Is it too early to begin speculating about this season’s Heisman winner? Perhaps.
But then again, it’s never too early when it’s someone on your hometown college team.
And, if you’re an Arizona State fan, you may already have begun having some sub-conscious thoughts after D.J. Foster piled up 270 yards of offense all by himself as ASU rolled over New Mexico, 58-23, in just the second game of the season.
That means the 5’11” running back from Scottsdale’s Saguaro High School has another 10 games in the regular season to draw the full attention of the national media – not that he isn’t already on the radar. Foster was named in the pre-season to the watch lists for a couple of the most coveted awards in college football, the Paul Hornung Award, given annually to the player considered to be the most versatile player among the major college teams, and the Maxwell Award for America’s College Player of the Year.
But, to be included in the Heisman talk, it takes something special since the most prestigious award for college’s top player is a rare accomplishment. Foster’s coaches think he has that combination of pure athleticism, combined with a dedication to hard work and continual improvement, that is necessary to climb that mountain.
The one thing working against him, which he has no control over, is his age. Foster is a junior and would be up against a couple of senior running backs who are currently considered among the top contenders for the Heisman. Todd Gurley rushed for 198 yards in the season opener for Georgia, which is the No. 6-ranked team in the country, and Ameer Abdullah rushed for 232 yards in No. 22 Nebraska’s win last week against Florida Atlantic. And then, of course, there are the quarterbacks, generally favored to win the award each year.
But this season Foster is the featured back in Todd Graham‘s wide-open spread offense and will be getting far more opportunities to be involved in plays than last year when he served as the back-up to Marion Grice before taking over for Grice when a leg injury cut his season short. Foster, who has been used primarily as a slot receiver, filled in the final three games as a starter in the backfield – and responded with three performances of 100 yards or better, including 132 yards against Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl.
This year, he is picking up the pace. He ran for 147 yards in a blow-out win over Weber State to open the schedule and then rushed for 216 yards last week against UNM. He added 54 receiving yards against the Lobos – and that’s what makes him even more dangerous than most backs. Last season, he pulled down 63 passes for 653 yards and became one of the team’s most effective weapons.
That’s also the reason Foster will be able to continue making a case for Heisman consideration. ASU offensive coordinator Mike Norvell is going to move Foster around as the team sets up each play to give him every opportunity – from a variety of positions – to touch the ball and create the kind of big plays that are key to Graham’s explosive high-octane offense. That’s going to make it more difficult for opponents to key on him.
And he’s only going to get better. His 147 yards rushing in the opener was a career high for him, as was the 216 yards the next week. He’s passed the 1,000-yard mark in career rushes and is getting in a rhythm now in his new role, and the more comfortable he gets, the more effective he will become.
He is averaging 181.5 yards rushing per game and is currently the No. 5 rusher in the nation.
This season could also be the convergence of individual talent and team potential, a perfect storm of sorts. He’s playing on a nationally-ranked team, which is extremely important in the consideration of any Heisman candidate. The Sun Devils are ranked No. 16 in the polls and Graham appears to have perhaps the best team he has fielded since arriving in Tempe three years ago.
Foster is a very physical type of runner who doesn’t avoid contact, and the increased carries he will be getting mean a lot more hits coming his way this year. So not only do the Sun Devils have to continue their climb up the national rankings, but their featured back must also remain healthy enough to stay on the field and put up the numbers necessary to gain the attention of the nation.
That’s a lot of ‘ifs’ to put things in proper perspective. But it’s still kinda fun to think about the possibilities.
The next step on the journey for Foster and the Devils (2-0) comes tonight when they open their Pac-12 schedule on the road against Colorado (1-1).
(Photo: ASU Athletics)