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NFL or bust: Arizona running back Gary Brightwell not lacking confidence

gary-brightwell-arizona-wildcats-running-back-slot-nfl-confidence-training-camp-2019 Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

Gary Brightwell enters his third year of college football having never started, and it’s unlikely that will change this season unless the Arizona Wildcats opt to go with a two-back set or primary running back J.J. Taylor gets injured.

Yet to hear Brightwell talk, he’s certain to be in the NFL some day. Why else play the game?

“I don’t have a backup plan,” Brightwell said Friday, when asked what he planned to do in life if a football career didn’t pan out. “I’m not going to have a backup plan. If I had a backup plan, there’s no reason to have played football.

“If I didn’t want to do it professionally, I probably wouldn’t have come to college.”

Confidence oozes from the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Brightwell, who emerged last season as a great sidekick to Taylor in Arizona’s backfield. He ran for 525 yards and three touchdowns, his 5.77 yards per carry tops on the team, and he logged a pair of 100-yard performances despite never getting more than 15 touches in a game.

All a product of his running style, which he describes as “physical, but I can give you a little bit of sauce.”

Even more impressive: it was Brightwell’s first year playing RB at the college level, having spent his freshman year in 2017 as a slot receiver and special teams contributor.

Primarily a running back in high school in Baltimore, Brightwell asked to get reps at slot as a freshman in an effort to get on the field. Moved back to the backfield by new coach Kevin Sumlin’s staff, he shined in his backup role with 19 of his 91 carries resulting in first downs including 11 (on 40 rushes) in the second half.

Some looks at slot are still possible, he said, as all of Arizona’s running backs are being put there during training camp to see if that can be part of this year’s offense.

“I’m good with whatever (running backs coach DeMarco Murray) tells me to do,” Brightwell said. “Whatever Coach Murray tells me to do, I’m going to do it.”

Though he hasn’t been officially timed, Brightwell believes he can run a 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds. He also believes he can beat anyone on the team in a race.

Sounds cocky, sure, but Brightwell wasn’t joking. That’s not part of his makeup.

“Everything I do I take it serious, no matter if it’s just stretching, reading a book, helping my mom,” he said. “Don’t matter what it is.”