D.J. Foster is ‘living proof of concept’ for Kenny Dillingham’s recruiting pitch to ASU

Feb 3, 2023, 5:59 PM | Updated: 10:13 pm
October 4, 2014: Arizona State Sun Devils running back D.J. Foster (8) touchdown catch during the N...
October 4, 2014: Arizona State Sun Devils running back D.J. Foster (8) touchdown catch during the NCAA football game between the Arizona State Sun Devils and the USC Trojans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

TEMPE — Valley football legend D.J. Foster is back at Arizona State as a manager of player development.

He represents everything that head coach Kenny Dillingham preaches in his recruiting pitch, which resonates even more with in-state recruits.

“He is living proof of concept,” Dillingham said Thursday. “We want to keep kids here. He’s the proof that if you come here, you will be a legend.

“It’s funny because every kid walks in here, they go ‘Oh my gosh, that’s D.J. Foster.’ … It’s like, I know. That could be you. This is proof of concept: The fact that you came in here and see D.J. Foster and you feel some sort of way about D.J. Foster is exactly how people can feel about you. No difference, you just got to make the choice to do it.”

Foster broke numerous state records and helped catapult Scottsdale Saguaro High School’s football program into the national spotlight it has today.

His coach during that time? ASU tight ends coach Jason Mohns.

“Getting to see him work now — I know what he did at Saguaro (when I was playing) — but getting to see the details of him as a coach now and how he’s evolved,” Foster said Thursday.

“He was my coach 10 years ago, so seeing Coach Mohns’ journey here has been so exciting. … Seeing those relationships and seeing his energy is incredible.”

The running back then spent four seasons at Arizona State from 2012-15, where he become one of only five players in NCAA Division I history to both rush for and receive over 2,000 yards en route to a 2013 Pac-12 Championship Game appearance. Dillingham was an offensive assistant from 2014-15.

The Sun Devil football coaching staff now includes four former Valley high school coaches in Mohns (Saguaro), Dillingham (Chaparral), running backs coach Shaun Aguano (Chandler) and assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Charlie Ragle (Chaparral), who all competed against each other at one point over the last decade-plus.

So safe to say there’s some trash-talking going on in the locker room when it comes to local high school football.

“I reached out (to Dillingham), I wanted to be a part of it,” Foster said. “People in this Valley want to be a part of it and when he says activate the Valley, not only alumni, but fans, the community, former players, people that just care about Sun Devil nation in the community.

“It’s fun. It’s awesome to see people come back out and that energy and passions rejuvenated. … Even with Coach Aguano, Coach Ragle, so many guys that just love this place, love this community — it’s been contagious.”

Foster went on to win Super Bowl LI during his rookie year with the New England Patriots before coming back home to play for the Arizona Cardinals from 2017-20.

So if there ever was a perfect mentor for ASU players other than a coach, it’s a guy who has been in their shoes before, in this exact building before and went on to live the dream of playing in the NFL.

“It really comes down to being of service. I’m here every day for these guys, whether it’s housing, academics, conduct, life, going through a hard day,” Foster said. “For them to come into my office and be able to talk, I understand what they’re going through.

“I understand where they’re trying to get to, so being a resource and for them to be able to trust me and have those relationships with them away from coaches and sometimes there’s stuff you need tiers of relationships. So being able to have that one with them, it’s been great. … Being able to speak to them when they can trust that I get it and they understand that I just lived it.”

Foster has spent the last couple of years playing in the Canadian Football League for the Toronto Argonauts (2021), sideline reporting local high football school games and working sales jobs.

Now that he’s back with ASU as a member of the support staff for the Sun Devils, he “would love to be a general manager/athletic director one day.”

“I’m here every day with these guys. When I can talk ball with them, I talk ball with them, especially the running backs, a lot of the offensive skill positions,” Foster said. “But just when it comes to life, helping them with life. That’s what I care about. That’s what I’m passionate about.

“Making sure that they make the most of this chapter. It’s too important. I’ve seen too many guys not ruin this chapter, but not capitalize on these four or five years that they have. It can set you up for life. And that’s my most important thing being here: Making sure when they leave here, they’re a better man, better set up success-wise and understand what the real world is.”

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D.J. Foster is ‘living proof of concept’ for Kenny Dillingham’s recruiting pitch to ASU