Tag: ASU

Arizona State Football Players in the NFL

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

The NCAA football season is upon us with the first full slate of games being played on September 2nd. That date looms large for many former ASU football players that are looking to make NFL rosters for the first time.

Or the 10th time.

Unlike previous years, NFL teams aren’t required to cut in stages, they can keep the entire squad until 4pm EST on Saturday when they are required to trim to the final 53-man roster.

The Ravens have stashed away WR Tim White

A total of 22 former Arizona State footballers started the 2017 preseason hoping to realize their dreams and as of this writing, only three have been given their walking papers.

So far.

Earlier this year, defensive lineman Demetrius Cherry was waived in Oakland after spending the previous year on the practice squad.

Journeyman receiver and kick returner Rashad Ross found himself back in another training camp this summer, this time in Buffalo. The Bills would be Ross’ seventh team in four years, but he found himself released prior to playing in the final preseason game.

For those that have followed the Rudy-esque saga of safety Jordan Simone, this one hurt. The oft-injured Simone with more heart and desire than most was waived earlier this month from his beloved Seahawks after being knocked out in the team’s first game.

Rookie speedster, Tim White was shining for the Baltimore Ravens but suffered a season-ending injury during the preseason. White was sent to the Injured Reserve with the silver lining being that he will basically be red-shirting in preparation for the 2018 season.

Locks to Return

Sizzle ready to light it up in B-More

Currently, there are 12 NFL teams that have a Sun Devil on their roster, but who are the real locks to return?

Terrell Suggs – Outside Linebacker – BALTIMORE RAVENS

Suggs is heading into his 15th year with the Ravens and the elder statesman of the Ravens is not ready to ‘Gentle Into That Good Night’ just yet.

Vontaze Burfict – Outside Linebacker – CINCINNATI BENGALS

Yes, he will begin the 2017 season where he spends a little too much time – suspended, but hopefully the veteran entering his sixth season will eventually come to his senses and learn to play nice.

Damarious Randall – Cornerback – GREEN BAY PACKERS

The third-year cornerback is making quite a name for himself in the Packers’ secondary starting all three postseason games in 2016, racking up 12 tackles, 10 of them solo.

More Than Likely

There are no guarantees in like much like making an NFL roster but these guys will more than likely find themselves a confirmed spot on Saturday.

Brock Osweiler – Quarterback – CLEVELAND BROWNS

Much to-do has been given to the fact that Osweiler has been relegated to the bench on Cleveland of all places…behind a unproven rookie in DeShone Kizer. Who knows where Brock will be come opening day, but it’s safe to say that he will be on an NFL roster.

Can Strong Flourish in H-Town?

Jaelen Strong – Wide Receiver – HOUSTON TEXANS

Strong is entering his third season in the league with something to prove. He has been less than stellar in his first two seasons but with the injury to Will Fuller, this is Strong’s time to shine and cement his spot across from DeAndre Hopkins.

Shawn Lauvao – Offensive Guard – WASHINGTON REDSKINS

The veteran lineman has heard all the rumblings but he hasn’t let them affect them. He is still listed at the starting left guard on the Redskins’ website and he is looking to keep that spot, come hell or high water.

Lawrence Guy – Defensive End – NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

The do-it-all defensive stalwart has finally found himself a home in New England. After years of proving himself on various practice squads and even a stint on the IR, Guy is now a starter for the defending champion Patriots.

A Good Possibility

  • With Jamil & The Cup

    Carl Bradford – Middle Linebacker – BUFFALO BILLS

  • Will Sutton – Defensive Tackle – MINNESOTA VIKINGS
  • Robert Nelson, Jr. – Cornerback – HOUSTON TEXANS
  • Christian Westerman – Offensive Guard – CINCINNATI BENGALS
  • Jamil Douglas – Offensive Guard – NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Fighting Tooth and Nail

  • De’Chavon “Gump” Hayes – Cornerback – ARIZONA CARDINALS
  • Marcus Hardison – Defensive End – CINCINNATI BENGALS
  • Zane Gonzalez – Kicker – CLEVELAND BROWNS
  • Matt Haack – Punter – MIAMI DOLPHINS
  • Mike Bercovici- Quarterback – LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
  • Devin Lucien – Wide Receiver – NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
  • DJ FOSTER – Running Back – NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

On the day that Arizona State football returns to the gridiron in earnest, I wish all past, present and future Sun Devils the best of luck in the hopes that they will realize their dreams, be it in the league or elsewhere.

National Signing Day Looms Large for Arizona State Football

TEMPE — It’s National Signing Day, when 17 and 18 year old boys decide put their signature where there mouth is. A day where fax machines get their biggest workout of the year and after all is said and done, a ritual as tried and true as any other rears it’s ugly head.

Middle-aged men will be complaining and in some cases cursing these young boys and their families.

It’s disgusting…but it happens, every year.

