Running back D.J. Foster doesn't care that he's a sophomore. He still has the ultimate goal in mind this season.
"I want to be in the running for the Heisman (Trophy)," Foster said. "[Coach Todd Graham] told me to set my goals high and I truly believe that if I work hard, get the opportunity and keep making plays I want to be in the run for the Heisman."
Foster wants to be the first Arizona State player and the first player from the state of Arizona to take home the highest award in college football. Needless to say, it's a difficult task for anyone much less a player going into his second college season.
Running backs coach Bo Graham said the former Scottsdale Saguaro High star doesn't really play like a sophomore.
"[He's] unbelievable," running backs coach Bo Graham said. "He's put on 15-20 pounds, he's faster, more explosive and he's a smarter player. In the classroom he's one of the smartest guys. I think that's very surprising. Minor detailed things, you know understanding how to attack leverage, how to attack defenders and how to get open. He's really mature for his age and understands those things a little bit better this year."
Foster might be mature. No matter how old he is, he will have to go far beyond the 493 rushing yards, 533 receiving yards and six total touchdowns he had last season just to get into the Heisman conversation.
He'll also have to outperform teammate Marion Grice, a senior who led the Sun Devils with 19 touchdowns and 1,104 all-purpose yards last season.
But to really make an impression on his coaching staff, he'll have to improve at something that may seem a lot simpler.
"That was the No. 1 emphasis for camp," ASU coach Todd Graham said. "No doubt (senior running back) Marion (Grice) and D.J. have gotten better. (Junior running back) Deantre Lewis, I think, is having a solid camp. Even (redshirt freshman running back) Terrell Davis stepped out to be being physical blocking and running the ball. That's where, to me, I really think we've gotten better, at blocking and block destruction on defense. So it's pretty violent out there, pretty physical during the inside portion of team run."
In his first year as running backs coach, Bo Graham has really taken his father's message to heart.
The past two days at Camp Tontozona the running backs have spent the majority of their individual position practice time working on pass protection blocking.
In one drill Tuesday, the running back had to attack the inside half of a rushing defender and push him outside a cone. If the defender was able to get inside the cone it was a poor rep for the running back.
Wednesday the running backs focused on proper vision when picking up blocks. Coaches would send two blitzing defenders at the running back and he would have to decide who to pick up according to his assignment.
The extra work must be helping junior running Lewis. He had the best block in practice.
During a session called blitz drill the defense pretty much throws the kitchen sink at the offense. On one play redshirt freshman safety Laiu Moeakiola blitzed off the edge.
Lewis spotted him, squared up and delivered a perfectly time shot with his arms. Lewis got low and was able to lift Moeakiola off the ground.
Lewis and his offensive teammates were a little bit excited about it.
"It felt good," Lewis said. "I'm tired of the defense going full-speed and we're going like 75 (percent) and they're hitting us and then we're just getting mad. So I'd rather deliver the blow first rather than me take it."
The strong block really made Lewis happy because he missed two delay blitzes in the scrimmage Monday. It has been a skill he has really focused on recently.
Under Bo Graham and new offensive line coach Chris Thomsen, the running back protections have changed.
Lewis said Thomsen wants his big guys up front blocking the big rushing defensive lineman and inside linebackers. That will leave the running backs to take care of smaller, quicker outside linebacker and safeties.
And Lewis is okay with that.
"It's great in that standpoint because we don't want to be blocking 250 pound people if we don't have to," Lewis said. "So it's something that [Thomsen] has made a lot easier on us and he's a great offensive line coach."
Despite the solid rep from Lewis there have been just as many poor blocking plays by the running backs.
Safeties and linebackers have been able to impose their will on the running backs, move past them and take a good angle to the quarterback.
"I think we're getting better every day, but we still have a long way to go," Bo Graham said. "I think we have a good understanding of who we're working to, now it's just the fundamentals of how we're going to get the job done. Got a lot of work to do, but our guys are getting better, and that's a daily thing. I'm hoping by the time we hit the season we will be where we need to be fundamentally so we can protect the quarterback."
As for ASU's self-described Heisman hopeful, he believes his pass blocking has improved not only because of his gain in size but also because of his new knowledge of the game.
"Last year I didn't understand reading defenses as much as I do now as a sophomore," Foster said. "Coach Bo [Graham] has helped me out a lot with that and the other running backs a lot so just changing that aspect of it and then plus the technique we are doing a great job as a running back corps blocking-wise this year."