Before last season, 2008 was the last time the Sun Devil football program utilized a true two-back system. This year, expect the two-headed monster to be among the best in the nation.
Today, the multi-back scheme is looked at to be one of the main factors in Arizona State's Rose Bowl chances. Despite losing a former 1,000-yard rusher in Cameron Marshall, DJ Foster and Marion Grice are more than ready to anchor the backfield and make this a year to remember.
This program took a monumental turn in the last year as Todd Graham's offense took over Tempe like Batman protecting Gotham City. Offensive Coordinator Mike Norvell watched his offense score 38.4 points per game, ranking the team 14th best in the NCAA. Without the contributions of Foster and Grice, Sparky would have done a lot less pushups.
Grice's JUCO commitment was swept under the rug in a way because all of the state's attention was on the signing of the four-star high school recruit Foster. On January 27, 2012, Foster committed to ASU and was expected to compliment Marshall in the running game. I think we can all agree he did more than that.
As a true freshman, Foster accumulated 1,026 all-purpose yards and six total touchdowns. The hometown hero knew that Tempe was the right choice and he was more than pleased to be featured in an explosive offense.
"They incorporate every aspect of the game and they move you in different spots. It's definitely an offense that I love to be a part of," Foster said. "It puts you in a situation to be successful."
Football has always been known as a game of match-ups and there are few better at creating mismatches than Foster. The Saguaro High School product can beat opponents with his speed out of the backfield and elite receiving skills.
Opposing coaches already know what Foster brings to the field, but what they may not know is that he intends on leading the team to a BCS Championship.
"At the end of the day it's our team. I feel like last year we depended more on the coaches to get us through the season and we know we can't do that this year. We need to lead the team," Foster said.
Despite only being a sophomore, the 5-foot-11, 200-pound playmaker will be considered an offensive leader.
One of the only criticisms Foster received last year was that he was not big enough to handle the load on his own. This off-season, Foster wanted to shed that tag so he added muscle to become more durable.
But before the 2014 season comes around, Foster will work side-by-side with Grice, who is considered by some media outlets to be a dark horse first round NFL pick. They both have the talent to help the team do more than Speak Victory, but they just needed time to fully develop.
"I think our biggest attribute is that we matured a little bit. Me and Marion, that was both our first year last year," Foster said. "The biggest advantage we have coming into this year is that we do have that year under our belt and the game slowed down for us. We understand it more."
As the seasons changed in the desert (does that actually happen, though?), the game got easier for Foster and Grice. Aside from quarterback Taylor Kelly, Grice led the team with 1,104 all-purpose yards and 19 touchdowns. Combine those numbers with Foster's and it puts them in elite company. But they still have some unfinished business.
"Our running game needs to be more potent than what it was last year. That's how coach Graham preaches; to win a championship you got to stop the run and you have to run the ball. We need to take that to the next level this year," Foster said.
Foster noted that he is most excited about playing Notre Dame at AT&T Stadium. Not only will it be nationally televised on NBC, but Foster's face will be front and center on the world's largest LED display - a 160-foot wide Jumbotron.
Playing in Jerry's World represents more than just another Saturday game day, it grants Foster an opportunity to capitalize on his countless hours of training.
Mill Avenue is one of the premier local nightlife destinations, but this D.J. can get the party started for Sun Devil fans whenever he touches the ball.
Names to Know
Marion Grice - Senior - 6'0", 204 pounds: Grice could very well be one of the first running backs named in the NFL Draft. He led the team in rushing and had 11 touchdowns on the ground. That doesn't even include his receiving game numbers. Now with Marshall gone, it's going to be the Grice and Foster show. Grice is on the Doak Walker Award watch list, which is given to the nation's best running back and also on the Maxwell Award watch list which is given annually to the nation's top college football player. He is a semi-finalist in the inaugural Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award, which recognizes the top offensive player in Division I football who exhibits the enduring characteristics that define Earl Campbell, including sportsmanship, integrity, performance, and teamwork. The nominated athlete must also be from Texas or have played high school or college football in the state.
DJ Foster - Sophomore - 5'11", 200 pounds: Like Grice, Foster is also on the Doak Walker Award watch list and he will see more playing time during his second year with the team. Foster was fourth on the team with 102 carries, but that number should be around 160 or so when it's all said and done. Now that he is stronger and more mature, opposing teams will need to watch his film and try to figure out a way to stop the dual-threat athlete.
Deantre Lewis - RS Junior - 5'11", 188 pounds: After bouncing between defensive back and running back, it appears the junior will be third on the depth chart to Grice and Foster. Lewis rushed for 39 yards on 11 carries last season which may seem low, but he redshirted in 2011 after he was injured in a shooting. Lewis looked strong back in 2010 when he rushed for 526 yards on 92 carries and six total touchdowns. As far as training camp goes, Lewis has looked as strong, if not better, than he did in 2010 so he is more than capable to take some carries this season. Should Foster or Grice get injured (knock on wood), Lewis would be the first to see his workload increase. This should be a good comeback year for Lewis and he will be in the wings of two of the best.
Marcus Washington - RS Junior - 6'0", 208 pounds: It appears the converted tight end will start the season on the running back depth charts. But keep an eye on Terrell Davis too for the fourth spot on the depth charts. Washington is a power back who uses his size well when rushing up the gut. He played all 13 games on special teams last season, but he needs to develop into a more polished rusher before he sees touches.