I get it, they want what is best for their favorite team or Alma Mater, but “C’mon Man,” this is a young man who is in most cases still in high school. The biggest decision that I had to make my senior year was whether to go to Burger King or Pizza Hut for lunch; but I never had somebody twice my age calling me out on social media because I just wasn’t in the mood for a Whopper.

Friday Night Lights

Eno Benjamin Brings Texas Football to Tempe

High school football is king in Texas.

Despite all the Hook ‘Em, Gig ‘Em and whatever inappropriate things said at Baylor, the state of Texas lives and breathes for high school football.

A whopping 46 players on ESPN’s Top 300 hail from the state of Texas with Georgia and California trailing but not close. 15 percent of the country’s top-ranked players call the Lone Star State home and the third best running back from the talent-rich state has already enrolled in Tempe.

Eno Benjamin is from Wylie East High School in Wylie, Texas just outside Dallas and has been one the best recruiters for the Sun Devils.

An early enrollee, Benjamin could not wait to get on campus and arrived in Tempe the day after announcing his commitment at the All-America Bowl.

Benjamin not only excels on the gridiron but also in the classroom, he is in the Barrett Honors College and looking to major in business law.

The Alabama Connection

The top teams stay at the top due to recruiting and the Alabama Crimson Tide is a perfect example.

Despite losing in the National Championship earlier this month to Clemson, Nick Saban and his coaching squad has had a top recruiting class year in and year out. This year is no different, ESPN.com ranks Alabama at the top of the heap with 24 commits including three 5-star and 17 4-star recruits.

By comparison, Arizona State checks in at No. 37 on the same list with six 4-star and 11 3-star recruits. If ever there was a team to emulate, it would be Alabama: and Arizona State is doing just that.

Can Barnett Overtake Manny Wilkins at QB?

It started with wooing quarterback Blake Barnett who played in Bama’s first game of the 2016 season defeating one of Arizona State’s most-hated rivals—the University of Southern California.

Barnett was nearly perfect against the Trojans connecting on 5-of-6 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. After seeing limited playing time, Barnett left Alabama after week four and signed with the Devils in December.

It was originally believed that Barnett would have to sit out the 2017 season but Barnett found out the day before National Signing Day that he would be eligible to play opening day due to an appeal ruling.

Next up on the Alabama hit list was Brandon Ruiz.

The Sun Devils just bid farewell to unanimous All-American kicker Zane Gonzalez and were worried that they would never be able to fill his shoe.

The local product out of Gilbert Williams Field High School would routinely nail 70+ yard field goals and was thus heavily recruited by Nick Saban and Alabama. On June 10th, 2016 Ruiz committed to Alabama…seven months later, he opted to stay true and committed to Arizona State.

Flipping former Alabama players and commits is one thing but the real coup de grace is being able to acquire one of the Crimson Tide’s top recruiters.

Napier Brings Recruiting Clout to Tempe

On Monday, Arizona State announced that Alabama’s Wide Receivers Coach Billy Napier was named Lead Offensive Coordinator. Over the past five years at Alabama, Napier was an integral part of the 2011 and 2015 National Championship teams and coached in the 2016 game.

Prior to his time at Alabama, Napier was the Offensive Coordinator/ Quarterbacks Coach at Clemson under Dabo Swinney.

The 2008 Clemson recruiting class was ranked as the No. 2 class in the country and the 2009 offense set an all-time school record for most points in a season under his tutelage.

 

Bishop Gorman High School

In Nevada, there is only one high school that matters, and it is Las Vegas’ Bishop Gorman High School. Five of the top six rated players in Nevada are all on the same squad including defensive backs Bubba Bolden and Alex Perry. Bolden had originally committed to Southern Cal but backed out when he learned that his best friend Perry had committed to Arizona State.

Bolden Looks Incredibly Happy Here

In an announcement akin to Snoop Dogg, Jr. committing to UCLA, Bolden re-committed to USC at the All-American Bowl stunning Sun Devil faithful everywhere.

There are still those holding out hope that Graham and company have the clout to flip Bolden to join Perry and Scottsdale Saguaro’s KJ Jarrell, the No. 5 ranked player in Arizona and the No. 28 safety in the country.

If the Devils were to score a coup with flipping Bolden and then he and Perry would go on to perform as expected, it would bode very well for an excellent recruiter like Napier to have a BG pipeline. Imagine the amazing things that the remaining three 4-star recruits from Gorman could have done for Arizona State.

Staying True to ASU

It’s no secret that the “School Down South” has difficulty recruiting when it comes to football. Of the top 20 recruits according to ESPN.com, only three have committed to The University of Arizona. Arizona State on the other hand has been ‘in the mix’ for every top player coming out of Arizona with nine commits from the Grand Canyon State including three of the top five.

Can Jarrell Save This Defense?

The state’s top player, offensive tackle Austin Jackson visited four Pac-12 schools including Oregon, Washington, USC but saved Arizona State for his last official visit on December 2nd. He has kept his selection close to the vest but has since eliminated Oregon from his final three.

