A month of football was just a tease. For diehard Sun Devil fans, the 33 days of spring football stretching from mid-March to mid-April was a glorious diversion from the offseason because it actually felt like those days mattered.
Every week, there were practices to read about, scrimmages to discuss, and players making names for themselves. A few times, it actually felt like the Sun Devils might be preparing to suit up on a Saturday, but now it's time to come back to Earth.
In Todd Graham's third spring at the helm of the program, Arizona State pushed through spring practices with a limited amount of depth. The Sun Devils are eagerly awaiting the 2014 recruiting class that is expected to make waves immediately upon arrival, but this spring, its absence was evident.
With so many players who will surely become key factors this fall yet to step foot on the practice field, spring workouts gave way to many unheralded players desperate to make their mark. Arizona State saw walk-ons taking first-team reps, and players who were once buried on the depth chart relied on to make spring a success.
In the honor of those unsung players, House of Sparky is pleased to announce our "2014 All-Spring Football Team."
Much like All-America and All-Conference lists, the All-Spring Team celebrates the best of the best in one central location.
Qualifications for making the All-Spring team are far from rigorous and entirely subjective. Names were selected from an informal poll of beat writers, and placed on the list because these players simply passed the eye-test. The only criteria for the All-Spring team is that honorees could not have played more than 25 percent of snaps last season.
For the purposes of our team, we've selected a Spring MVP, a First Team list of five players, and a Second Team list of five players. If you think we're missing someone who deserved recognition, please let us know in the comments section.
2014 Arizona State Spring Football MVP: Kyle Middlebrooks
Every Sun Devil fan remembers Middlebrooks for one defining play of his career. As a true freshman in 2010, the shifty kick returner raced his way down the field on a kickoff return against Wisconsin that ended in devastating fashion at the 1-yard line as the first half ended. Coming up one yard short came back to haunt the Sun Devils, as the Badgers stole the game in a 20-19 victory.
Fast forward nearly five years later, and Middlebrooks is once again taking kickoff returns for Arizona State. An up-and-down career has been defined by injuries, and the California native is finally healthy. This spring, Middlebrooks showed off a renewed burst of speed, and took spring practices by storm. Nearly every practice, he rattled off a long run as a running back or juked his way down the field after catching a pass out of the backfield.
For most of the spring, Middlebrooks was the unquestioned offensive MVP, and he even supplanted Deantre Lewis as the second tailback on some occasions. In an unofficial count, Middlebrooks probably gained the most yards of any Sun Devil this spring, and with an impressive return to form, there's no doubt he carries the torch for the All-Spring team.
All-Spring Practice First-Team
Coach: Keith Patterson
Safety: Jordan Simone
Left Guard: Christian Westerman
Defensive Tackle: Mo Latu
Will Linebacker: D.J. Calhoun
Wide Receiver: Ellis Jefferson
Keith Patterson: Patterson was an easy choice for the coach of the All-Spring team after filling the Sun Devils' practices with constructive criticism. Like Graham, Patterson demands the most out of his players each time they step on the field and a wasted repetition is a wasted effort in his mind. Patterson had the loudest voice on the field all spring, and he made the most of his time by helping the linebackers and the special teams units.
Jordan Simone: Simone boasts one of the best stories of any Sun Devil, and it could get even better if he sees considerable playing time this fall. A walk-on at Washington State, Simone transferred to Arizona State to follow coach Chris Ball. This spring, Simone took the lion's share of first-team reps at the bandit safety spot and was a consistent force in run-stopping and pass coverage. Simone's work earned him the chance to represent the 'Gold' team as a captain in the spring game.
Christian Westerman: It was only a matter of time before Westerman would break into the starting five on the offensive line. After beginning the spring as a second-team left guard, Westerman broke into the first group and even forced the coaches to move Jamil Douglas out to left tackle to accommodate Westerman's skill set. After transferring from Auburn and sitting out last season, Westerman has the chance to be the Sun Devils' best lineman this fall.
Mo Latu: Arizona State's defensive line could look entirely different this fall than it did this spring, but "Big Mo" Latu should still see a nice chunk of playing time. Though he's struggled with weight throughout his career, Latu put together a physically dominant spring from his nose tackle spot. The coaching staff is hoping he can lose about 30 pounds between the end of spring and the Weber State game, but even if he doesn't, he can still be the team's most effective run-stopper in situational play.
D.J. Calhoun: 17. That's the only stat anyone had on D.J. Calhoun heading into this spring. The 17-year-old early enrollee out of El Cerrito (Calif.) High School needed all of three practices to take over a role on the first-team defense. Calhoun began the spring as a Spur, but moved to Will and never looked back. Though he has miles to go in terms of physical development, Calhoun diagnoses a play well and is getting used to playing downhill as a linebacker. If Calhoun doesn't start, he will see plenty of playing time and he'll probably start on most special teams units.
Ellis Jefferson: It was a tough call between Jefferson and tight end Grant Martinez for the final First-Team spot, but Jefferson made a few more explosive plays this spring. A tall wide out who could develop an NFL-type frame, Jefferson will be counted on early in the season to provide a compliment to Jaelen Strong. He showed a nice chemistry with Taylor Kelly, and could become one of the surprises of the 2014 team.
All-Spring Practice Second-Team
Tight End: Grant Martinez
Center: Nick Kelly
Cornerback: Ronnie Sellars
Wide Receiver: Fred Gammage
Cornerback: Solomon Means
Grant Martinez: Martinez was exceptional as a pass-catcher this spring and turned out to be a pleasant surprise on the Sun Devils' second-team offense. In Martinez's first scrimmage, starting tight end De'Marieya Nelson was hurt and the redshirt freshman played nearly every snap. Martinez turned in a number of long receptions this spring and caught a few nice touchdowns. If he adds weight in the offseason, he could see more playing time than we initially expected.
Nick Kelly: Kelly was the center-piece of a line that routinely drew praise from Todd Graham and Mike Norvell this spring. A more athletic option than the graduated Kody Koebensky, Kelly should be an improvement at the center spot this fall and give Arizona State more options in the running game. Kelly is athletic and pulls well, which is a valuable asset for a center who snaps almost exclusively to a shotgun quarterback.
Ronnie Sellars: Arizona State lacked depth at the cornerback position throughout the spring, and walk-on Ronnie Sellars emerged as a solid backup as the spring wore on. Sellars doesn't have nearly the size or strength to really make a run at playing time this fall, but he hung with Sun Devil receivers all spring and at least gave Todd Graham a few things to think about.
Fred Gammage: Another walk-on, Gammage is being given the chance to earn a scholarship at Arizona State. Gammage is a local product and rather small for his wide receiver spot, but the little man made plays throughout the spring. He has a case for Ellis Jefferson's place on the All-Spring First Team, but it's difficult to envision Gammage seeing more time than Jefferson this fall. Still, don't be surprised if the speedy Gammage finds a way into Norvell's game plans early on in the year.
Solomon Means: Rashad Wadood held down the boundary corner position for most of the spring, but an injury gave way to Solomon Means who put together a strong final week. Each time he took reps with the first-team, Means received praise from Graham who liked the way he progressed from a technical standpoint. An impressive spring game helped Means earn the final spot on our team, as he batted away a few long passes that could have gone for big gains.