The Arizona State football program loves its hyperboles, and junior running back Demario Richard appeared to join the list of superlatives when he called redshirt freshman Nick Ralston the “secret weapon” of the Sun Devil offense in 2016.
In this case more than most, however, there seems to be most substance to what Richard had to say that what is initially inferred.
For one, Ralston has always been held in high regard by the Sun Devil coaching staff. He earned playing time early as a true freshman, playing fullback until nagging issues dating back to his high school career forced him to take a medical redshirt.
The body shots – those caused by 4,499 rushing yards and 72 touchdowns on a whopping 614 carries over his junior and senior years at Argyle (Texas) High School – took their toll, something he said took until this spring to fully recover from. He came back that spring leaner, with more speed and quickness to go along with a new role.
“Coming here and gaining all that weight, it’s kind of like the ‘Freshman 15’ and it was muscle,” Ralston said. “Slimming down now, I feel like I’m at a good weight and I feel fast and strong and it’s all good.
“I started eating a lot better, and then I started cutting up and started working out more. I’m strictly a tailback now and don’t do any of that fullback stuff, so that’s definitely taken a toll off my body. It’s been really helpful.”
Coming into college can be overwhelming, particularly for a player such as Ralston who joined the program as an early enrollee and gave his body very little chance to rest. The same went for his mind, as the tailback quickly enrolled in ASU’s esteemed Barrett, The Honors College.
“When you first come here, you’re not used to [the routine],” Ralston said. “We’re up here at 5:30 in the morning. We leave at around noon, and then we have got class after that. It’s something where time management, resting your mind and your body has been the hardest thing.”
Ralston has finally achieved that balance, and the praise has soon flooded. Take Richard’s statement for example, which in it of itself is considered one of Ralston’s favorite honors.
“[Demario]’s a really good back and that’s a compliment to me,” he said. “I look up to the kid, and I’m just grateful that he thinks of me like that. I’m ready to work.”
Running backs coach John Simon, who joined the program in the spring from Southern Miss, has seen the two become close. He sees similarities between the two, so hearing the praise from Richard’s mouth isn’t much of a surprise.
“I just think he has an appreciation for Nick’s skill set,” Simon said of Richard. “[Demario] has always been an advocate for Nick and for what he does. They have a pretty great relationship in the meeting room, and I think off the field and in the locker room. When he watches Nick and Nick breaks down, his style of play is a style that [Demario] is really impressed with and he just thinks highly of Nick’s skill set.”
Richard is hoping praise comes his way, as he has stated throughout fall camp that his mission is to ensure that the program exceeds its lowered expectations. That will likely start with Richard, who his coming off his first career 1,000-yard season and fellow junior Kalen Ballage. Now, Ralston could find himself in that mix.
“All three of those guys are different,” Simon said of his group. “I think [Nick] is closer to D Rich’s style of patience, getting his shoulders down and finishing runs. I think he brings a lot. I think he’s a complete tailback. He’s solid. I think he can pass protect. He can run routes, and can run both inside and outside.”
Simon’s confidence in Ralston is high, saying that, if need be, he is comfortable in using the redshirt freshman “in any situation.” As ASU learned last season with Kalen Ballage’s last-minute illness before the season opener, “any situation” can come at any time.
With all three healthy, Simon said his group can “absolutely” match the level of production his Souther Miss squad had on offense last season when they were the only FBS program to have a 4,000-yard passer and two 1,000-yard rushers.
“I didn’t put up any production last year, I just coached the production,” Simon said. “So I’m just going to coach these guys the same way I did last year and try to use those guys the same way I utilized the guys I had last year. The production will be up to them. I think we’re trying to do everything we can do as a staff to gameplan and put them in the position to be successful.
“At the end of the day, we just maximize whatever opportunities we get. We can’t guarantee that a play is going to be blocked and we’re going to get 10 yards a carry, but whatever the play, whatever the maximum of that play is, that’s our goal. If it’s three yards for that play and we get three, that’s a great job…What we’re trying to avoid is the situation where we should get 10 and we only get three [yards].”