Crossing enemy lines, Lucien catching on with Sun DevilsPosted: Updated:
It’s been one of the most brutally contested college football rivalries in recent years.
From 2011-2013, the winner of the Arizona State and UCLA matchup went on to win the Pac-12 South championship. The combined margin of victory of those games? Eight points. Last year, the Bruins put a dominating beating on the Sun Devils in Tempe. Entering 2015, both schools are ranked in the pre-season top 20 and primed for another run at the division title.
Through it all, Devin Lucien has been there. He's watched, he's battled, he's made an impact. He now has a unique perspective to the series.
Coming out of high school in Encino, Calif, Lucien was a hotly sought after prospect. Among the schools the then four-star recruit visited was ASU, but Lucien opted to become a Bruin. After a redshirt year in 2011, he went on to catch 58 passes for 752 yards and four touchdowns—including a 42-yarder against ASU in 2013—over the last three seasons.
However, with one year remaining in his college career, Lucien felt he needed to leave Westwood. The soft-spoken Lucien simply says that his decision to leave UCLA “was really just (about) opportunity."
As a college graduate, he would be able to transfer to another FBS school and be eligible immediately. But where would he go?
Just like when he was a recruit, Lucien had several major suitors to consider.
“I had a lot of options. Alabama, the whole Pac-12 except Oregon and Stanford,” he said.
However, staying close to home was priority number one.
"I didn't want to go too far from my mom as she's dealing with breast cancer,” said Lucien.
With that in mind, his options narrowed, but one destination stood out above the rest.
During his high school days, Lucien got to know current ASU quarterback Mike Bercovici. Both were stars in the southern California high school scene, and both became priority recruiting targets for ASU. While their paths diverged when they signed with rival programs, their relationship remained intact and ultimately paid dividends for the Sun Devils.
“I know Michael Bercovici really well,” Lucien said. “That connection with Mike sent it home. If it wasn't for Berc, I don't know if I'd be here."
However, getting to ASU would not be easy. UCLA tried hard to prevent Lucien from making the leap to a division rival before eventually relenting.
"There was a lot of that at UCLA,” Lucien said of UCLA’s efforts to block an inter-divisional move. “They didn't want me to come to a rival and end up doing some of the things I did for them against them. There were some arguments, but at the end of the day, Coach (Jim) Mora did the right thing in releasing me."
Lucien signed with ASU this past spring. Following his graduation, he joined the program over the summer. While he's finding his footing in Tempe, it's still a work in progress.
"I'm still just trying to get the plays down and impress the coaches," Lucien said. "It's definitely different though with being here. But this team has done a really good job of bringing me in. I've been enjoying it."
To help smooth out his learning curve, much of Lucien’s time over the summer was spent at Bercovici’s house, which he shares with fellow wide receivers D.J. Foster and Ellis Jefferson. Together, they helped provide a crash course for Lucien in the Sun Devil offense.
"He was at our house all the time over the summer,” said Foster. “He's done a great job of becoming a part of the team and developing a relationship with as many people as he can. That's really all he can do know is meet as many people as he can and talk. He's done a great job of adapting."
"I think I have the playbook pretty much down pat,” Lucien said. “I'll mess up here and there because there are colors and things that go into it. I'll make my mistakes, but I feel that I have have a good understanding of it."
Even though he has not been with the program for long, Lucien has already noticed a major difference in how the Pac-12 rivals operate behind the scenes.
"Everything is pretty similar, but one of the main things is how Coach Graham really combines his military knowledge with this team,” said Lucien. “Making sure his players are always looking at him. It's more strict here. UCLA had their rules, but here there a lot of little things that go into that."
After four years of experience as a Bruin, Lucien was fluent in the ins and outs of their program. Have ASU’s coaching staff tried to get some top secret info out of their newest player?
"No, they haven't,” Lucien said with a laugh. ”Arizona State has played UCLA fairly well, so I don't think they will need any of my knowledge on what they do to play them."
On the field, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Lucien is looked upon to be a key—and immediate—contributor for the Sun Devils this season.
With Jaelen Strong now in the NFL and Cam Smith out for the year following knee surgery, ASU is without their top two wide receivers from last year. As Foster is the only proven commodity at the position, Lucien feels he is ready to help solidify the holes in the passing game left by Strong and Smith’s absences.
“I'm not as big as Jaelen when he would make those great leaping catches, but I have great athletic ability that I feel makes up for that,” Lucien said. “So I can do a lot of things that Jaelen did, and I can run routes like Cam did, and I can stretch the field. What they left behind, I feel like I can bring."
Through the early portions of fall camp, it’s that ability to go deep that has impressed his new head coach.
"Devin Lucien has been very impressive,” Todd Graham said. “I've been very impressed with how Devin has been able to stretch the field vertically."
Beyond his physical traits, his three seasons of Pac-12 experience are also a boost to a group that features six players who have yet to see game action at the NCAA level.
"Like what Coach Graham says, experience is usually what wins national championships,” Lucien said. “With my experience, I can contribute to that."
As the team continues their preseason work at Camp Tonotzona this week, Lucien continues to acclimate himself to his new team and his new offense. While some may be rattled by a transition like his, Lucien is confident. Very confident.
How much? His senior year goals will paint quite a picture.
"To surpass whatever Jaelen did in his two years here," he said. "To be a Biletnikoff Award winner. To be a first round pick.
"I really want to accomplish a lot, and with this offense, I think I can."
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