TEMPE - As the Arizona State seniors filed out one-by-one through the tunnel during pregame ceremonies Saturday, one moment stood out.
There were plenty of smiles and hugs to go around, but when the camera focused on X Valladay, the Wyoming-transfer running back was visibly emotional. The embrace between Valladay and interim head coach Shaun Aguano, his former running backs coach, lasted a little bit longer than the rest.
“Valladay is special,” interim head coach Shaun Aguano said. “He’s a workhorse, and he is going to do whatever it takes. I’m proud of him. He is the heart and soul of our football team, and I’m just proud of how he goes about playing. He’ll never give up, and he’ll keep fighting.”
This type of moment is a staple on senior days across the FBS, so why did this exchange feel so different?
Yes, Valladay is only spending one year in Tempe, and it is likely his 2022 campaign may not resonate as thoroughly as other ASU running backs of recent. But the reality is, Valladay is another link in the chain of dynamic and intelligent top-of-the-conference Sun Devil backs that make it to the next level.
Saturday’s 31-7 loss to Oregon State (8-3, 5-3 Pac-12) was yet another game where Valladay was one of few positive takeaways for ASU (3-8, 2-6 Pac-12). On 13 attempts, he rushed for 109 yards and 1 touchdown, his seventh 100-plus-yard game in 2022. With that performance, Valladay recorded his 14th rushing touchdown of the season, tying Marion Grice and Kalen Ballage for 9th-most single-season touchdowns in ASU history. Another one next week would put him tied for the 6th-most (15), and two (16) would put him in the top-five.
“I honestly don’t track my stats,” Valladay said. “I just go out there and play the game, but, a 1,000-yard season) to me, that will mean that I’m showing (that I am) consistent and I am able to help the offense out with my style of play and my versatility.”
In terms of yards (he’s currently at 1,095 after Saturday), 93 more on the ground next week would be the tenth-best in an ASU season. If he were to rush for over 204 yards, he would leap-frog Max Anderson (1,118 yards - 1967) and Ryan Torain (1,229 yards - 2006).
That is some good company.
Grice, Torain, Ballage, and more recently Eno Benjamin and Rachaad White, are 21st-century ASU backs that have left very few holes in the position group’s resume in the last decade. The featured-back is becoming the face in the program with every iteration of the team. Grice played on three different NFL teams. Ballage also is a journeyman, with stints in the secondary football leagues. Benjamin did not make it past the first team on waivers when he was released last week by the Cardinals due to an off-the-field dilemma. White might have won the starting running back job in Tampa Bay after Leonard Fournette’s injury.
Some might call ASU, “Running Back-U.”
Shaun Aguano said that between the 3rd and 4th quarters, a ref came to him to say that X Valladay is not only positive with his teammates, but to everyone else on the field to to make sure it’s a clean game. pic.twitter.com/KHumbEoZbt— Brad Denny (@BDenny29) November 13, 2022
The NFL Mock Draft Database, which compiles data from dozens of established mocks, projects Valladay as a seventh-round pick. Before last year’s draft, The Athletic projected Rachaad White outside of the first ten running backs drafted. White was drafted in the third round, the fourth running back selected in the draft after Breece Hall (Iowa State), Kenneth Walker III (Michigan State) and James Cook (Georgia).
Will White’s success rub off on Valladay as a prospect? Will NFL scouts and executives recognize the running back trends in Tempe? It’s possible.
The two both transferred into the program and found immediate success, but White’s numbers pop off the page a little more. White (6.34) remains ahead of Valladay (5.35) in yards per-carry. He also had 153 more rushing yards than Valladay heading into the season-finale. Teams may not reach for Valladay with a top-100 pick, but he will be drafted, and he will likely make an NFL roster.
Add him to the lists.