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Demario Richard continues to find his rhythm as his health improves

Arizona State running back Demario Richard (4) scores a touchdown over Oregon linebacker Troy Dye during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Arizona State senior running back Demario Richard isn’t sure if coaching is his future, though his knowledge of the game and natural leadership skills may make that an inevitability.

As the Sun Devils were driving to retake the lead in the closing minutes on Saturday, Richard ran over to relay a message to head coach Todd Graham. When ASU took the lead and got the ball back, he relayed the same message.

“Hey man, get right on here on my back. I’m going to get this.”

Richard, who played through pain and was never fully 100 percent during his junior season, flashed some of the old burst in the closing minutes of ASU’s eventual 37-35 win over Oregon. The bell cow of old returned, carrying the ball eight times for 35 yards in the fourth quarter and helping to cement the win.

“I was pretty impressed with how he ran the football, and that’s something that we’ve got to continue to build upon, Graham said. “I told him that we’re going to run like that every single play. I was impressed by that.

“I think he’s an every down guy. I think he’s a down-in and down-out guy, a great protector. I think we’re starting to find our identity a little bit and kind of settle into that.”

He finished with 64 yards and a score on 21 carries, his second consecutive game with a touchdown and first game with 20 or more carries since he had 22 for 97 yards against UTSA on Sept. 16, 2016.

“It just felt good to get a rhythm in a game,” Richard said. “It’s hard when you spend time [on the bench] to get a rhythm in a game. It just felt good to be back and getting back into a rhythm and to show what I could do.

“It’s not really mental for me. It’s just making plays, like I’ve been doing since I got here. Just hold onto the ball, and we’ve got one of the best kickers [Brandon Ruiz] in the country. Had to get us into field goal range, got us into field goal range. I just needed a first down so we could end it. That’s what I was thinking about, getting a first down.”

Even as injuries made every game and carry painful and robbed him of his burst as a running back last season, he managed to do what he could. Whether it was calling out protections for the team’s third different starting quarterback that season, or knowing which audible then-offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey would go to against a given front. Richard dedicated one of the toughest seasons of his life to being a student of the game, and said he only benefitted from it now that his health has started to return.

Saturday showed some of the first signs of burst from Richard since his 1,000-yard sophomore season. As the Sun Devils were driving for the potential go-ahead score, he also showed a different element to his game that his painful junior year taught him.

On third-and-6, Richard lined up to redshirt junior quarterback Manny Wilkins’ left in the shotgun and read the front that Oregon was bringing. He knew Wilkins would have enough time to get the ball to redshirt junior receiver Jalen Harvey before the ball was even snapped — all he had to do was pick up his block. He did, and Wilkins completed the pass to set up the game-winning field goal.

“Whatever I can do for my teammates or myself to eat, I’m going to do,” Richard said. “You know that when I’m in the game, something’s going to happen. Whatever I can do to make plays for this offense, I’m going to do.

The ability to take control of such moments and know exactly what to do creates a bond with him and the coaching staff, including running backs coach John Simon. Simon, a former running back himself, isn’t too far removed from his playing days, either, as shown by his propensity to mess with Richard’s interviews or bring a quick laugh to his players.

Richard embodies some of those same qualities. While he is not sure coaching is exactly what he expects from his future – surely he hopes an NFL stint precedes that – it’s something he’s acknowledged he’s built well for.

“I kind of coach now,” Richard said. “Every time I go home, I kind of go home and give all the wisdom I can to some of the guys that’s in my high school, like I did in high school. In high school, from my freshman to my senior year we had Wednesday night practices. Tuesdays, I’d have practice and go out and after practice I’m going straight to the field to go coach my youth team.

“I’ve got a lot of knowledge. If coaching is what I’ve got to do, then that’s what I’ve got to do to make sure my family is straight. Coaching is there, but that’s not my first go-to. I’ve got a lot of knowledge, though.”

This story appears on ArizonaSports.com courtesy of a partnership with SunDevilSource.com, part of the Scout Network and home for the most detailed information on Arizona State football.

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