When Chris Young first arrived on campus this year, the junior college linebacker excited the entire Arizona State coaching staff with his raw talent.
The only problem was figuring out how the Sun Devils were going to polish Young. He had all the skills to make him an impact player in the Pac-12, but was just a little rough around the edges with inexperience, especially in his pass coverage game.
Fast forward to last weekend in ASU's 10th game of the season in Los Angeles and everything the Sun Devils had been working on with Young appeared to all come together in one memorable, highlight reel sequence.
The play occurred in the first quarter Saturday moments after ASU fumbled the kickoff after a Trojan touchdown. On first down at the Sun Devil 29 yard line, USC sophomore tight end Xavier Grimble motioned out of the backfield to the short side of the field, transitioning himself from a lead blocker role to instead run a route against Young, the spur linebacker.
After USC senior quarterback Matt Barkley snapped the ball, the Trojan offensive line easily picked up the four-man Sun Devil pass rush with Carl Bradford blitzing from the same side as Young lined up on. From there, Barkley was able to step up in the pocket and throw down the sideline to Grimble, finishing his corner route near the endzone pylon.
The ball, however, came out a bit too late and fell too short, allowing Young to turn his head and make a play on the pass, coming down with the acrobatic interception just barely in bounds.
It was the type of sequence Young has strived to make all year and it's a play he'll remember for a while.
"I just did my technique, read it, turned around and caught the ball," he said. "All week I had been worried about doing what I had been told on that type of play. But day in and day out, I just practiced hard and stuff. So when it came down to that play, I knew what to do."
ASU coach Todd Graham knew Young made a spectacular pick when it happened, but upon further review while watching the tape, he became even more impressed with the play.
"That was a pretty good interception, he's done a good job growing and getting better and just has to keep getting better," Graham said. "Obviously we've got another year with him and we've got to get him stronger. He's never really trained. So he's just going to get better. He's gotten better every week."
Young described the biggest improvement in his coverage play as not guessing anymore what the receivers will do, but relying on film study and coaching to make informed decisions during the game.
"The coaches have made me realize the little things in coverage, what receivers do, tendency wise," he said. "As opposed to day one, I've came a long way in my coverage. I feel like I've improved in that area the most to be honest."
Young's exponential growth has him even more excited about the potential for what next season can bring, when he has even more experience under his belt. So far this year, he has totaled 64 tackles, 13.5 of which were for loss.
"There's always room for improvement, just can't wait to finish strong and progress into next season," he said. "Us finishing strong like that, it's going to help us out next season, I know I'll have even more motivation."
Foster dealing with limited touches in stride
Even though the Sun Devils fell to UCLA in their last October game, 45-43, ASU freshman running back D.J. Foster totaled 168 yards on 13 carries and seven receptions, leading his team in each category.
Along with the Oregon loss, those two games are the only occasions this season when Foster received more than nine touches, but ASU lost anyways.
The Sun Devils are 5-2 in 2012 when their dynamic freshman back reaches the aforementioned nine touch mark and 0-3 when he doesn't.
While two of those defeats have come in back-to-back weeks to ranked teams, Oregon State and Southern California, the third occurred way back in non-conference play on the road at Missouri, showing when Foster isn't a main factor in the ASU offense, the Sun Devils have lost to subpar teams as well.
But even with numbers showing a direct relationship between Foster's success and ASU's, the freshman isn't particularly concerned with the amount of times he has seen the ball recently.
"We're worried about winning, whatever it takes," he said. "If I'm not getting the ball, that means someone else is. It doesn't bother me."
Foster added that opposing defenses have adjusted to his role in the Sun Devil offense and ASU will need to make changes of its own to get the offense, as a whole, back to its torrid pace at the beginning of the season.
"They game plan just like we do, they watch film," Foster said. "We have to find a way to move the ball around and get involved. I know I'm working hard to get that done."
With Thursday marking the final practice before senior day on Saturday, the Sun Devils ended practice with a twist to their usual routine.
Underclassmen carried off each senior player on their shoulders to the tunnel as a token of gratitude.
"It's just something I've always done and it's really for the last practice of the last home game," Graham said. "It's just a recognition, just to say thank you for how important they've been to the program. We thanked them today for the commitment they've had, not just since last December but the five, six, three years they've been here. They're a special group of guys so it's a way to recognize them."