Scottsdale’s Saguaro High School had a decent 2016 season.

They dominated each opponent they faced going 14-0 with a phenomenal 183-30 scoring advantage in the 4A State Playoffs and finished the year as the the state’s 2nd ranked team behind 6A State Champion Chandler High School.

In addition to the aforementioned safety, KJ Jarrell, three more of Arizona’s top 20 players are from Saguaro High School and have committed to Arizona State. Offensive guard Corey Stephens, outside linebacker Kyle Soelle and tight end Jared Poplawsksi are all rated as 3-star recruits and will look to maintain the strong pipeline to Arizona State.

Other schools in the southeast Valley are staying true to ASU with the state’s No. 3 and No.4 players coming from Gilbert’s Highland High and Chandler’s Basha High. Both Tyler Johnson and Ryan Kelley are ranked by ESPN as 4-star recruits but only Johnson is listed on ESPN’s Top 300.

The tide is starting to turn, no longer are the top players in the state looking to get away to the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles or the tradition of playing in the SEC or Big Ten. The Sun Devils are on the cusp of greatness and this year’s Signing Day is merely the beginning of something great.

I hope you are along for the ride.

Local Products Foster & Westerman Among Others to Make NFL Rosters

DJ Patriot

With the National Football League preseason coming to an end, fans of the game couldn’t be happier. For those hoping to make an NFL roster, this weekend was gut-wrenching and ended up with some former Arizona State football players having their lifelong dreams broken.

After the smoke cleared, as of Monday afternoon, only 11 former Sun Devils saw their names on an active roster, with three more signed to a practice squad and second-year defensive tackle Marcus Hardison placed on Injured Reserve for the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Good News

Following a 2016 draft that only saw two ASU players drafted, five more were signed as unrestricted free agents. The Sun Devils highest draft pick, Christian Westerman, out of Chandler’s Hamilton High went in the fifth round as the 161st pick to the aforementioned Cincinnati Bengals. Westerman has little hope of starting for the Bengals but he is listed second on the depth chart at right guard behind five-year veteran Kevin Zeitler.

Right Guard Christian Westerman

Right Guard Christian Westerman

Also in Cincinnati is six-year linebacker Vontaze Burfict who starts the season on the suspended list and will be eligible to return on September 29 when the Bengals host the Dolphins at home.

The New England Patriots selected the other Sun Devil with the fourth pick of the seventh round when they picked up wide receiver Devin Lucien. The Arizona State standout who had 1,074 receiving yards to go along with eight touchdowns in his senior year struggled to find his way among one of the most prolific receiving corps in the country which carries five receivers and four tight ends. Lucien, unfortunately did not make the 53-man roster but found his way on to the 10-man practice squad.

The surprise coming out of Foxboro was Lucien’s college teammate, D.J. Foster. The undrafted free agent was one of four running backs to make the 53-man roster and looks to challenge James White at the receiving back position until Dion Lewis is activated from the PUP (Physically Able to Perform) list. The slash running back/wide receiver led many categories in his sophomore and junior seasons with 10 scores (six rushing, four receiving) and 12 touchdowns (nine rushing, three receiving) respectively.

The Baltimore Ravens bring back a couple of seasoned veterans in seven-year defensive tackle Lawrence Guy and 15-year linebacker Terrell Suggs. After missing the entirety of last year to a torn Achilles tendon in week one, Suggs impressed many playing only two series against Detroit.

The Chicago Bears have seen some turmoil due to the ineffectiveness of their quarterback situation in Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer but their defense has always been their strong suit. Will Sutton is listed as the second-string Nose Tackle and has started 12 games over the past two years while playing in 28. Needless to say that Sutton can wreak havoc and looks to improve on his seven starts in 2015.

The bad news out of the “Windy City” is the confusion surrounding cornerback Omar Bolden. The four-year veteran was brought in during the offseason to bolster the Special Teams but was unceremoniously released prior to training camp.

Hanging by a Thread

With Jamil & The Cup

With Jamil & The Cup

Three former standouts at Arizona State have been relegated to the practice squad for their respective teams after a tough 2016 preseason. The Green Bay Packers have enjoyed continued success from cornerback Damarious Randall and he is listed atop the depth chart at the left corner.

The news for fellow Sun Devil Carl Bradford isn’t as promising. The third-year inside linebacker was waived over the weekend and was “saved by the bell” being signed to the practice squad. Bradford couldn’t have done much better in preseason with 15 total tackles and a pass defended with play in all four games. This will be Bradford’s third year with the Packers and and the second on the practice squad.

Down in Miami, after two seasons on the offensive line, guard Jamil Douglas was waived and signed to the practice squad. Douglas, who started six games last year at guard and center didn’t impress the new coaching staff this preseason and will look to prove himself worthy in practice.

