He’s a “football player” — defensive backs coach T.J. Rushing described his new cornerback.
Playing both offense and defense is nothing out of the ordinary for redshirt sophomore John Humphrey. He was a two-way athlete at Clear Falls High School (League City, Texas), and was originally recruited by defensive coordinator Phil Bennett at Baylor as a cornerback.
Humphrey originally attended Oklahoma as a wide receiver in 2015, then transferred to ASU the next year where he lined up in the same position and dominated in his Sun Devil debut.
In Arizona State’s 37-31 season-opening win over New Mexico State, Humphrey recorded a team-high 123 yards and a touchdown. Then, he injured his knee against San Diego State, disabling his playing abilities for three weeks.
When asked if Humphrey would return for No. 5 Washington on Saturday, head coach Todd Graham answered on Monday with a twist, saying “I do.” However, not as a wide receiver or cornerback, but “both.” He reasoned that Humphrey play on both sides after losing once-starting cornerback Joey Bryant to an ACL injury.
On Tuesday, Humphrey was paraded with defensive questions. The last one asked: what challenges lie ahead?
His response: “I don't really see one to be honest.”
He was also asked if playing both sides was a problem.
“It's not a problem at all. I'm actually excited to play both ways,” Humphrey said. “This week, they've taught me different techniques and different ways to better myself on defense... Coming from offense to defense at this level, I would say it's more complex, but they try to simplify it as much as possible to give me the understanding.”
Maybe it’s because he’s done it in high school, or maybe it’s because others have done it, but most likely it’s his athletic capability that makes it not a challenge.
At 5-foot-11, 175 pounds his teammate, redshirt sophomore Ryan Newsome, labeled Humphrey’s “long and rangy” body as a “prototypical corner.” Wide receivers coach Rob Likens praised him for his speed, and on defense, Rushing raved about his athleticism.
Newsome, a Texas transfer wide receiver, has lined up several times facing Humphrey, an Oklahoma transfer, bringing a friendly Red River Rivalry to the practice fields.
“It’s fun. I get most excited when I go up against him because we’ve got a real good bond, but also we’re competitive,” Newsome said. “He’s really athletic man. Long and rangy as y’all see — prototypical corner really. So he’s kind of gifted body wise to be able to kind of be a deep ball guy and play receiver and play DB.”
The two also ran track against one another in high school. Newsome, being from Aledo, Texas, was near a four-hour drive from Humphrey in League City.
Newsome said his junior year 100 meter time of 10.27 was, at the time, the best in Texas. Humphrey sits fifth all-time in Clear Falls High School’s 100 meter with a score about a second slower than Newsome’s at 11.38. But in the 40-yard dash, he ran it in 4.25 seconds his sophomore year, according to the Houston Chronicle, which would have placed him just behind receiver John Ross, the fastest in the 2017 NFL combine (4.22).
“I remember I saw a dude (Humphrey) running the third leg and I was like ‘who is that?’ He was moving,” Newsome said. “So when I saw him pull away from the guys he pulled away from= and the way he’s been playing these past two years, it’s no surprise to me.
“He’s one of the fastest guys I’ve ever been around.”
And Humphrey uses his speed to his advantage. In his only contest this season against NMSU, he caught three passes for 15 or more yards — one being a 60-yard touchdown bomb from Wilkins in the third quarter.
“He provides an element of speed,” Likens said. “You feel like you’re one pass route away from a touchdown when he’s on the field because you know he can run by somebody and he can catch that long post or that long deep ball for a touchdown.”
For Rushing, his defensive coach, he’s figured the transition will take time, but believes Humphrey is everything he wants in a good student.
“It's fun. It's exciting. He's a kid who wants to be good, who wants to help the team in anyway possible, which is awesome because he's not a selfish guy, he's a team player,” Rushing said. “It's a learning curve, it's a lot to learn, but he's a great athlete and a guy who wants to learn so that helps.”