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ASU running back Demario Richard is in a happy, healthy place

Arizona State defensive back Kareem Orr, left, pursues Arizona State running back Demario Richard during their spring NCAA college football game in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, file)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Demario Richard was in a bad place last season, physically and mentally. Following a weightlifting session over the summer in which he said squatted more than 500 pounds, Richard ran a shuttle drill and suffered a core injury. The injury carried into the season, hampering everything he did on the field, and dampening his mood off of it.

Richard still led the Sun Devils with 593 rushing yards, but that was a far cry from the 1,098 he gained the season before as a sophomore. He averaged just 3.8 yards per carry and he found the end zone just three times compared to 10 in 2015.

“I was miserable,” he said Wednesday. “If you were a fly on the wall after practices and games last year with how my body was feeling, you would have known. I was broken down. I was coming in every day trying to figure out a way to get through practice.”

Sun Devils running backs coach John Simon said it was apparent to anyone who knew Richard’s capabilities.

“If you go back and look at his film the year before and even in the spring, he was a lot quicker,” Simon said. “Once he got in the open field last year he had no turnover. He had a chronic deal that was a major deal. We didn’t know if it was ever going to heal. We had to monitor his reps at practice; we had to monitor his workload. The doctors and trainers told us we were just going to have to manage him through the season, but it hindered his performance and his quickness and his long speed.”

It also hindered his ability to appreciate his teammates. While backfield mate Kalen Ballage was grabbing the national spotlight with his effectiveness in ASU’s “Sparky” formation, and with an NCAA single game record-tying eight touchdowns in a 68-55 win over Texas Tech, Richard was trapped in his own dark thoughts, leading some to believe that he harbored ill will toward his backfield mate.

Richards insists that was not the case.

“I was more selfish last year than anything,” he said. “I would never hate on another man. You give credit where credit is due. My situation had nothing to do with him. My situation was just trying to get back healthy and lose weight when all I could do was sit in the room and eat.”

Richard said his parents spent “six or seven grand” in the offseason on rehab to rebuild and strengthen his core, strengthen other body parts, improve his flexibility and develop longer, leaner muscle mass.

Richard reported to spring ball eight pounds lighter, and about 800 pounds lighter in spirit.

“I’m still learning this playbook, still trying to get my game together, but mentally I’m back in a football state of mind,” he said. “I had to change. If I didn’t change my approach I don’t think I would have been here. It was either get it right or be broke.”

Simon wasn’t giving away state secrets on Wednesday after practice but he insisted that the Sun Devils’ new offense under first-year coordinator Billy Napier would be one that suits Richard’s game.

“It’s going to change for the better,” Simon said. “We feel like we should be able to run the football a little more and I just think some of the run concepts suit him a little better than they did last year. There are a few more options, a few more wrinkles that are geared toward his skill set.”

Simon sees no remnants of the injury that hampered Richard last season, noting that Richard is “running fast and finishing runs.” Just as important, the mental detritus of Richard’s 2016 season has vanished.

“The one thing we always have to understand in this business is that they’re kids,” Simon said. “So many people look at them from the outside and think they’re grown up, but D-Rich is only 20 years old. He started school young. He’s still really young.

“When you play this game, we’ve all been there at a point where we wanted to be selfish. When you’ve had success your whole career — since you’re 7 or 8 years old — and then the time comes when you have to share the load, it can be hard.

“It’s good that he has another year. He battled some injuries, he battled a lot of adversity, he learned a lot about himself and he learned a lot about me as a coach and about his teammates. I think he’s more focused and more open than he’s ever been.”

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