My new favorite team with a starting quarterback and starting slot receiver is the Houston Texans. Quarterback Brock Osweiler and Jaelen Strong never played together at Arizona State University but I think this tandem will light things up in H-Town. A teammate of both Osweiler and Strong, cornerback Robert Nelson has been signed to the Texans practice squad. Nelson, who was with the Cleveland Browns for the 2015 preseason was waived and then signed by the Arizona Cardinals. After two months on the practice squad, Nelson was named to the active roster only to be released a month later. A month following his release from Arizona, he was signed to Houston’s practice squad and failed to make the 53-man roster again this season.

Still Hoping

Will Berco Make San Diego's Practice Squad?

Bercovici’s Future is now in limbo

Several other seniors are still in the mix for spots on practice squads including most notably, quarterback Mike Bercovici and offensive guard Vi Teofilo in San Diego. Berco seems to be a lock for the practice squad after the Chargers waived journeyman QB Zach Mettenberger.

{Edited to add that neither Bercovici nor Teofilo were selected to the Chargers practice squad.}

Defensive tackle Demetrius Cherry played the 2016 preseason with the San Francisco 49ers and still has lingering hope to sign with the practice squad as only nine spots have been filled as of Monday afternoon.

{Edited to add that Cherry was not selected to the 49ers practice squad.}

Five-year veteran center Garth Gerhart found himself back on the Cleveland Browns for the 2016 training camp and preseason. Gerhart who was an undrafted free agent who signed with the Browns in early 2013. He never made the active roster and was picked up by the Packers where he remained on the active roster for the 2014 season. Gerhart was in the Browns camp this season and was waived on the final day. All hope isn’t lost for Gerhart as there are still two open spots as of this writing on the Browns’ practice squad.

{Edited to add that Gerhart was not selected to the Browns practice squad.}

Two other Sun Devils are looking to make the final spot on their respective practice squads. Third-year safety Alden Darby looks to latch on in Indianapolis after spending the past two years on practice squads in San Diego, Pittsburgh and New Orleans.

Another local product, Scottsdale Chaparral High’s Deveron Carr has bounced around the practice squads, much like Darby. The cornerback played in nine games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013 before being waived. Carr eventually got on with practice squads in Indianapolis and Washington before heading to Kansas City for the 2016 preseason.

{Edited to add that neither Darby nor Carr were selected to the Colts or Chiefs practice squad.}

End of the line for Pic6Darb?

End of the line for Alden Darby?

Linebacker Lloyd Carrington was invited to Washington Redskins camp and joined two fellow Sun Devils with Shawn Lauvao and Rashad Ross. Seven-year veteran offensive guard Lauvao and second-year receiver Ross made the cut, but Carrington did not. His dreams were further dashed as the Redskins filled out their 10-man roster without including Carrington.  He, like all other players waived can be signed by any team after clearing waivers.

Lastly, third-year defensive tackle Davon Coleman who jumped around from the Bears to the Buccaneers to the Giants before being waived yet again this weekend. The 2014 undrafted free agent made the Cowboys roster in 2014 as a rookie and again in 2015 but was released in week three of the season. He was picked up by the Bears and signed to the practice squad only to be released three months later. Coleman was invited to the Giants camp this season but was cut early in the process.

Non-Playing Futures

Nothing was quite as heart-wrenching as the story of redshirt senior safety Jordan Simone. The heart and soul of the Sun Devils, the defensive captain had his career ended after tearing his ACL last November.  Simone had rehabbed the knee and was slotted by many to be drafted until he re-injured his knee. He hasn’t given up and remains positive while once again rehabbing and is no stranger to overcoming obstacles.

To wrap it up, we come full-circle with center Nick Kelly who was invited to Patriots’ training camp along with Foster and Lucien. He was released early in the process and is now an offensive line assistant coach back at Arizona State.

 

Camp Tontozona Ushers in 2016 Arizona State Football Season

Camp

The cool pines of Payson are an amazing getaway for Valley residents in August when the mercury reaches into the upper reaches of 110+ degrees for days on end. The Sun Devil football team returned to Camp Tontozona earlier this week for some time away from the heat, cell phones and all other modern distractions.

A week to focus on team building and bonding that has been a tradition since 1960 when legendary Frank Kush was at the helm. Save for a brief stretch during the Dennis Erickson era, the Tontozona practices have always signaled the beginning of a new football season for Arizona State University.

Coach Graham addressing the team

Coach Graham addressing the team

The team arrived on Tuesday night and got settled into their bunks and prepared for a return to the hallowed practice grounds on Wednesday morning, but Mother Nature had another idea. The team had to move to a nearby turf field due to the rain and head coach Todd Graham was the first to admit that it felt a little off.

“It’s a little bit different starting out here, but I like it,” he said.  “It’s a great surface to practice on, so if it rains, we’ll come down here.”

The biggest question surrounding the program and the only thing that people seem to be interested in is the quarterback situation. This year’s stable conssists 0f four highly sought after signal-callers but the worry on most people’s minds is that there is a total of zero combined games played by the group…zero. Redshirt sophomore Manny Wilkins seems to be the leader but redshirt freshmen Brady White and Bryce Perkins are hot on his heels with true freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole proving to be just as capable as the others.

