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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Vegas deals up home turf to UA’s Antolin

LAS VEGAS - Keola Antolin knows Las Vegas can get cold.

The Arizona Wildcats’ running back was 6 years old when his entire family — parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins — moved from Kalihi on the island of O’ahu to Las Vegas.

One of Antolin’s first gifts upon arriving in the desert in December 1996 was a jacket, just heavy enough to keep him from freezing in temperatures that seemed downright Arctic compared to Hawaii.

“I knew it was going to be cold from the second I got here,” he said. “It’s just like that.”

Antolin couldn’t help but think of the past on Wednesday, when a rare snowstorm hit Las Vegas as the Wildcats began preparation for Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl.

It’s been almost exactly 12 years since Antolin moved from the islands to Las Vegas.

Sin City is as much a part of Antolin’s story as his Hawaiian roots.

Antolin, 18, discovered football here. Won a state championship here, starring for Bishop Gorman High School. Became a Division I prospect here.

Left his mark here.

Antolin will split carries with Nicolas Grigsby when the Wildcats take on BYU at Sam Boyd Stadium. That the freshman is on the field at all is an accomplishment in itself. Antolin has rushed for 525 yards and 10 touchdowns for a UA team that has rediscovered the running game on the way to its first postseason appearance since 1998.

“You’ve got to have the reliability factor,” said UA running backs coach Dana Dimel. “Keola’s been very, very consistent and very, very reliable.”

Keola discovered Las Vegas and football almost simultaneously.

The Antolins moved to Las Vegas in 1996 hoping to take advantage of the construction boom.

Conrad Antolin, Keola’s father, came first to Sin City with his father and brother-in-law. Within a few months, the men sent for their families.

Keola, the third of Conrad and Nancy Antolin’s four children, arrived in Las Vegas just in December, just in time to enroll in school for the spring semester.

Within months, Keola — and most of his new friends — signed up for Pop Warner youth football.

Coaches noticed Antolin’s speed right away. His quick reflexes, the result of a martial arts background, made him a natural fit in the backfield.

“Right from the get-go, the coaches put him at running back,” Conrad Antolin said Wednesday. “He was just one of those kids that could play football.

“He went to high school, where everyone was bigger and faster, and it was just kind of the same. He did well.”

Keola’s size was an issue, even then. He stood just 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 150 pounds as a freshman at Bishop Gorman; four years later, he’s listed — generously — at 5-8, 180.

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