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New roles on field, at home have transformed Nathan Tilford

nathan-tilford-arizona-wildcats-running-back-twitter-2019-transfer-father-demarco-murray Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

If you’re one of the few Arizona Wildcats fans who hasn’t already done this at some point in the past three or so years, search ‘Nathan Tilford’ on Twitter and scroll through the results.

Then ask yourself: why is someone that has played so little get so much attention?

“I wasn’t ready,” Tilford said Tuesday when asked why he rarely saw the field during his first two seasons. “Still making simple mistakes that I should have had fixed weeks ago, or at the beginning of the season.”

Tilford has been one of the most coveted players for the Wildcats since he first committed in 2016. A 4-star running back prospect who picked Arizona over ASU, Michigan, Nebraska, UCLA and USC, he enrolled in January 2017 and was the talk of spring ball and training camp.

He’s been the talk of every offseason since then, including this past summer when new running backs coach DeMarco Murray said Tilford is “getting the reps and he’s understanding the offense. I think his confidence is finally starting to show.”

But the inability to do non-ball carrier things held Tilford back during his first two seasons. Issues with pass protection and blocking assignments were particularly problematic, he said.

It helps that he has found himself a defined role in Arizona’s crowded running back room, one that maximizes his assets. The 6-foot-2, 207-pound redshirt sophomore has been tabbed as the short-yardage/goal-line option, which so far has translated into a 1-yard touchdown run in the opener at Hawaii and 40 yards on six carries against NAU.

“I love that role,” Tilford said. “That’s what I’m here for, that’s what I’ve gotta do.”

It’s not the only new role for Tilford, who earlier this year became a father. Since then he’s learned to budget his time accordingly, focusing on football when on campus and parenting 6-month daughter Arebella Rose when at home.

“When I’m here I’m a football player and when I’m home I’m a dad,” he said. “I only focus on my girlfriend and my daughter. I don’t bring none of that football stuff home.”

Tilford appeared in 10 games as a freshman, breaking off a 65-yard run in the opener against NAU and then scoring twice two weeks later at UTEP. But he only got one carry the rest of that season, and in 2018 ended up redshirting after getting just a single touch against Colorado in Week 10.

Nowadays in college football, that sort of scenario would often lead to “transfer portal” becoming part of a player’s vocabulary. Not Tilford, though.

“Because this is where I started, I wanted to finish off what I started,” he said. “We all have a role here. I didn’t feel any need to leave.”

Tilford said he also never gave any thought to switching positions, as former quarterback Jamarye Joiner did in becoming a receiver.

“I came here to play running back,” he said, “and that’s what I’m going to do.”