Is Manny Wilkins the starter?

Is Manny Wilkins the starter?

Aside from the field generals, another area for deep concern is the Sun Devil secondary. Last year’s group was abysmal giving up an NCAA-worst 337.8 passing yards per game. No lead was ever safe when it came to the Sun Devil defense including the embarrassing post-season performance against the University of West Virginia in the Cactus Bowl. In front of a home crowd in neighboring Phoenix, the Sun Devil secondary allowed a record-breaking 532 yards in the air and five passing touchdowns.

Defensive backs coach TJ Rushing knows that he has his work cut out for him this year and into the future. his main focus will be on deep coverage and worked on deep plays for a good portion of the time at camp.

Saturday’s final practice and scrimmage is the pinnacle for the week when droves of Sun Devil faithful head up the mountain making the small area a logistical nightmare. I have memories of driving around for what seemed like forever, looking for a parking spot. Once that was achieved, we had a good 20-30 minute walk ahead of us before arriving to the practice field.

Conditioning drills

Conditioning drills

Given these difficulties, the alumni association and other student groups have chartered buses to get the most people there with the fewest amount of vehicles clogging up the works. If you are planning to go, plan to leave early and follow these simple steps courtesy of 12News.com:

  • Parking for the general public for Saturday, Aug. 6 will be in a closed section on the eastbound side of SR260 near Camp Tontozona Road.  Please follow the message boards, speed limit, and event parking signs on SR260 to the designated event parking areas.
  • Coming from Phoenix/Payson, please keep right on SR 260 once you leave Star Valley.  As drivers approach mile marker 267 they should merge to the right and proceed through the traffic restrictions and follow signs to the designated event parking area.
  • Coming westbound on SR 260 from point’s east, drivers will be asked to turn left at Kohl’s Ranch Rd.   Gila County Sherriff’s will assist with traffic turning across SR 260.  Please follow the signs and DO NOT use Christopher Creek Rd. or Spring Creek Rd.
  • There will be a limited number of shuttle carts on Camp Tontozona Rd. for limited mobility and disabled guests who may need assistance. Due to the expected large crowd and high volume of traffic, the shuttle service could potentially have a long wait. Fans should prepare for a long walk into Camp Tontozona from the parking areas.

Camp Tontozona is a beautiful place and a great tradition for fans of Arizona State football. The scrimmage is fun to watch and there is a great family atmosphere and vibe going on. However, after being only a couple times, I find it difficult to justify a return trip especially since I have lived in Tucson for the past nine years.

If you have never been, it’s a must-see, but plan accordingly.

Tempe Chamber of Commerce Hosts Kickoff Luncheon

Ray Sparky

The Tempe Chamber of Commerce hosted another legendary luncheon in anticipation of the 2014 Sun Devil Football season. Frank Kush was there, Rose Bowl winning quarterback Jeff Van Raaphorst was there, the 2013 Pac-12 Coach of the Year Todd Graham was there and so was DieHard Devil.

It was a veritable “Who’s Who” of Arizona State football at the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel, just a stone’s throw away from Sun Devil Stadium. The ballroom was packed, and the Tempe Chamber of Commerce sold out the event with 520 passionate Sun Devil football fans in attendance.

“We enjoy a wonderful relationship with the University, we’re partners on many different levels” Sean Donovan, Vice President of Media and Program Development told me prior to the event. “This is one opportunity to show our support very publicly and very visibly. We are happy to celebrate the start of the new season and bring the wonderful people and passionate players of Arizona State University to the community.”

Tempe ChamberThe “Voice of the Sun Devils,” Tim Healey, hosted the ceremony and incited the room of fervent Sun Devil football fans with talk of Arizona State truly having “unfinished business.” While it is always nice to say that the Devils are the defending Pac-12 South champion, there is so much more work to be done. The Pac-12 Championship, the Rose Bowl, and, yes, even the National Championship are goals for the 2014 Sun Devil football team.

The daughter of legendary Arizona State basketball and baseball coach, Bill Kajikawa, Dr. Christine Wilkinson spoke to the crowd on behalf of the ASU Alumni Association. Dr. Wilkinson, the President of the Alumni Association, has worn several hats at the University, including interim Athletic Director, and has more knowledge about the school and its history than even the most passionate alum.

Healey’s partner for the past 20+ years, Jeff Van Raaphorst joined him to discuss where the Devils have been and where they are going, and it’s evident that the Rose Bowl is only a step along the way. Van Raaphorst admitted that current ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly has the ability to eclipse his records and has the opportunity to join him among ASU’s elite quarterbacks.

Vice President of University Athletics, Ray Anderson joined the hosts on stage to talk about playing with class. “There will be no trash talking on this team,” Anderson told the crowd. “Sun Devils will play with class, honor and integrity. This will also be evident in how they live their lives off the field as well.”

