Over the first four dozen entries into our 100-Day Countdown to Kickoff series, we've covered some truly amazing running backs who have worn the maroon and gold. These players, and some more to come on the list, have all had incredible talent that translated into terrific production. At No. 52 on our list, we're putting the spotlight on a back whose talent nor production was in their class, but whose heart and desire exemplified the Sun Devil ideal.
After a solid career at Mesa High School, Tom Pace earned a spot with at the University of Idaho, where he stood out as a kickoff returner (26.2 yards-per-return) and was a reserve running back. After that season, Pace--a Mormon--embarked on a two-year mission to Brazil.
Upon his return, he spent a season at Ricks Junior College in Idaho before moving back to Arizona. He found work cleaning pools, but was convinced he still had some good football left in him and took action.
He made the decision to walk-on to Arizona State's team, even though the Sun Devils' season had already started. In what turned out to be a bizzarre year for the team, Pace's emergence may have been the most mind-boggling of them all.
Thanks to injuries and illnesses that sidelined Delvon Flowers, Davaren Hightower and Mike Williams, Pace was able to see meaningful snaps early. He made his debut in Week 3 against Utah State, gaining 65 yards on 16 carries.
He continued to plug away, and two weeks later against Cal, he led the team with 93 yards on the ground and scored his first career touchdown. He continued to split time with Williams, but against Washington State topped 100-yards and had another touchdown in the ASU win and began to emerge as the lead option.
That set up his breakout game the next week against Oregon. In the wild 56-55 loss, Pace rushed for 158 yards and a touchdown, and caught a 69-yard touchdown pass, in which his shifty running ability was on full display.
After he capped his incredible season with 139 yards in the Sun Devils' Aloha Bowl loss to Boston College, the former pool boy had accumulated a team-high 720 yards and six touchdowns, with another 192 yards and two scores on his nine receptions.
Pace, now a scholarship player for ASU, was again a key contributor in 2001. With Flowers now healthy and reclaiming the lead back role, Pace chipped in with 438 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 6.1 yards-per-carry.
He also became the team's leading kickoff returner, averaging a stellar 31.6 yards-per-return. His 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the season's final game at UCLA would be the only time a Sun Devil had a scoring return over a nine-year span from 1997 to 2006.
Following his time in Tempe, Pace would go on to play for the Arizona Rattlers, but for many local football fans, he will always be that scrappy underdog that always found a way to contribute for the Sun Devils.
See the previous entries on House of Sparky's 100 day countdown here