Historic individual seasons and historic team seasons go hand-in-hand and Arizona State provides the latest example.
Marion Grice may be the key reason the Sun Devils are one game away from winning the Pac-12 South. Grice and the 2013 ASU football team are attempting to enter the record books. Grice hopes to break Whizzer White's single-season school record of 22 touchdowns. Meanwhile ASU attempts to overcome its UCLA demons and stand atop the conference for the first time since 2007.
Without Grice, ASU wouldn't be 8-2. Without ASU, Grice wouldn't be familiar with life outside of Texas. The success of both parties is intertwined.
As the third-string running back at times last season, Grice posted 17 touchdowns. In the present day, the additional opportunities as the feature running back helped Grice reach new heights, as he's tallied 1,603 all purpose yards and 20 touchdowns. Colorado State running back, Kapri Bibbs, is the sole player in college football that possesses more trips to pay dirt.
Before stepping foot onto Frank Kush Field, Todd Graham convinced Grice to sign at ASU over Texas A&M. After Grice placed the black ink on the paper, the thoughts about the future began. Even though Grice holds himself to high expectations, posting these type of statistics was never something he saw happening.
"To be honest, no I didn't. I was focused on just coming in and playing and learning the offense," Grice said. "Now the fact that I'm close to breaking the record, it's a great feeling. A lot of hard work that came with it. A lot of learning."
Early on in the season, the ASU ground game wasn't going as planned. Grice didn't accumulate any 100-plus rushing yard games until the seventh contest against Washington. The biggest obstacle Grice faced was getting back on track.
"The rushing attack didn't start off the season basically establishing the run. That's the challenge I had," Grice said. "So far, we have been looking good. We have been basically getting 100-plus yards a game as far as rushing the ball. So that's a great feeling that I overcame that."
Regardless of the yards, the touchdowns are the reason Grice has garnered national spotlight. Once the ball enters the red zone, Grice does the majority of his damage. The defense, the crowd, the coaches know Grice will probably get the rock, and he still scores.
"When I'm close to the end-zone I just basically put everything into it." Grice said.
There are countless aspects that make Grice special. The list should begin with his patience and vision. The calm, cool and collected manner he runs with can cause some to think he isn't trying. Instead, Grice outsmarts opponents by taking what the defense gives him and waiting for the right chance to burst through the hole.
"I don't rush the game. Like I tell myself, 'just slow play it and let everything come to you,'" Grice said. "Just take your time and be patient. A lot of good things will happen if you are patient in the game."
His sense of urgency must be rising as he approaches White's school record 22 touchdowns. Winning remains the main priority, but Grice admits surpassing White's school record 22 touchdowns would be an honor. Despite the potential accomplishment being an individual award, he refused to take full credit.
"It would mean a lot. It shows that the fact that my offense is blocking pretty good. My offensive coordinator getting me in great opportunities to go after the record," Grice said. "Basically, breaking the record means a lot to me. And the fact that my name can just basically go in the record books."
The Earl Campbell Tyler Rose award ranks among the most prestigious honors in college football. Grice was chosen as a semifinalist. The winner goes to the " "top offensive player in Division I football who also exhibits the enduring characteristics that define Earl Campbell: integrity, performance, teamwork, sportsmanship, drive, community and tenacity." In addition, NFL.com's Dan Greenspan compared Grice to the legendary LaDainian Tomlison. The association to Campbell and Tomlinson caused Grice to smile.
"It's great. It's great that they almost compare me to those guys," Grice said. "Those are great running backs. I haven't watched Earl Campbell play, but I watched the highlights on Youtube. Pretty much continue to work hard and one day, someone will mention my name."
In the big picture for the team, the ASU offense averages 43.2 points per game, 10th best in the country. Grice deserves the lion's share of the credit. Going into the Rose Bowl and leaving victorious would not only mean ASU won the Pac-12 South, but it would also be the long-awaited national statement.
Coach Todd Graham embraces the magnitude of the game at UCLA.
"We have built it up all year. We put a sticker by the UCLA game on the schedule and the kids look at it," Graham said. "This is what we work for. I want them to visualize it [beating UCLA] happening. This game is the biggest game of the year for us. We have to figure out somehow, someway to win this thing and we are the South division champions. That's a goal that's over here on the walls. It's reached, it's a big time deal."
The ASU football program and Grice are both on the verge of greatness. On Saturday against UCLA, both can cross the finish line together.