Prior to conducting research on the 2012 quarterback battle, I didn't realize how little I knew about Mike Bercovici's journey, which has been well-documented.
I guess I didn't understand — and probably still completely don't — because I wasn't invested. I've been enrolled at ASU for what will be three years in August, and being a Southern California native, admittedly, I knew of but didn't pay much attention to Sun Devils football in 2012.
For those who don't know, here's an abbreviated summary of the Sun Devils' 2012 offseason:
- (Dec. 2011) - Dennis Erickson (Head Coach), Noel Mazzone (Offensive Coordinator): OUT; Todd Graham (HC), Mike Norvell (OC): IN
- (Spring 2012) - Expected Depth Chart: 1.) Bercovici, 2.) Michael Eubank, 3.) Taylor Kelly
- (August 2012) - Announced Depth Chart: 1.) Kelly, 2.) Eubank, 3.) Bercovici
Bercovici went from being the assumed heir-apparent of second-round NFL draft pick Brock Osweiler's starting job, to being the third player on the depth chart.
Imagine waiting in a line, then reaching the front of that line, only to be told to return to the back, repeating the process of waiting while watching those who were behind you assume your spot (if you have a better analogy, please direct them to the comments section, because this was the simplest I could think of).
Bercovici was suddenly on a team whose coaches implemented a system constructed to fit the style of his peers and not fully maximize his strengths, after being recruited by a coach whose system was right in line with them.
That's not any of the stakeholders' fault, either. It's simply a byproduct of circumstance.
Graham and Norvell did what they believed was best for their team by choosing Kelly, and he proved them right by going on to have a successful college career. Simultaneously, Bercovici's career began to mirror his high school days.
That was back when Bercovici didn't stay. That's when he couldn't stay.
Ahead of his junior year, the quarterback transferred from Westlake High School (Thousand Oaks, Calif.) to Taft High School (Woodland Hills, Calif.) in pursuit of playing time. As Brad Denny documented in this feature, the move was ruled ineligible for his junior season. He was subsequently rendered to starting just one full season as a varsity quarterback, which would ultimately be a similar situation to one he encountered at Arizona State.
This time, however, when the situation didn't favor him, he stuck it out.
But who on earth could possibly blame him had he left?
Transferring is typically common in college sports, and not just in football. Even Bercovici's counterpart, Eubank — the only one of the three quarterbacks who was recruited by Graham and Norvell — bolted for greener pastures at Samford.
No, it's not an uncommon situation which Bercovici was thrust into; it's uncommon to see the resolve he displayed in spite of his situation. He waited it out in a scenario where few ever do. It's one players surely are not wrong for escaping when the conditions are no longer favorable.
Let's use some pseudo-philosophy, and break it down fundamentally. We are human (revolutionary thinking, right?).
That's to say each of us deals with some form of adversity at least once in our lives which tests us ethically, emotionally and/or physically.
While I'm not one who believes all adversities are equal, adversity doesn't give a flying you-know-what about what your gender, race, political view, religious view, or social stature is. It comes flying at you, and it seeks to do nothing but break you down.
We have all been there, our personal hell. Now, I'm not one to say Bercovici was at that point, but from the outside looking in, you could, at the very least, understand his reasoning should he have ditched ASU. Some may argue that it would have made more sense.
A backup? Again? In a scheme that doesn't fit me? I'm all but certain I would've been on my way out the door.
But, nope. Amidst his adversity, Bercovici put his head down and pressed on. He worked through everything that was uncomfortable and did it, even if it didn't make sense.
Patience is some virtue, isn't it?
Bercovici redshirted one season, didn't start for another, and was sent back to the bench after lighting it up in his first string of starts before finally getting a full season under center in 2015.
Wait, wait, wait. Let me repeat that one more time...was sent back to the bench after lighting it up in his first string of starts (for those of you who remember that debate, we hope you're all still friends with everyone you may have disagreed with).
