ASU's Calhoun campaigns for fullback reps with eye at NFL

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DJ Calhoun makes a tackle during ASU's victory at Utah (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) DJ Calhoun makes a tackle during ASU's victory at Utah (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Or if you're D.J. Calhoun: If you regularly beat up on ‘em, lobby to join ‘em.

The Arizona State senior is one of the Pac-12’s top linebackers. His 94 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks all rank among the top 13 totals in the conference. Over his career, he’s become a notoriously hard hitter, laying out more than his share of running backs.

Now, with just one game left in his college career, he’s looking to change sides. For a few plays, at least.

The fullback position is not new to Calhoun. An appearance as a lead blocker would bring the El Cerrito, Calif. native back to his younger years.

“It's something I've been playing since high school, even since Pop Warner,” Calhoun said. “Why not have a dude in there to lead block for our good running backs, a guy that loves to hit?"

Why not?

Calhoun has made a name for himself by hitting people, so translating those skills to the other side of the ball seems natural. Stay low, run hard, hit harder. 

"I love just hitting people,” Calhoun said. “Doesn't matter how big you are, I just want to come hit you. That's my favorite thing to do in this game. If that's a position that I can do, I'm going to take it and bang into people."

The Sun Devils’ upcoming bowl game—a likely trip to the Sun Bowl—will bring Calhoun’s ASU career to a close, so he’s begun his campaign to see some plays as a lead blocker to open some holes for running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage.

"They have a package for me," Calhoun claims. "They've just never used it yet. Hopefully they use it in the bowl game."

One of the people that will ultimately help make that decision is ASU’s running backs coach John Simon, and he sees things a little differently.

“No, no, there’s a packet, not a package,” Simon said with a smile. “There’s a packet with his name on it that talks about fullback play if he wants to study it. But there’s not a package, there’s a packet.”

In fact, there may be many of these packets, as Simon is no stranger to these type of overtures from defenders.

“If you ask any of the linebackers if they’d like to play running back, they’ll tell you yes,” said Simon. “I get that every day from D.J. and about four other guys over there that played running back in high school.”

For now, the idea may be seen as a fun wrinkle to close out ASU’s season and Calhoun’s collegiate career. But it could also present another path for Calhoun to land on an NFL roster.

Calhoun is a listed 6-foot and 234-pounds. That places him on the shorter side for the linebacker position at the collegiate level, let alone among the larger players in the NFL. However, that smaller, more compact stature does project well to fullback, where the lower pad level creates better blocking leverage.

“Going on into the league, of course I want to play linebacker, but if (fullback) becomes an option for me to do it, including special teams, I'll do it,” Calhoun said. "If that's the option, I'd love it. I'd love the job."

Although his attention is squarely on finishing out his ASU career with a win, the notion of a positional switch has been brought up by potential future employers.

"I've been hearing from a couple of teams that they'd like to see me do that," Calhoun said of playing fullback.

ASU's offense rarely uses a fullback, as lead blocking duties are often given to tight ends. However, there is a precedent to the Sun Devils being creative with the position.

In 2013, defensive tackle Davon Coleman scored a touchdown on a one-yard reception after lining up as a fullback in a jumbo set. Could ASU, in the season finale and the final game of Todd Graham's tenure, have a little fun and unleash Calhoun? 

“That would be nice,” Simon said. “I don’t know, anything is possible.”

"I think they will," Calhoun said. "I'm having a conversation with them. If they do, I'm going to be excited about it.”

Whether it's for fun or as an audition for a future role, one thing is clear.

Just give Calhoun something to hit, and he'll be happy.

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