TEMPE, Ariz. -- Being 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds presents a player with certain advantages on a football field.
Add in the strength to bull over defensive ends, the speed to get open downfield, and the quick feet to juke by linebackers, and that player becomes quite a versatile asset for a coaching staff.
"If you have a guy who can do all the things that we ask them to do, and play fast, you’re naturally going to make great plays," Arizona State tight ends coach Chip Long said. "You’re naturally going to have that ball in your hands."
It just so happens that Long and the Sun Devils believe that they have such a player, and the resulting expectations for 2014 are considerable.
"We expect De’Marieya take it to another level," Long said. "He got to see Chris (Coyle) do it, so now he needs to put his personality on it and take it.”
Last summer, De'Marieya Nelson transferred to ASU and was quick to make an impact as the team's No. 2 tight end behind Coyle.
Nelson scored ASU's first touchdown of the year, one of the seven passes he caught on the year. He contributed stout blocking that helped spring a number of big runs by Sun Devil backs, and he was a consistent performer on special teams. Nelson even saw action at running back after injuries depleted the depth chart, and he rushed for a pair of touchdowns in the win over Arizona.
"De'Marieya is a guy that as last year finished up, you saw his role continue to increase," offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said.
"It was a great experience,” said Nelson of the 2013 season. “I’m playing with a great group of men, a great coaching staff. There’s a lot of work I need to do still. I have a long way to go.”
“It was being with a coaching staff on a big stage like this," Nelson said of his biggest challenge. “I came from a smaller town and a smaller juco."
“He’s a completely different player (now)," said Long. "He was trying to find out where we eat meals when he first got here and where we practice. Now he’s getting more comfortable."
Part of that turnaround came from learning under Coyle, who earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors last season. The example set by his former teammate is one that Nelson is following closely these days.
“Keep striving. Take Coach Long’s coaching, and I can be as good as I want to be," Nelson said of Coyles' advice. "Work hard, fight through the pain, and fight through the strain.”
That mindset is helping Nelson manage the burden of being the starter.
“It’s impacted me in a big way," Nelson said of being atop the depth chart. "I’m counted on a lot more. I have little room for error. I’m going to do whatever it takes to help my team out.”
Throughout spring practices, Long has seen the results of Nelson's efforts.
"He’s understanding the scheme, how he can be utilized, and how he can take advantage of this offense and have a tremendous year," Long said. "That’s what we expect out of him. We expect a big year, to carry that load and to be even better than Chris was.”
On the field, Nelson marries that greater comprehension of the offense with his improved set of dynamic skills to give the staff a flexible definition of his role.
“His explosiveness. He’s so physical and is so explosive in his legs," said Long. "All the different things he can do: running the ball, running routes, special teams. He’s an all-around great player. The more comfortable he gets and the more in shape he gets, the better he’s going to get.”
“I expect to be used how I was towards the end of last season," Nelson said. "Some at the H-back, some at the 3-back. I just have a longer time to be prepared for it.”
Fans should also expect to see him as a power back.
“I think you’ll see De’Marieya playing a little more tailback, like he did towards the end of last year, in certain packages." Long said. In fact, Nelson has seen time in the spring as the lead running back in some goal line packages.
Needless to say, the myriad options that Nelson's abilities have his coaches excited for his potential.
"With what he's done, the explosiveness that he brings, he's a major weapon for us and we're really excited about that," Norvell said.
“We’re going to do him like we did Chris," Long said. "He’ll be able to run the ball a bit more, but everything Chris did, he’ll have to do even better. We expect him to hopefully break Chris’ record his junior year.”
As for Nelson's own goals, they are a bit more team-oriented.
“To be the best at my position, and to help my team as much as I can," Nelson said. "I’m just a big team guy, and there is no 'I' in team. Anything I can do to help the team.”