With Jamil & The Cup

With Jamil & The Cup

I was hoping to see more unorthodox footwear from head football coach Todd Graham at the event. He has worn boots to flip-flops to address the media this year, but today was just a pair of smart, black dress shoes while he spoke with Healey and Van Raaphorst.

“We have unfinished business this year,” Graham said. “Our goal is not only to return to the Pac-12 Championship Game, but also the Rose Bowl and the National Championship. While those goals may be lofty, I believe in our guys. We are faster, smarter and more physical than previous years, so that is what’s expected.”

The Territorial Cup made its appearance when Kelly and offensive lineman Jamil Douglas joined the panel. Kelly and Douglas reinforced the “unfinished business” mantra and voiced their desire to take the Pac-12 and the nation by storm.

When Healey asked Douglas “What part of the Territorial Cup victory was most difficult for you?” He responded “Hoisting the cup after the game.”

“It was more taxing holding the cup up for so long than actually winning it.” Douglas said in closing.

Let’s hope they have no problem keeping the cup for years to come.

 

Sun Devil Stadium’s Good Neighbor: An Update on the State Farm Insurance Building

State Farm

For students that attended Arizona State in the ‘90s and 2000s, the dreaded north portion of Lot 59 was the last result for students commuting to the Tempe campus. It was also the home to some of the best tailgate parties known to man.

Sun Devil Stadium was home to Super Bowl XXX in 1996 and the NCAA Football National Championship in 1999. The NFL Experience took over the entirety of Lot 59 while the tailgate in the north lot of 59 prior to the ’96 National Championship was legendary. I was a student for both games and was slinging drinks at private tailgate parties for corporate honchos and generous donors.

The GameDay Crew was greeted by raucous fans.

The GameDay Crew was greeted by raucous fans.

ESPN’s renowned program “College GameDay” filmed live there with the Tempe Town Lake as a scenic backdrop in 2005. Former Arizona State student Jimmy Kimmel did a piece for “Jimmy Kimmel Live” during the tailgate and I had the chance to talk to his Aunt Chippy yet didn’t make the broadcast.

The school stopped offering game parking in the lot a few years back and I remembered thinking that Arizona State was trying to shed its party-school image and closing down the rowdiest tailgate lot would be a logical first step.

When it was announced that the lot would be transformed into a two million-square-foot, 20-acre, $600 million mixed-use development, it was evident that the school was focused on developing around the legendary stadium and making use of the trendy lake-front property.

The Marina Heights development will be anchored by State Farm Insurance and will feature 2.6 million square feet of office space in five buildings, the largest office development in Arizona history. There will also be an estimated 50,000 sq. ft. of retail space to service the employees. The company based out of Bloomington, Ill., is also establishing regional headquarters in Dallas and Atlanta but will retain its main headquarters in Illinois.

The Arizona Board of Regents signed the pre-paid 99-year lease with SunBelt Holdings, Ryan Companies and State Farm Insurance for approximately $31 million, not a bad day’s work. Couple that $31 million payday with 8,000 jobs that will be created by the insurance carrier along with an estimated 6,000 retail employees by 2017, the Marina Heights project is a huge win for Tempe and Arizona State University.

Marina HeightsOn a side note, there will still be a huge parking lot that might be available for game day parking so it may be possible to have our cake and eat it too.

The completion date for the main building is scheduled for mid-2015 with total completion by 2017. State Farm has already held several career fairs and the regional headquarters will serve as a hub for claims, service and sale support, according to the press release.

Years of city planning are finally being realized after filling the dry riverbed and estimates are in the Billions, yes, with a capital B, in lakeside development that has been built or is on the way.

The centerpiece of development may be the lake, but I tend to believe that everybody just wants to be close to the hallowed grounds of Sun Devil Stadium. 

Arizona State Football: Third Down and Pac-12 Championship To Go

taylor

We are less than a month away from kickoff of the 2014 season, summer workouts are complete and the team returns to Camp Tontozona is less than two weeks. Pac-12 Media Day was a resounding success and the Sun Devils were predicted to finish third in the Pac-12 South by media members that cover the league.

There’s that number again…three. It must truly be a magical number.

Keeping in the context of the magical number three, let’s examine the all-important third down. In the perfect world, we would never need third downs as Taylor Kelly and his arsenal of weapons would nail a first down, every down.

ASU leading receiver Jaelen Strong

ASU leading receiver Jaelen Strong

This is a world where the University of Arizona still has a football team and the University of Southern California was predicted to finish above the Sun Devils in a preseason poll, so this world is far from perfect.

Third downs tell the story of how the offense responds under pressure and how it deals with adversity—will they extend the possession or will they fold?

In 2013, the Sun Devils third conversion rate was less than stellar, converting only 39 percent of the time. The bright side of the coin, however, is that Taylor Kelly will still be under center this year.

Kelly led the team last year with 30 rushes on third down. Half of those crucial runs netted the necessary yardage to extend the drive while six of the runs ended up in the end zone. The entire team totaled only three third down touchdowns all season…three.

