Arizona State’s successes from the 1970 season kickstarted major momentum for head coach Frank Kush and his Sun Devils and thanks largely to key contributions from some youngsters that would ultimately become campus icons, the ball kept rolling in ASU’s favor in 1971.
Entering 1971, Kush was tasked with the challenge of replacing a litany of superstars from the undefeated 1970 squad, a group headlined by First-Team All-America WR J.D. Hill, All-WAC QB Joe Spagnola and Second-Team All-America OL Gary Venturo. All-WAC members including OL Ken Coyle, DT Bob Davenport, DE Mike Fanucci, LB Mike Mess, FB Bob Thomas also departed after wrapping up their college careers in 1970.
In many ways, the 1971 Sun Devil squad was a full of firsts and helped grow Kush’s legacy as a true college football legend for Arizona State.
In place of the departed standouts came a handful of untested first-year contributors—some of which would evolve to be program legends—such as QB Danny White and a backfield consisting of HB Woody Green and FB Ben Malone.
Of all the notable names from the early 1970s, White is one of the most compelling, not just because of what he did over his historic career, but the fact that the initial plans never would have landed him in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Through his prep career at nearby Westwood High School in Mesa, White was a solid starting quarterback but more widely known as an elite baseball prospect. When it came time to decide on a college, Frank Kush helped convince iconic ASU baseball coach Bobby Winkles to sign White—the son of ASU’s all-time leading rusher at the time Wilford “Whizzer” White—with the expectation that White would also punt for the football team. White punted throughout his Sun Devil career to all-conference levels, but during his freshman year he was tutored to be an all-star quarterback that was first showcased midway through the 1971 season.
White battled Grady Hurst for starting reps, but a shoulder injury limited White during the first half of the season. After a loss to Oregon State, White got his first true chance at starting duties against New Mexico on Oct. 23, 1971.
In a fashion truly befitting the icon White became over his ASU career, the Mesa native immediately began to step out of his father’s shadow and solidify his own legacy with a six touchdown effort in the Devils’ 60-28 blowout of the Lobos.
On the year, White would pass for 1,643 yards and 17 touchdowns in split duty but more memorably would go on to a career that places him atop the list of the all-time great quarterbacks to play for Arizona State.
In an era where freshmen could not play varsity football, Green’s sophomore year catapulted his undeniable stance as the greatest running back in Sun Devil history. Green was counted on early and often through the season as he totaled 232 carries on the year, second-most in school history at the time. His impact was felt from the very beginning as in only his second career game Green exploded for 214 yards on 31 carries with two touchdowns against Utah.
The consistent duty paid off tremendously for the Devils as Green rushed for a total of 1,310 yards for the season, an amount still good enough for the sixth-best single-season rushing total in ASU history.
Perhaps if on any other team at any other time, Malone would have been a smash-hit All-American, but playing beside a national star such as Woody Green cast a bit of a shadow over the Eloy, Ariz., product.
Despite playing second-fiddle to his All-American partner, Malone stood his own as a sophomore with 917 rushing yards on 121 carries with four touchdowns.
Elsewhere on offense, Calvin Demery paced the squad in receiving, catching 43 passes for 641 yards with five scores. DL Ted Olivo tallied a team-best 115 tackles while DE Junior Ah You registered 104. Windlan Hall captured a team-best seven interceptions from his cornerback position.
The year began in tense fashion as the Devils claimed an 18-17 victory over Houston in Tempe. The opener was far from an unexpected challenge as the Cougars came to Sun Devil Stadium ranked No. 20 in the Associated Press poll.
ASU traveled to Utah the next week with a much easier result, a 41-21 win over the Utes.
The Sun Devils returned home for a pair of games to begin the month of October and both were won with ease, starting with a 24-7 triumph over UTEP then a 42-0 smashing of Colorado State.
The season’s fifth game brought the lone loss of the year, as the Devils were downed by Oregon State 24-18. With an ultimately historic quarterback change in place, ASU responded the next week in impressive fashion with Danny White at the helm by dropping a season scoring high in a 60-28 win over New Mexico.
ASU then hit a major stride for the final five regular season games, as all were Sun Devil wins of at least 16 points starting with a 44-28 win over No. 18 Air Force.
Next up, the Sun Devils took down BYU in Tempe, 38-13, then Wyoming in Sun Devil Stadium, 52-19.
The Devils’ final road game of the season was a trip to San Jose State, but the Spartans failed to provide much of a challenge as ASU walked away with a 49-6 victory.
ASU’s momentum would not stutter with rival Arizona coming to town to end the regular season as the Devils planted the Wildcats into the Sun Devil Stadium turf with a 31-0 blanking on Nov. 27. The spotless win is one of only two times in rivalry history that ASU has shut out Arizona joining the Devils’ 20-0 victory in 1956.
In a season of spectacular firsts, perhaps the most significant was the debut of the Fiesta Bowl, which featured Arizona State as Western Athletic Conference champion versus Florida State University on Dec. 27, 1971.
ASU, participating in back-to-back bowl games for the first time in 30 years, battled back-and-forth and lit up the scoreboards with the Seminoles all four quarters. FSU held a 28-21 halftime lead, but the Devils tallied 10 unanswered points in the third quarter to enter the final period up 31-28.
Florida State tied the game at 31 with a fourth quarter field goal, and after an ASU touchdown the Seminoles again evened the score at 38. The Devils claimed the upper-hand in the waning moments on a two-yard scoring run by Woody Green with only 34 seconds remaining to close out a 45-38 Sun Devil win.
At the time, the 93 combined points stood as the greatest cumulative single-game total in bowl history. The 1971 Fiesta Bowl victory was the first of three consecutive wins in the Tempe postseason game for the Devils among the five total Fiesta Bowl appearances during Frank Kush’s tenure at ASU.
In terms of postseason honors, four Sun Devils brought home All-America honors, including Hall (first-team), Ah You (second-team), Green and Tomco (both honorable mention). Ah You, Green, Hall, Holden, Petty and Tomco were named First-Team All-WAC, while Mike Clupper, George Endres and Ted Olivo earned Second-Team All-WAC recognition.
The team also finished ranked No. 6 in the final Coaches Poll.
Six members of the 1971 team ultimately were inducted into ASU’s Sports Hall of Fame including Ah You, Green, Hall, Holden, Malone and White, making it one of the more star-studded groups in Sun Devil history.