MADISON WI - SEPTEMBER 18: Omar Bolden #3 of the Arizona State Sun Devils returns a kick-off for a touchdown against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium on September 18 2010 in Madison Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
It was July in Arizona. The temperature was somewhere near 110 degrees, and I was surrounded by a bunch of kids I hardly knew.
My fellow freshman and I were in the midst of what was referred to as "Summer Bridge" at ASU. Essentially, Summer Bridge was a summer school program at Arizona State; the program's primary purpose was to ease the transition into college for incoming freshman.
My 2007 recruiting class was the last to go through Summer Bridge having to live at Best Hall, a dormitory on the far south sector of campus, off of Apache Boulevard in Tempe. This may sound fairly standard to anyone who is familiar with ASU, but keep in mind we were all freshman, only a couple of us had cars, and we had to be at conditioning workouts on the northern tip of campus at six in the morning.
On top of that, we had a full schedule of classes. All of us had graduated around the middle of June, and had to be at ASU for the bridge program by the end of that month. Obviously, this meant each of us had a very short-lived celebration period for our graduations from high school.
One could understand why that first July in Arizona was difficult for all of us; the transition into a college football program is intimidating for any high school kid, but I specifically remember one individual who didn't seem the least-bit phased by the process.
By the end of July, all of us freshman were getting to know each other. It's interesting how the bridge program worked in terms of promoting the idea of kids from all over the country bonding and discovering their similarities, and there's no question about the fact that it was vital for an incoming recruiting class. Every fellow freshman teammate I had read about in the first few months following signing day had gone through the entire bridge program with me, and I had begun to know and understand all of them, but one was missing.
The freshmen were going through one of our last afternoon workouts before camp when the most highly-touted and talked-about player of the class finally showed up. We still laugh about it today.
Omar Bolden, possibly the top Sun Devil player of the Dennis Erickson era, had finally shown up on campus.
He'll attest to the fact that he was immediately sent to the weight room to join the rest of us in a grueling workout. We were already in the midst of the opening segment of that workout when Omar showed up... we all had to do up-downs until he was dressed down and ready to join the rest of us. Had Omar known we were bouncing from our midsections to our feet I'm sure he would have sped up the changing process. It would have been easy to immediately outcast the top player in our class who's tardiness was responsible for us nearly losing our breakfasts, but "O" simply hurried to the weight room and joined us with a confident smile on his face. He apologized, and we kept it moving.
No one can judge talent better than a fellow player. During my time at ASU, there were a handful of guys I came across who I—and others—knew had the gifts to be league-bound. The NFL is the most physically advanced sports league in the world, period. International soccer fans say what you want, but if I throw Patrick Willis in as a defenseman and insert Calvin Johnson at goalie I like my chances. If CJ can adjust midair to receive awkwardly delivered passes from Mathew Stafford in the midst of safeties trying to blow him up, then I trust in him getting his hands on a bent kick from a center-mid.
Having made that point, clearly labeling somebody "league-bound" is not an everyday proclamation. Still, Omar was one of those guys who was simply equipped with the rare abilities which can lead to a career playing football.
Think about that, you literally play football, as a job, and get paid lots of money to do it. When you have those abilities, have pride in the way you conduct yourself as a person, and hold yourself accountable, then you have someone who has the potential to thrive as a player in the NFL.
Omar Bolden will have a great NFL career. Here's a guy who missed his entire senior season—a season he could have forgone for an early entry into the NFL—with an ACL tear. Still, he manages to get drafted in the fourth round last spring, and had he had a successful and healthy senior season, there's no doubt in my mind he would have been a first round selection.
There are more members of my class who are pursuing careers at the next level. Dan Knapp is waiting to hear from Oakland about practice squad possibilities. Garth Gerhart is officially a member of Cleveland's practice squad, and Colin Parker had a great camp with the Cardinals. I'm proud of my friends, and I truly hope that they can be viewed by Sun Devils fans as positive aspects of a frustrating five seasons in Tempe.
About last Thursday...
Todd Graham's debut couldn't have gone any better.
The team looked incredibly disciplined, and totally dominated Northern Arizona last week. Obviously ASU should dominate a team like NAU, but Thursday's win was far more convincing than any other matchup against that team within the last five years.
During an opening week in which Cal lost to Nevada, Washington struggled against San Diego State, Stanford edged out San Jose State and Arizona defeated Toledo in overtime, Arizona State looked as good as any PAC-12 school.
While watching the game, I was most entertained by some of the talented newcomers who I had never seen play. D.J. Foster is as advertised, and Richard Smith was a great find at receiver. Marion Grice is a solid second option at running back and defensively, Chris Young and Jaxon Hood will be legitimate contributors. Brandon Magee is as good as everyone has expected he would be, and Will Sutton looks better than ever. He is without question one of the best inside guys in the conference this year.
All in all, last Thursday was everything a Sun Devil fan could ask for. This week, the Sun Devils take on a much more capable opponent in Illinois. The Illini are a fast and physical Big Ten team with a dynamic defense. This game will give fans a real look at what their Sun Devils have to offer this year. Hopefully, the success in last week's debut will get people in Tempe excited, and a solid fan showing in Sun Devil stadium will act as a 12th man for the Devils.
The matchup with Illinois will tell a lot about this year's team, and I'm eager to see how the Devils show up against a team from a major conference. Like I've said, following the match-up with Illinois, Sun Devil nation will know more about their 2012 Sun Devil squad.