Kelly’s 7.6 yards per carry on third down led the team and his six touchdowns on third down was second best in the country. If history tells us anything, the future looks bright on third down as long as Kelly is on the field.

The top teams in the country do well in their third down conversions so it’s no mystery that extending drives leads to winning games. National Champion Florida State finished third nationally with a 52.2 percent conversion rate while Pac-12 Champion, Stanford led all teams in the conference at 49.7 percent and tenth nationally.

Lame LaneArizona State’s 39.1 percent conversion was quite pedestrian, finishing eighth in the conference and 77th nationally. Kelly has a multitude of weapons other than playmakers Jaelen Strong and D.J. Foster.

The Sun Devils lit up opponents in 2013 with a record-breaking six games of 50 or more points including a stretch of four games against Pac-12 opponents and one opposing coach fired on the tarmac.

We know that the team can score early and often, but imagine if you will, how dominant the team would be if they could convert third down conversions half of the time like Pac-12 North foe, Stanford…they would be unbeatable.

This is the year that it all comes together, and after claiming victory in the brutal four-game stretch against UCLA, USC, Stanford and Washington, the nation will notice that Arizona State football is a legitimate contender for not only the Conference title but also the National Championship.

Legendary Frank Kush Field Remains a Place of Reverence and Mystique

 

Kush StatueI remember like it was yesterday. It was a Friday, just a few weeks into another school year at Arizona State. I woke up around 10, threw on my school uniform which consisted of a t-shirt, shorts, flip-flops, hat and dark sunglasses and headed to the MU to grab some grub before class.

The campus was abuzz as the football team was hosting the two-time defending National Champion Nebraska Cornhuskers and with typical aloof, even the most die-hard fans knew that we had no chance on the gridiron come Saturday.

The Devils were blown out in Lincoln the year before to the tune of 77 points and the Huskers’ most recent national championship came here in Tempe against a previously undefeated Florida Gators team.

The Huskers had won 37 straight regular season games coming into the matchup, but the Arizona State administration had the equalizer. On September 21, 1996, on the morning of the big game, the field was named in honor of Frank Kush the legendary Sun Devil coach.

ASU FANS TEAR GOAL POST DOWN

The goalposts didn’t stand a chance.

On Frank Kush Night, a statue was unveiled of the field general with 200 of his ex-players in attendance. Over 74,000 Sun Devil faithful were in attendance for the upset of the decade. 

The Devils shut-out the Huskers for the first time in 23 years and did it on offense and defense with a record three safeties.

The House of Heat earned its name that night not only due to its 91-degree weather at kickoff but also by how Jake Plummer, Derrick Rodgers and Keith Poole torched the team that hadn’t lost a game in over two seasons.

With all the discussion about the new stadium renovation, it’s the field that deserves all the glory.

Frank Kush Field and it’s natural surface of hybrid Bermuda grass is truly hallowed ground and the tradition of that began on that hot September evening will carry on through this renovation and many more to come.

The stadium and field has seen it all, from the shocking upset in 1996 to the largest seated crowd in 1999, when 80,470 fans saw the University of Tennessee defeat Florida State University 23-16 in the stadium’s first of two NCAA National Championships. It was also home to Super Bowl XXX in 1996 and played emergency home for the San Diego Chargers in 2003 when the Chargers hosted the Miami Dolphins for Monday Night Football.

Hollywood, the Vatican and the leader of the free world have also made their stops to Tempe to visit the legendary Frank Kush field and while the Pope and the President’s visits were cool, I think Cuba Gooding, Jr. said it best in Jerry Maguire.

“I went to Arizona State, I’m a Sun Devil, man!”

Kush Field

Sun Devil Football Figures are Truly One of a Kind

 

Jake FigureMarion Grice has his own Sun Devil football figure, decked out in his Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl uniform to commemorate his Offensive MVP award. Terry Richardson has one in production and Andrew Walter, the program’s leading passer in total yards and touchdowns will auction off two of his own in his Congressional race this fall.

These completely original, handcrafted figures, however, are not just for former athletes; they can be ordered by anybody who bleeds maroon and gold. That is if they don’t mind waiting a bit to see their order completed.

Dave Smith, founder of Cardboard Sun Devils, has a Facebook page showcasing his work and potential clients can add their name to the waiting list and get in contact with Smith via his page.

Marion Grice

Marion Grice

Smith, who grew up in the Valley is the product of two Arizona State athletes. His father played baseball and his mother was named conference female athlete of the year for her performances in gymnastics and track.

After graduating from Cactus Shadows High School, Smith enrolled at the school where he had been watching football games since before he was able to walk. Seven years ago he moved to Tulsa, Okla., where he works in the aerospace industry.

An avid collector of Arizona State memorabilia, Smith stumbled into the business of designing figures after seeing a customized Pat Tillman figure a little over five years ago.

