TEMPE, Ariz. -- The line in the box score was solid, if unspectacular: two receptions, 23 yards, one touchdown.
Yet, as is often the case in the game of football, the numbers are deceiving.
Redshirt junior tight end De’Marieya Nelson was one of Arizona State’s few bright spots during their 37-34 loss to Notre Dame last week. His fourth quarter touchdown reception tied the game, and his run blocking throughout the night was excellent, helping to seal off the edges on many of the Sun Devils’ best runs of the night.
“De’Marieya Nelson had as good a game as he’s had since he’s been here,” said ASU tight ends coach Chip Long. “The way he just dominated on the edge. He made plays when we needed him to, and that was great to see.”
The ever-humble Nelson was less effusive in his self-evaluation.
“I feel that I gave 100 percent effort. I made some big blocks to make some big runs,” said Nelson. “I told my coach that I was going to give it what I had, and I gave it what I had.”
Nelson’s showing against Notre Dame continues what has been a very promising start to his Sun Devil career.
A junior college transfer from San Joaquin Delta College, Nelson has seen action in every game this year, catching four passes for 63 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also has been one of the team’s top special teams performers, making three tackles.
It then comes as no surprise that Nelson is emerging as one of the team’s most valuable commodities.
“He’s one of our best special teams players, makes just about every single play,” Long said. “He’s probably one of our most physical players, and one of the best all-around football players on our team, in my opinion.”
Arriving in Tempe over the summer, Nelson experienced the expected whirlwind of learning a new offensive system while making all of the other adjustments facing a student-athlete coming to a new school.
“When he first got here, we knew he was an athlete,” said ASU tight end Chris Coyle. “The hardest thing is picking up the playbook. The biggest thing for that is studying. Coach Long has been helping him. I’ve been helping him as well. It’s just picking it up. Once you pick it up, the concepts just build on each other.”
That step-by-step approach has lead to better performances from Nelson each and every week, and the results have been evident.
“He’s starting to read certain plays and understand what to do in situations,” Coyle said. “He’s just become a lot better player through it.”
“You can’t measure how far he’s come,” said Long. “His first couple of days here, he was just trying to make it. Just to see how far he has come and the work he has put in, it’s been great. We’ve done a good job just giving him certain things in the offense to grow on. He’s done a great job of that and he’s going to keep growing.”
That growth likely will parlay Nelson’s successes into a larger role in the offense in the coming weeks.
“There’s no question,” Long replied after being asked if Nelson would see more of the ball. “We always have a big package for him. Opportunities aren’t always there, but that doesn’t mean he’s not getting someone else open. He’s going to be a big, big time playmaker in this offense for a long time.”
The Sun Devils’ gameplan often includes plays and formations that feature both Coyle and Nelson. Both players are talented and versatile athletes whose size (Coyle is 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, while Nelson checks in at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds) often presents match-up problems for opposing defenses.
“We’re making sure to get him incorporated into everything. I think we work pretty well hand-in-hand out there on the field,” said Coyle.
Nelson isn’t letting his growing role distract him from his nose-to-the-grindstone approach.
“I’m just going to play to the best of my ability, and keep giving my all so I can more forward and get involved more,” Nelson said.
Nelson’s rapid development has been aided by his relationship with Coyle, one of the nation’s premier playmakers at the tight end position who set ASU’s single-season tight end reception record last season. Beyond the Xs and Os, Coyle has helped Nelson adapt to life in Arizona and the high standards set forth by head coach Todd Graham.
“He’s been a tremendous help, and a great role model and a great leader,” Nelson said of Coyle. “He helps me out a lot on the field and off the field.”
“The biggest thing in helping the other tight ends along is helping them understand how Coach Long is going to coach,” said Coyle of his mentor role. “I make sure that they understand that it is going to be hard. It’s also understanding how to play fast. Get the signals, making your reads before the play, and doing the right thing.”
Looking forward, Coyle—a senior—sees great potential for Nelson in the ASU offense now and in 2014. It all depends on how much Nelson applies himself.
“I think he’s going to do a great job. It’s his offense next year,” Coyle said. “He’s got the athleticism of a running back. He may need to put on some weight if he is going to do more blocking. He has good speed and good hands. It all depends on how hard he wants to work.”
Fulfilling that potential and not letting down his mentor is exactly what Nelson has in mind.
“The main thing is getting better every week,” Nelson said of his goals. “Me getting better, me taking to coaching, me being more physical.
"I’m looking forward to keeping improving, doing my best to get involved more, and helping my team to victory.”