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Standout freshmen showcase Arizona State football’s bright future

Do you know their names yet?

If not — you will soon.

Arizona State went 9-3 in their regular season despite getting gutted by the exit of nine defensive starters (six of whom were first-team or second-team All-Pac-12) plus another former starter, Jaxon Hood, in November.

How’d they pull that one off?

Head coach Todd Graham had to figure out how to use the freshmen.

It’s not like he had to stand in the middle of a gaggle of pee-wee league players with runny noses, diagramming on his clipboard the correct direction in which to run down the field while telling the weird kid to stop eating grass.

He had considerable talent to work with; it was just a matter of developing it. Coaching it up.

On offense, two former four-star recruit running backs lent their talent to junior D.J. Foster’s Swiss-Army-Knife set of skills.

One, Demario Richard, hadn’t even turned 18 by the time he’d scored his first collegiate touchdown against New Mexico on Sept. 6.

He rushed for 437 yards on 77 attempts and four touchdowns this season (two rushing, two receiving), and had a career game against Utah on Nov. 1 where he racked up 116 yards on 14 carries and averaged 8.3 yards per carry.

The 5-foot-10-inch, 203-pound back finally turned 18 on Dec. 2 — he’s got plenty of time left to continue to make big plays for the Sun Devils.

Another, Kalen Ballage, showed promise as a multi-use running back in the same style as Foster.

The 6-foot-3-inch, 220-pound back out of Falcon High School in Colorado was used to playing every position before coming to Arizona State, and his physicality allowed him to score three rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown on the season.

Speaking of physicality, one of Ballage’s explosive touchdowns (a 38-yard catch-and-dash against Colorado) showed how much of an offensive powerhouse he could potentially be — he trucked 290-pound center Nick Kelly to clear a path to the end zone.

And on defense, a couple of the team’s youngest showed big potential for the Sun Devils’ future.

D.J. Calhoun, a linebacker out of El Cerrito, Calif., recorded 35 total tackles in only seven games played, including a career-high nine total tackles against USC in October.

What’s possibly most exciting about Calhoun is his potential on the blitz — he only recorded two sacks this year but had two pass deflections thanks to his considerable speed. One of those sacks (on Washington State’s freshman quarterback Luke Falk) showcased that speed and promised big things to come from Calhoun.

Another defensive freshman on the rise is Armand Perry.

The 6-foot tall defensive back recorded 34 total tackles and 2.5 sacks this year. His biggest play came against Washington in November, during which he showed his athleticism with an interception that he returned 61 yards for the game-sealing touchdown.

Despite the disappointment of losing two of their final three games, ASU can get back to work after whichever bowl game they land and continue to develop these promising young men into power players for the Sun Devils.

They have the potential. Now comes the experience.

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