“My brother Mike sent me a link to an eBay auction. It was originally a mass produced figure of another player in an NFL uniform, and someone had taken the time to turn it into the former ASU legend,” Smith said. “As cool as this was, the quality of work wasn’t that great, and they wanted way too much money for it. I then forgot about it.”

Last year, Smith saw more auctions that were offering custom figures and decided to commission a highly-reviewed artist to create two legendary Arizona State signal callers, Jake Plummer and Andrew Walter.

“When I received them, I was disappointed. I felt like this artist didn’t produce the quality I was expecting,” Smith explained. “I took this disappointment and turned it into ‘Hell, I can make these.’ I made model airplanes and cars as a kid, and have better than average artistic ability, or so I have been told for most of my life, and now I am doing it.”

Smith begins each figure when the client selects and sends him the base model.

“The most important step in making a figure look the best is to find a base figure that most closely resembles the player you want to turn it into.  Finding a good match is essential in having a quality end result.”

Kelly's "NASCAR" Uniform with six patches

Kelly’s “NASCAR” Uniform with six patches

After experimenting with his first Sun Devil football figure, Taylor Kelly’s 2013 all-white or “NASCAR” uniform that he wore against UCLA, Smith has perfected his art form.

In the meantime, I learned that my good friend and former classmate, David Spuhler, received the new and improved “NASCAR” Kelly and said it is “off the chart awesome!”

The pricing for the figures range from $50 – $150 depending on the job, but all figures undergo an intensive multi-step process to achieve Sun Devil greatness.

“When I receive the base figure, I disassemble it, prime the entire surface, airbrush the large parts, hand paint the smaller and more difficult surfaces, create a decal package, re-assemble, decal, cut in decals, then clear coat in matte or gloss finish,” Smith told me. “Other jobs require sanding, parts replacement (facemask, arms, pads, etc.) and or molding of original parts not salvaged from another figure.”

If you are a memorabilia collector or are looking for the one of a kind gift for the Sun Devil fan in your life, visit Dave Smith’s Cardboard Sun Devils Facebook page.

“The main thing to remember is that these are all No. 1 of 1. No two Sun Devil Football figures will be exactly the same.”

ASU Head Coach Todd Graham and His Knack for Success

graham KFH

Just two seasons into his tenure at ASU, head football coach Todd Graham has revived a program in dire need of change. In 2012, Graham led the Sun Devils to their first winning season (8-5) in five years. In 2013, his 10-2 regular season record earned him the Pac-12 Coach of the Year.

Graham instills a quiet confidence in his players and coaches and it trickles down to the fans, alumni and community. There has been a lot said about Graham’s affinity to change positions at a moment’s notice but he has said “this is a destination job” about coming to Arizona State.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

His coaching career began in the spectacle of “Friday Night Lights,” coaching for a dozen years in Texas and Oklahoma before being hired by Rich Rodriguez as linebackers coach at West Virginia University.

He would go on to lead the Tulsa Golden Hurricane defense to two bowl games in three seasons as defensive coordinator before he was offered his first head coaching gig at Rice University.

Graham’s impact was immediate at Rice, he took a one-win Owls team to their first bowl game in 45 years, finishing 7-5 and earning Conference USA Coach of the Year.

Graham accepted a significant pay increase and contract extension to stay on with Rice, but Tulsa came right back into the picture. The Golden Hurricane wanted Graham back, offering him the head coaching position. Graham returned to Tulsa in 2007.

Once again, Graham’s culture of success was nearly instantaneous at the helm of Tulsa’s football program. In his four seasons, Graham’s Golden Hurricane collected three 10-win seasons, three Conference USA West Division titles and three convincing Bowl victories.

Former Tulsa and Arizona State head coach John Cooper, who lead the Sun Devils to a Rose Bowl victory in 1987, is one who has recognized Graham’s knowledge and success.

“I don’t think I can say enough good things about Todd Graham,” Cooper told the Tulsa World. “If I was named the head coach of some school tomorrow, I would send my entire coaching staff down to Tulsa to learn a few things.”

The big payday loomed for the “Coach du jour,” and the University of Pittsburgh called the loudest. A storied program producing the likes of Dan Marino and Tony Dorsett, the Pitt Panthers would be the school where Graham would make his mark…or so he thought.

With only 24 hours to decide on whether to leave Tulsa, Graham now admits that the move was hasty and ultimately a mistake.

graham Tcup“I take responsibility for being at a place for one year and leaving,” he told Lisa Horne of Fox Sports. “I made a mistake. The mistake was I probably should have never gone to Pittsburgh in the first place.”

“I’m from the South, he explained. “[Pittsburgh] was a different cultural change for me. I did not feel comfortable.”

After a successful high school career, Graham received numerous accolades as a defensive back at East Central University even though he entered college at 5’9”, 132 pounds.

Following ECU, Graham made it as far as NFL training camp with the Arizona Cardinals whose 1987 media guide called him a “ferocious hitter,” so he is more than satisfied to call Arizona home and put down roots.

Welcome home, coach.