Catching up with current Cardinal, former Sun Devil RB Marion GricePosted: Updated:
TEMPE, Ariz. -- A lot has changed for Marion Grice over the last year, but a few things remain constant.
When he’s on a football field, he’s going to give everything he has, and when he has the ball in his hands, he won’t go down easy.
After a standout career at Arizona State, Grice was a sixth round pick of the San Diego Chargers in the 2014 NFL Draft. He was placed on their practice squad after training camp, but soon found his way back to the Grand Canyon State when the Arizona Cardinals signed him to their active roster on Sept. 22.
Grice is coming off the busiest game in his young NFL career. The rookie was called into action this past Sunday after an injury knocked out starter Andre Ellington, and Grice was ready.
He led the team with 16 yards on five carries and added 24 yards on three receptions against Atlanta. However, the Arizona offense continued their recent struggles, and the Cardinals fell to the Falcons 29-18.
"I challenge myself every day in practice for when my number is called,” said Grice. “I was told I did pretty good, but it wasn't good enough to help my team win. There are things I need to learn from, take on in practice, and get better at it."
Despite the team’s second straight loss, Arizona remains atop the NFC West standings, one game ahead of Seattle. Grice says that his teammates are focused on returning to their winning ways.
"We're of the mindset of getting back on track of winning ballgames, playing our football, and not to get complacent,” said Grice. “We can't get down too much about the situation these last two weeks. We just have to put it behind us, move forward, learn from it, and win this next ballgame."
So far as a pro, Grice has 11 carries for 29 yards. One of those runs found the endzone for his first NFL touchdown. While that would be a memorable moment on its own, it was made extra special in that it came against the Dallas Cowboys in Grice’s home state of Texas.
The only problem was that it took a few moments for the officials to confirm he had crossed the goal line, but it was worth the (momentary) wait.
"I was pretty excited about it,” Grice said. “It was good to get an opportunity to score a touchdown, plus to score a touchdown in your home state. It felt great. I was just speechless. At the time, they were taking a little bit too long to tell me that I made a touchdown. I was just trying to see what I was going to do. When they finally announced it, I was so happy. I'm just going to go to the sideline to celebrate."
Like any rookie, Grice is taking time acclimating himself to the NFL game.
"The guys are bigger and they are faster, they are way faster than in college,” Grice said. “You have guys that are way more experienced. You have guys that you have been looking at play since you were smaller.”
Making the transition to the game’s highest level a little easier are the hometown fans.
"It's big for me knowing that the same fans who have been watching me in college can just follow me with the Cardinals,” Grice said. “It's great, and I'm very excited about it."
Those same fans watched Grice excel as a Sun Devil.
After coming over as a junior college transfer in 2012, Grice showed off exceptional versatility and a nose for the endzone. In his ASU career, he rushed for 1,675 yards on 294 carries (5.7 yards per carry) with 25 touchdowns, while adding 91 receptions for 863 yards and 14 more touchdowns.
Although his days in the maroon and gold are over, Grice was pleased in watching his Sun Devils exceed expectations this past year. ASU finished the regular season with a 9-3 record and the No. 17 ranking in the AP poll.
"I’m very excited for those guys,” said Grice. “A lot of people didn't think the Sun Devils were going to turn out how they did by winning nine ball games. That's huge. People thought that we would drop, and we wouldn't be good anymore, but those guys stepped up and played their tail off."
One of the big reasons for ASU’s success this season is also a player who Grice helped mentor over the last two years.
D.J. Foster shared the Sun Devil backfield with Grice in 2012 and 2013, and he inherited Grice’s role as ASU’s lead running back this year. Like Grice, Foster excelled as a do-it-all player, rushing for 1,002 yards along with 646 yard receiving on 59 receptions.
"D.J. is a great running back. He's shown his physicality, and we all know his versatility,” said Grice. “He's similar to me in that he can do a little bit of all of it. I tip my hat to him. He really came up this year and showed the guys he can be physical. He showed the guys he can pass protect, and come out of the backfield and make plays."
While Grice is focused on forging a successful NFL career, he also finds some time to remember his college days.
"The atmosphere and playing in Sun Devil Stadium. The fans. The games. My teammates. I miss it all,” Grice said.
That emotional connection to the Sun Devil program is clearly evident, as Grice routinely uses “we” when discussing Arizona State.
Thanks in part to the work he put in as a Sun Devil, he feels that the future of ASU football is bright.
"We're up and coming. We're rising up,” said Grice. “We're beating teams a lot of people wouldn't be expecting us to beat. It shows that we are not a pushover team. We're always looked at as underdogs, but we came out and proved a lot of people wrong. I feel like it will continue to grow. A lot of people are going to get interested in coming to Arizona State.”