His wait nearly over, Humphrey ready for his chance with ASU

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John Humphrey (Photo: Nick Ramirez/House of Sparky John Humphrey (Photo: Nick Ramirez/House of Sparky

When this year’s spring game began, Arizona State fans felt confident that the team had a star wide receiver in the making. Fast forward three hours, and that belief suddenly seemed inadequate.

ASU may actually have two such playmakers.

Just ask the guy in the No. 12 jersey with a huge smile on his face.

Redshirt sophomore John Humphrey had just had his coming out party, a three-touchdown performance that announced to Sun Devil Nation that he was ready to make his mark for ASU. Along with N’Keal Harry—coming off a dazzling 2016 season as a true freshman—Humphrey is now poised to be the factor that pushes the Sun Devil offense from good to great.

With ASU in the midst of fall camp, and Humphrey a fixture with the first-team offense, the future appears bright. But for a while, the light at the end of the tunnel seemed all too dim.

“I know I haven’t played in two years. Every day I go through practice, every rep, I think about the time that I had to redshirt,” Humphrey said. “I worked my ass off, and then knowing that Saturdays that I’d be on the sideline watching...I used to always doubt myself.”

A coveted recruit out of Texas in 2015, Humphrey held several impressive offers, including Clemson, Nebraska, Baylor, and Notre Dame. However, he ultimately opted for Oklahoma. Although he redshirted in 2015, he still managed to make his mark, earning Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year honors.

But he soon came to believe that his career was best served elsewhere. So after weighing his options, he transferred to Arizona State, where his the man who recruited him to Oklahoma—Jay Norvell—was then ASU’s wide receivers coach.

It was a new opportunity, but also, another time he had to sit and wait. Due to the NCAA’s transfer rules, Humphrey had to sit out the entire 2016 season.

He took it hard.

“It was really tough,” Humphrey said of sitting out in 2016. “I used to, after the games, call my mom and my dad and I’d be crying. I wanted to get on the field that bad. People would always tell me that things would work out and things would pay off and your time is coming.”

The waiting game took an emotional toll on Humphrey, but he eventually used that time to his benefit.

“I take that as a good thing now,” said Humphrey. “I had time to mature. I learned the game, and became a better overall player.”

So while Harry established himself as one of the Pac-12’s brightest young stars, Humphrey worked hard behind the scenes and in practice, biding his time and honing his craft.

“My strength, my blocking,” Humphrey said of his areas of focus. “Cleaning up my route running. Understanding different concepts against different defensive schemes. Becoming an overall college receiver.”

For a young man already so familiar with change in his college career, Humphrey was dealt another obstacle this past December when Norvell left to become the head coach at Nevada. ASU soon brought in Rob Likens to coach the wide receivers, and Humphrey immediately took to his new coach.

“He’s done a phenomenal job of teaching us different releases, what to look for against certain defensive schemes, and how to get open on almost every play,” Humphrey said.

Oh, but the coaching carousel was not yet done.

In January, ASU had to replace offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, and did so with former Alabama wide receivers coach Billy Napier. As with Likens, it was a move that excited Humphrey for the future.

“He knows how to get me open,” the 5-foot-11, 174-pound Humphrey said. “He knows how to utilize my speed and quickness and my run-after-the-catch abilities.

"I’ll be playing all over the place. Outside, inside, other places. Coach Napier knows how to utilize his players towards their strengths.”

Need proof? Exhibit A: Humphrey’s spring game performance.

Humphrey’s emergence has been a big boost to a wide receiver group deep in talent, but light on experience. Outside of Harry, no one on the roster has yet proven to be a reliable contributor on game day. Yet under Likens’ tutelage, Humphrey is bullish on his group's potential.

“This group is phenomenal,” Humphrey. “You can get any receiver and put them in any position and they can run that route to a T. That’s something that Coach Likens has emphasized. He wants us to learn everyone’s routes, every formation just in case, ‘We may need you to go to X. We may need you to go to Z. We may need you to go to H.’ Once we get there, we’ll know what to run and how to run it. I think this wide receiver group is very versatile.”

With the team now practicing among the pines of Camp Tontozona, each play, each practice, and each day bring Humphrey closer to his first true game day at the college level. Will he finally be able to make good on his talent and potential? That’s impossible to say.

But one thing is for sure. When the Sun Devils run out onto the field from the new Tillman Tunnel for the season opener on Aug. 31, the emotions will be running strong. Really strong.

“I know I’m going to cry. I’ve been waiting two years to play,” said Humphrey. “Butterflies are going to start coming. I’m going to be thinking about what my parents told me. My time is here. I’m going to go out there and play ball.”

He’s waited for this. He’s endured for this. He’s worked for this. John Humphrey is now just a few weeks away from the chance he's always wanted. While few may know his name right now, he's aiming to change that over the next few months.

“I want to make everybody feel me. I know that right now, I’m underneath the map. I’m off the grid. No one knows who I am. I just want to let everyone know who I am.”

If so, ASU fans will be the ones smiling.

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