Matriculating to Arizona State in August as the nation's top junior college running back, Marion Grice has had an impact toting the football but perhaps most remarkable about his first season journey is how he leads the Sun Devils in touchdown catches.
"I've never played receiver before or spent much time catching the ball before I got here," Grice said this week. "Just messing around with friends or in practice or whatever, that's about it."
Grice, 6-feet, 200 pounds, is third on the team with 22 receptions for 288 yards and six catches to go along with 58 carries for 302 yards and six more touchdowns. All together, Grice has 12 touchdowns, which is twice as many as the next closest ASU players, running backs Cameron Marshall and D.J. Foster.
"Everything is going well right now," Grice said. "A lot of the things I've wanted to work on I'm getting down as far as my blocking and receiving and everything. I never really caught the ball much, just messing around. Also the speed of the game I'm adjusting to, there are defensive ends and linebackers I've never seen that big before. So I'm just getting used to everything."
What makes Grice's accomplishments to this point so impressive, is that he arrived at ASU in July out of shape after spending his summer focused almost entirely on securing his two-year degree so that he'd be able to play football this year at all.
"He's just scratching the surface right now," running backs coach Larry Porter said. "In the weight room he's behind a little bit because he came in late so he's going to continue to grow there and mentally he's going to push himself and the key element of this program is being tough period, mentally and physically, so continuing to develop in those areas. You'll see more going forward as far as him becoming a more dynamic player."
Scoring 15 percent of the time he's touched the ball this season, Grice is third in the league in touchdowns and yet feels as though he's much better player as he adds another element to his game in the offseason.
"'I've never had a problem with running, it was just the weightlifting, so when the season is over I'm going to have to put in extra time on my own for that just to get stronger," Grice said. "It's something I have to basically put a lot of time into. Getting a lot stronger and gaining weight will be a big thing I want to do in the offseason. I am 205 pounds now and want to get up to 215. It's mostly my upper body, my lower body is pretty strong naturally."
Darby back in camouflage
After have bad reps on two of UCLA's touchdowns Saturday, junior ASU safety Alden Darby decided to go with a different look in practice Tuesday. Instead of wearing the Pat Tillman camouflage jersey he donned all last week after it was awarded to him by ASU coach Todd Graham, Darby wore his non-descript No. 4 white standard-issue threads.
"I didn't wear it [Tuesday] because of how I felt about the game and my production in the game. So I decided not to wear it and wore it [Wednesday], I felt I had a good practice, my mind is clear, I'm back to productive Darby.
"It's a big difference (after a bad loss). For instance, UCLA game, I gave up some plays, in my mind I didn't play well at all. I've put it behind me of course, but I'm so ready for next week to come. I'm just so ready so I can get back to playing how I can play so I can bounce back and get back to how I'm used to playing."
Darby said the team is still very much dialed in despite back-to-back tough losses because it knows it is only a half game behind in the Pac-12 South standings.
"The key is just knowing that we're still playing for a championship in November, to know we have a different mindset, that we're all together, one pulse, and that we're a family and play together. That's what we're going to do. We're playing for a championship in November and that's amazing and we're still in pursuit of one goal and focused on that goal."
Graham said star ASU junior defensive tackle Will Sutton continues to make progress and is likely to see action Saturday against Oregon State.
"I'm confident that we're going to have him back and feel like we've got a good chance for that to happen," Graham said.