As an 18-year-old high school senior, a smiling Ka’Deem Carey walked into Canyon del Oro’s gymnasium and made one of the biggest decisions of his life.
He sat down in front of a microphone and presented his mom with a wrapped birthday present. Inside was a T-shirt of the school he planned to attend — Arizona.
Carey made a decision even bigger than that one Monday afternoon. This time, there was no production.
In a 386-word news release, the UA officially announced Carey will skip his senior season of college and enter May’s NFL draft.
He is the first Arizona player to leave early for the NFL since tight end Rob Gronkowski in 2010 and the first UA running back to declare early since Chris Henry in 2007.
“I’m excited for the next phase of my career and to enter the NFL draft,” Carey said in the release. “I want to thank God, my family, Coach (Rich) Rodriguez, Coach (Calvin) Magee and all of my coaches for everything they’ve done for me. My time playing football for Arizona will always be very special to me and I want to thank the fans and the Tucson community for supporting me throughout my career.
“The future of Arizona football is bright. Bear Down.”
Added Rodriguez: “Ka’Deem Carey was a great player for us. We wish him all the best as he pursues his professional career.”
Carey will leave Arizona with a résumé matched by few others.
He owns or shares 26 school records and is the only offensive player in school history to be named a two-time consensus first-team All-American.
Carey finishes his Arizona career with a school-record 4,239 yards over three seasons, which ranks him seventh on the Pac-12 all-time career rushing list. He also set school records in all-purpose yards (5,483), rushing touchdowns (48) and total touchdowns (52).
The final game of his college career came in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl last month against Boston College. Carey rushed for 169 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. It marked the 16th straight time he ran for 100 or more yards in a game, establishing a new Pac-12 record; it’s the most by any FBS running back in the past 10 years.
After leading the nation in rushing with 1,929 yards as a sophomore, Carey, playing in one fewer game, finished with 1,885 yards and 19 touchdowns this season.
“Seeing him go up against our guys most of the time, it was always tough to judge, ‘Can he live up to the talent he has?’” CDO coach Dusty Peace said. “‘Can he do this; can he do that?’ He lived up to it all. It always seemed like — no matter the level — the bigger the matchups, the bigger the games for Ka’Deem. There’s a lot of stuff that can’t be measured and Ka’Deem has all the intangibles that the great NFL guys have.”
Carey is expected to be one of the first running backs taken in May’s draft. He received a second-round grade from the NFL draft advisory board and is in good standing in various NFL draft rankings.
The 5-foot-10-inch, 207-pounder is ranked as the third-best draft-eligible running back by ESPN.com and the 60th top prospect overall.
CBSsports.com has Carey ranked as the 41st best overall prospect and the top RB in the draft. NFL.com senior analyst Gil Brandt updated his running back board after Carey’s announcement on Monday and put him at No. 2, behind LSU’s Jeremy Hill, who also declared Monday.
Carey will have some competition in the draft: 16 other underclassman running backs have declared already.
The next step for Carey will be to sign with an agent and begin preparing for the draft. He’ll likely participate in the UA’s pro day at Kindall/Sancet Stadium this spring.
That will be one of Carey’s final acts in Tucson as a non-pro.
The 21-year-old first started playing football when he was 7 and began tearing up the Pop Warner circuit with the Tucson Steelers and Marana Broncos.
He continued his career at Canyon del Oro, where he was called up to varsity as a freshman. Before he rewrote the record book at Arizona, he did it for the Dorados.
Carey rushed for 5,701 yards and 82 touchdowns at CDO and helped guide the school to the 2009 Class 4A, Division I state championship.
After leading the Dorados to a second-place finish in 2010 as a senior, Carey signed with Arizona a couple of months later and kept dazzling fans in Southern Arizona.
All total, between CDO and the UA, Carey played 51 games in Southern Arizona. He rushed for a combined 9,940 yards over parts of seven seasons.
“It was great to be a fan and watch these past three years,” Peace said. “I’m a Tucson boy just like him and you could throw a football from where I grew up to where he grew up as a kid. I love to see a kid that not just did he go to the UA, he’s from our neighborhood.
“I’m very proud of him.”
Carey was suspended for the first game of this season after a couple of off-field run-ins in the offseason. The junior was involved in a domestic violence incident with his then- pregnant ex-girlfriend and was facing disorderly conduct charges that were later dropped. He was also involved with an altercation with a security guard at a UA basketball game at McKale Center last January.
Because of that, Carey will likely have to elaborate on those situations when he meets with NFL teams face-to-face before the draft. That could have an impact on when he’s selected or teams could be satisfied with his answers.
The first round of the NFL draft is set for May 8. The second and third rounds will follow a day later, and the draft will conclude on the 10th with the final four rounds.
Arizona hasn’t had a first-round pick since cornerback Antoine Cason was chosen by the San Diego Chargers with the 27th pick of the 2008 draft.Since then, the Wildcats have produced three second-round picks in offensive lineman Eben Britton, tight end Gronkowski and defensive end Brooks Reed, a Sabino grad.