TEMPE, Ariz. -- A team does not simply replace a player like Marion Grice.
Or do they?
Over his two-year Sun Devil career, Grice totaled 1,675 yards on the ground, and caught 91 passes for another 863 yards. Most importantly, he found the endzone an astounding 39 times. Although he only played those two years, Grice secured his spot among the all-time great all-purpose back for Arizona State.
His departure leaves a major hole in the ASU offense, but head coach Todd Graham and his staff aggressively addressed the position in the 2014 recruiting class.
They landed a big power back in Kalen Ballage and a shifty speedster in De'Chavon "Gump" Hayes, but the third member of the group may be the player best poised to inherit Grice's do-everything role.
"Demario Richard is one of the great tailbacks on the West Coast," said Graham on National Signing Day. "(He's) a guy that was obviously a highly competitive tailback in the Pac 12 as far as recruiting standpoint. A guy that's just a dynamic inside zone runner that we think has tremendous potential. He caught our eye early."
Richard, a 5-foot-10, 203-pounder from Palmdale High School in Palmdale, Calif., earned 4-star ratings from Scout.com and ESPN after a heralded prep career. With several impressive offers available, he made his initial commitment to ASU on December 2 and made it official on Signing Day earlier this month.
One of the primary reasons that Richard will don the maroon and gold came from a closed-door meeting during his official visit to Tempe.
“When I was on my official with all the other players, they locked all of the coaches, athletic directors and anyone affiliated with the program out of the meeting room and left the players in there with the recruits," said Richard. "We asked them anything we wanted to, and they kept it all the way real with us. They spoke real about the coaches. They kept it all the way real with me and my family. It felt like this was where I was from.”
ASU also had another big name helping them in the process.
Derek Hagan, one of the all-time great Sun Devil wide receivers, is a fellow Palmdale High School alumnus, and he gradually assumed a mentor role for Richard.
“It’s a great relationship," Richard said of Hagan. "He’s an alumni of my school, so I see him often. He’s a big brother to me. He’s told me about the coaching staff and told me about the recruiting process, and he’s making sure my head is always in the classroom.”
While there was some concern that Richard could flip to another of the many major programs vying for his services, it was those closest to him that kept Richard grounded and on the road to Tempe.
“It was cool, but frustrating at times," said of the recruiting process. "You got coaches telling you stuff you want to hear, but my family and friends kept me focused on what I needed to be focused on. They opened my eyes that everybody is not real and everybody is not who you think they are. The perfect example is that Lane Kiffin incident.”
Now that he is a Sun Devil, what exactty does Richard bring to the field?
Let's let him give his own scouting report.
“Very explosive. Hard to tackle. Great hands out of the backfield. Great routes out of the backfield or the slot position. Great vision. Good off the stop and go cuts. Good lateral movement. I can do it all.”
That well rounded skillset certainly sounds a lot like a feature back in the Marion Grice mold. In fact, watching the all-purpose success of Grice and teammate D.J. Foster over the last two years played a big part in Richard's decision.
“It was a huge impact," said Richard of watching Grice and Foster. "I can see myself playing the positions that those two played, with D.J. as a receiver and Marion as a running back. I just put myself in that offense, a high-octane offense. I see a lot of great things happening.”
ASU will need some of those things to happen this fall if the Sun Devils hope to continue their recent offensive success.
With Grice gone, Foster figures to assume a larger role in the offense. While he rushed for 318 yards in the three starts he made in place of Grice, Foster's skillset lends itself to his current role as a versatile and dynamic playmaker both out of the backfield and as a slot receiver (he had 63 receptions in 2013) rather than a prototypical feature back.
Even with Ballage and Hayes joining returning senior Deantre Lewis in the backfield mix to earn some carries, Richard is expected to showcase his talents from the moment he steps foot on campus this fall.
“They told me when I was on my official that I have no time to be a freshman," Richard said of ASU's coaching staff. "They said that I have to be ready to come in and play as soon as possible. I will be getting reps at the slot position, and I will be getting reps at running back. They said that I have no time to train to be the best running back in the Pac-12, I have to train myself to be the best running back in all of the nation. Once they said that, it opened my eyes. I’ve been training hard, but now I’ve been pushing myself harder than before.”
"We're very excited about what he brings," Graham said. "You can see his total rushing yards (4,251 yards and 63 touchdowns at Palmdale). He also catches the ball well out of the backfield. We're excited about him, and wanting to continue to put those playmakers on the field."
When asked about what his goals are for his freshman year, Richard's answer is unsurprisingly lofty.
“My expectations are to come in, do what I have to do to get onto the football field, get to the playoffs, ball out and be a freshman All-American.”
Highlights of Richard in action: