons his first three years, he will finally eclipse that mark this year: he has 982 yards and six touchdowns.
Carter's rise to the top of the UA rushing list has come despite sharing the tailback role for his first three years with Chuck Levy and Billy Johnson. After patiently splitting time with those two, he relishes his year as the primary go-to guy.
What seems to be Carter's forté is grinding out the tough yardage ─ the three or four yard gains ─ instead of the long sprints in the open field. He constantly risks his 5-foot-10, 189-pound frame against bulky linebackers.
"When he runs, he thinks he's 230 pounds, he takes it right at people," right guard Warner Smith said. "Sometimes he may not get the best blocks in the world, but with him, you don't always need a great block.
"Just give him a little bit of daylight and he'll find it. You never see 'Twan take a hard hit. He's sticking his nose in there hitting people. They can't get great hits on him."
The Arizona coaching staff has constantly praised Carter's efforts throughout the season. They point out his effort and reliability along with his durability ─he has missed just two games in nearly four years.
"There isn't a player that handles things mentally as well as him," running backs coach Marc Lunsford said. "Nobody has as much inside as 'Twan. He's a relentless guy."
Carter does get frustrated trying to pound out yardage straight at the line. When it seems futile, he would rather see alternative offensive attempts.
"Up the middle plays are fine if we're keeping them off balance," he said. "If it's necessary and we see in due time they're going to break down, then I don't mind. It has happened in past games where you get it, get it, get it and it's not there and then 'Pow!' ─ I break one.When it's not there, then I wonder if it's me. Are my reads wrong or is it time to change and do something else?"
Carter takes special pride in tomorrow's game because his 1-year-old son, Ontiwaun Jr., will be there.
The younger Ontiwaun enjoyed watching his father play in the Fiesta Bowl and the elder has no doubts his son will carry on his legacy.
"He'll play," Carter said. "As far as what position, I don't know, but he'll play. He likes it a lot now and he's only 1."
It wasn't his stature that concerned Carter about his chances in Division I football while he attended Kennedy High School in Granada Hills, Calif. His troubles were in the academic workload and a struggle to pass the SAT test. He didn't think the school prepared him for the exam and it wasn't until his fourth try, after his coach paid for an SAT preparation course, that he was able to pass.
Those troubles seem long gone as he pursues a degree in sociology, a degree that he says he will get.
As far as heroes go there are two that stick out, one of which had more influence. When he looks up to a running back, it's Walter Payton. When he looks up to an individual, it's his mother, Marshell Humphrey.
His mother worked two jobs to raise her son and she will get further affirmation of how things have paid off when she arrives from Indiana to watch him play tomorrow and eventually when she sees him go through graduation ceremonies.
Carter still applies his mother's work ethic to his daily life.
"When it seems like there's nowhere to go, I always think something good is going to happen," he said. "It may not happen when you want it to happen, but in the long run, it comes out OK."
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