Greg Nwoko arrived at training camp two weeks ago sporting a surgically repaired shoulder and a new jersey number - 34.
"It's what I wore in high school," he said with a smile.
Whether his number is called this fall may depend on how his shoulder holds up.
The Arizona Wildcats third-string tailback will try to force his way into a crowded backfield before the team opens its season Sept. 3 at Toledo.
Nwoko played in 10 games as a redshirt freshman, gaining 273 yards on 76 carries and scoring three touchdowns. He caught 18 passes for 186 yards, tops among Arizona's running backs.
The injury kept Nwoko from a larger role.
The 6-foot-2-inch, 228-pound bruiser tore the labrum in his right shoulder during the Wildcats' 36-33 loss to Washington on Oct. 10 and was used sparingly after that.
Surgery, performed on Jan.13, kept him out of spring drills.
Nwoko returned to full-contact drills two weeks ago, giving the Wildcats a much-needed short-yardage back.
He played with the second team in Saturday's scrimmage at Sierra Vista Buena High School, gaining 17 yards on three carries. His 5.6 yards per carry was the best average among Arizona's ball carriers.
"My shoulder's a lot stronger," he said. "It feels a lot better. I was out for a while, but it feels good to finally get back out there."
The next step for Nwoko, 20, is getting comfortable.
The Wildcats offense requires a lot from the running backs, whether it's blocking, running routes out of a spread formation or plunging into a pile from a pro-style set. While Nwoko knows all the plays, he must work on "playing fast."
"That's the hardest thing with guys that miss spring and miss time," co-offensive coordinator Seth Littrell said. "There's too much thinking."
The Wildcats appear set when it comes to every-down backs. Nicolas Grigsby is recovered from his own shoulder injury and appears locked in as the team's starter. Keola Antolin has rushed for 1,162 yards and 14 touchdowns in two years as Grigsby's backup and appears headed for a similar role this fall.
Nwoko likely will serve as a change-of-pace back, mostly in short-yardage and goal-line situations. With fullback Taimi Tutogi out indefinitely with a high ankle sprain, Nwoko's role could increase. Tutogi was used as a tailback in some formations; Nwoko could conceivably take his place.
"Whenever we need a big back, he certainly brings certain stuff to the table," Littrell said. "We need him in goal-line and short-yardage situations. If he's a guy who proves that, then we'll definitely put him back there."
Nwoko said he already has a better grasp of the offense than he had a year ago. His legs are stronger, the result of off-season workouts, and his bulky upper-body has been toned down.
"Whenever the coaches put me in, I'll do my job," he said. "If Keola and 'Grigs' are in there and doing it, I'll be cheering for them."
On StarNet: Read more on reporter Ryan Finley's blog at go.azstarnet.com/finley
The Arizona Wildcats will hold a practice at 8:30 a.m. and a scrimmage at 5:30 p.m. today at Jimenez Practice Facility. Both are closed to media and public.
TRAINING CAMP INSIDER
Day 13 at Rincon Vista
• Highlights: The Arizona Wildcats defense continued to gain ground in Tuesday morning's workout at Rincon Vista. Defensive tackle Justin Washington had two sacks during 11-on-11 drills, and Ricky Elmore and D'Aundre Reed were both impressive from the defensive end spots. Safety Joseph Perkins had an interception during skeleton drills. Quarterback Nick Foles looked good, a day after returning from a groin pull. He connected with Terrence Miller for a 60-yard touchdown pass, then found Richard Morrison for another big score. Devin Veal and Richard Morrison both had tricky catches in traffic. Former Wildcats star Max Zendejas watched practice; his nephew, Alex, is the UA's starting place-kicker.
• Weather: 91 and cloudy.
• Injury report: Linebacker Trevor Erno (shoulder sprain) returned to practice after missing Monday's workouts. Offensive tackle Mickey Baucus (ankle sprain), wide receiver Juron Criner (concussion), fullback Taimi Tutogi (ankle sprain) and guard Vaughn Dotsy (back surgery) are all out with injuries.
• He said it: "The biggest difference now is everybody's just focusing. People were lining up on the wrong side, and doing little things wrong. We went into the film room, and now we've cleaned it up." - Robert Golden