Tying back to our earlier analogy: Bercovici was now back at the front of the line, but this time he was holding someone's spot in line while they ran and got their wallet. There's your food, ready to order. You can smell it, can practically taste it. But you've gotta wait until the dude in front of you gets back and finishes ordering.
Yes, Bercovici delivered one of the most memorable and productive three-game stretches in school history. In his first career start against UCLA, he set the ASU single-game completions (42) and attempts (68) records in a 62-27 loss (watch the first half and tell me you weren't impressed).
Then, he bounced back to orchestrate arguably the greatest moment in Sun Devil football history, the "Jael Mary," throwing for 510 yards and five touchdowns (first player ever to do so) in a 38-34 comeback victory against USC.
That was in the Coliseum. To keep ASU alive in the Pac-12 South standings.
He then led the Maroon and Gold to a 26-10 win over No. 23 Stanford. To make ASU competitive in the Pac-12 South standings.
And then, he was back to the bench.
Graham & Co. were not wrong for their choice, and I don't think there really was a wrong direction to go in. Bercovici was accepting of his role, and when fans were calling for him to play, he returned the focus back on the team, and lobbied for Kelly.
My question: how?
I hear what you're thinking...why would he piss off the coach/create a riff? Or even in thinking further: he's so close to it being his time, why consider leaving now?
I hear you, I promise. I get it.
But, if you're telling me I've already had to go through sitting out a year back in high school because of a technicality just to get here, suffer the disappointment of being listed the starter only to lose it and be named the No. 3, then I have to sit out not one, not two, but three years after having the guy who sold me on this school get canned, I patiently wait, show you I'm capable and ready, but you send me back to bench and expect me to not show any sort of discontent, you might be giving me too much credit.
That is one humble son of a gun, if you ask me.
And again, that's not to say he was wronged by being sent back. Graham had a right to, and if anything showed a commendable loyalty to a player who had earned his way to the top. It would have to come down to atrocious play in order to force his hand, and we ultimately saw that against Arizona later that season.
My more-or-less of a case for an argument here is that Bercovici deserves some credit for 1.) sticking it out and 2.) not snapping.
There's a reason why a tremendously high rate of people around Bercovici described him as being a humble, respectable leader and a tirelessly hard worker.
In Denny's feature, Graham had this to say about the gunslinger:
"He's a Sun Devil. Committed. All in. It doesn't matter if things are right for him or not right. That shows you what he's made of. He's stayed. He's persevered."
He earned every snap he took, every start he made, and every lick of praise the Sun Devil fan base had to offer him in the limited time it had a chance to shower him with it.
Bercovici's legacy transcends so much more than the "Jael Mary."
That's one singular play, whereas his faith and resilience is something Graham can (and should) refer to throughout the rest of his career when describing the type of determined, fully-invested players he's looking for.
If one is to consider a Sun Devil as being a standing testimony of perseverance, leadership and class, then Bercovici is just that.
Not once, but twice has Bercovici been hindered from leaving a complete impression at a program during his football career. Now he's going to have to work his way up from a practice squad gig to the NFL.
You bet I'm hoping he makes an NFL roster, ethics be damned.
Sure, there's plenty of other players at different positions with similar situations. For them, I wish all of the success in the world.
That said, in the sport of football, the quarterback position is held to a higher standard in regards to leadership and play, and it's scrutinized under a microscope no other position in American athletics is subjected to.
In just two seasons of relevant action, Bercovici had to manage this wave, while still keeping his cool in what was a very unique situation.
I'm sure if you asked Bercovici, following the aftermath of "Jael Mary" and hype for the 2015 season, he would say he felt the wrath of the fan base in spurts last season. Although, I almost guarantee you he would follow that up by saying he felt their passion, too.
And you can bet he enjoyed every second of it.
"I wish I could stay at school for 10 years. I love Arizona State."- Mike Bercovici, NFL Combine Preparation Media Showcase at Fischer Institute on Feb. 16, 2016
Through everything he's endured — having faced and overcome tests at every juncture in his football career — one thing's for certain:
Mike Bercovici is one hell of a Sun Devil.