Brimhall continuing to impress in ASU's backfieldPosted: Updated:
No one can say that there is a shortage of options in the Arizona State backfield.
Even after D.J. Foster—coming off a 2014 season in which he rushed for 1,081 yards—moved to wide receiver this past offseason, the Sun Devil ground game appears strong. True sophomores, and former 4-star recruits, Demario Richard (5-foot-10, 213 pounds) and Kalen Ballage (6-foot-3, 222) bring a powerful element to the attack. Newly eligible De'Chavon "Gump" Hayes (5-foot-11, 182) has emerged as an electrifying dual-threat weapon.
Then there is a 5-foot-6, 185-pound walk-on who just keeps making big plays every practice, showing the world that what matters most can't be quantified.
Last spring, on the recommendation of friend and ASU linebacker Brandon Matthews, Jacom Brimhall decided to walked to the Sun Devil team.
Due to a two-year mission he served for his church, Brimhall hadn't played competitive football since his senior year at Mountain View High School in Mesa, Ariz. When he suited up for his first practice last March, he hadn't even been given the chance to look at the playbook. Undaunted, he battled through that steep learning curve, and as he shook off the rust, the coaching staff took notice.
Brimhall continued to grind away on the practice field. Eventually, he earned a role on special teams, where he saw action in 12 games last season.
The playing time he received helped to provide further motivation for a player who had no lack of it.
"The difference between that first game when I got onto the field and that last game, it gave me so much more than just experience," Brimhall said. "That's why I am out here right now. It's me building on that. I understand the tempo of the game. I understand what they expect of me. It's helped me out so much. It just motivates me that much more."
Now a true sophomore, Brimhall has been noticeably more confident during practices. Armed with a year of experience in the system, he's now back to just playing ball.
"From where I was last spring, when I didn't know anything, I feel so much better," said Brimhall. "Now I can go in and focus on playing, rather than worrying about the plays. I feel great."
Brimhall became one of the standouts during ASU's recently concluded spring practices. He was one of a handful of players allowed to wear one of the team's flame helmets during practice, an honor that head coach Todd Graham said went only to "guys we can win a Pac-12 championship with."
"It's an honor. I know I'm a walk-on, and I'm a short guy, so I have everything working against me. My work ethic is all I have," Brimhall said. "Being recognized for something like that means a lot to me, especially when I am there with D-Rich and Kalen Ballage and Berco (quarterback Mike Bercovici). Those guys are wearing the flame helmet, so for me to be considered as working as hard, it's just that much more motivating for me."
Brimhall has also been a frequent recipient of post-practice praise from Graham, who said that Brimhall has a chance to become a "real player" for the Sun Devils in 2015. Those words just further validated Brimhall's decision to come to ASU.
"Coming to ASU, this was my dream school. You could have offered me to 'Bama, Oregon, anywhere, I would have come to ASU," said Brimhall. "For my head coach to say something like that. I had texts from my dad, my uncle, everybody telling me before I even got home. It means a lot that there is that much confidence. Like with everything else, I just want to work that much harder."
Over the offseason, Brimhall worked to improve his speed, and it appears to have been a success. He says that he was recently hand-timed in the 40-yard dash at 4.38 seconds.
"My downhill speed is one of the big things that I need to work on," Brimhall said. "I've got a good 40, but with my short little legs, that's about all I got. I've worked a lot on my downhill speed."
Brimhall also aims to maximize his smaller frame through hard work in the weight room. His physique quickly earned the nickname "Muscle Hamster" from his teammates last year, and he feels that he has become a more powerful runner heading into this season.
"Coach Bo (Graham, ASU running backs coach) always talks about speed, physicality, and finish," said Brimhall. "Coach (Todd) Graham really wants us to be able to run the ball hard, not just going outside. Building the physicality of the team has been the biggest thing we've been setting up this whole entire spring."
While his stature presents obvious challenges, it also provides Brimhall with an opportunity to use it against the defense.
"As long as I'm smart enough to follow my lineman, then it should be OK," said Brimhall. "I talk to (ASU linebackers) Carlos Mendoza and Luke Williams a few times after practice, and they always say 'I can't even see you out there!' As long as I'm running where I'm supposed to be running, I try to use that so I can be hard to see. That's my secret."
ASU's offensive scheme places a premium on well-rounded, versatile backs, and that includes being able to do the dirty work. That is one area that Brimhall realizes he needs improvement.
"I really need to work on my protections," Brimhall said. "As a running back, everyone thinks it's just about running the ball, but protections are big. I need to be able to recognize them quicker. Lots of times when I do recognize it, I'm too impatient in my head and start to think 'I have to get there quick because I'm not the biggest guy.' That's one thing I'll be working on."
Both Richard and Ballage saw extensive playing time last season, and they project to be the top two backfield options this fall. Yet, despite their high recruiting rankings or place atop the depth chart, neither player takes anything for granted, fostering a productive environment for the running backs.
"Having them back there with me is so motivating," said Brimhall. "Lots of people, if you go to a different kind of school, they come in and think they are entitled. They don't feel that way at all. They are humble and ready to work. They are pushing me every single day, and I know I need to push them."
Beyond that trio and Hayes, the position welcomed freshman fullback Nick Ralston into the fold this spring, and 4-star recruit Jaason Lewis is coming this summer. The bevy of talent in the Sun Devil backfield has Brimhall setting some lofty goals for the group.
"We want to be the most dangerous running back corps in the entire nation, not just the Pac-12," Brimhall said. "For me, all I can guarantee you guys is that I'm going to work as hard as I can, no matter what. If I see the field at running back, I hope I get in there, but I'll be working my butt off to try and help the other guys."
Brimhall once again will feature heavily on the Sun Devil special teams units and vie for a role in the offense, but he has placed one goal above all others.
"It's all about the team. If I don't come away with a national championship ring, then it's a failure."