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Converted safety Anthony Mariscal ‘grateful’ for touches at running back

Redshirt junior had 60 yards and a TD vs. Southern Utah

<span data-author="5158751">anthony-mariscal-arizona-wildcats-running-back-safety </span> Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

In his first three years with the Arizona Wildcats, Anthony Mariscal got on the field for nine games including a start as the “spur” safety in 2016. Each opportunity to play was a blessing, but he couldn’t help feeling like something was missing.

Then last spring he realized what it was: the football, in his hands.

A two-way star at Bakersfield’s Liberty High School, Mariscal realized how much he missing playing running back since coming to Tucson. And with Arizona going through a staff overhaul during the offseason he decided the time was right to make the switch back to offense.

“I went to Coach Sumlin to talk about a position change,” Mariscal said Tuesday. “He said, ‘go ahead and be in the room.’”

That’s where Mariscal was when new running backs coach Clarence McKinney was hired in mid-January. Eight months later the redshirt junior got his first carries, rushing nine times for 60 yards and a touchdown in last Saturday’s 62-31 win over Southern Utah.

“It was well worth the wait,” Mariscal said. “I was grateful for the opportunity that I was given. I hope I showed I could help the team.”

Mariscal’s first official touch on offense came in the season-opening loss to BYU when he caught a three-yard pass. He began the season third on the depth chart behind junior J.J. Taylor and sophomore Gary Brightwell, two teammates he credits for helping get him to this point.

“I first felt rusty but after a while it felt like I never left,” he said. “When we have guys like Gary and JJ to look after, they set a pretty good example. You pick up on their habits. JJ is a guy that you need to go to when you have questions or need help.”

Also aiding his conversion to ball carrier was his time on defense. He said he’s always aware of what opposing safeties are doing when he’s on the field.

“Back in the spring, when the safeties were rolling, I knew exactly what they were doing,” he said.

Mariscal considered himself a running back at the prep level but when it came time for college most schools were interested in having him on defense. He said he had a few options where he could play offense but picked Arizona in 2015 because “this place welcomed me.”

He redshirted as a freshman and then played in eight games in 2016, starting at spur against Grambling. He twice tallied six tackles, including in the Territorial Cup win over Arizona (during which the Wildcats didn’t throw the ball once in the second half).

Mariscal only played in one game last season, though, which no doubt left him with plenty of time to contemplate a switch.

“I enjoy defense but I enjoyed running the ball, having the ball in your hands and running people over,” he said.