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Arizona State Welcomes Diversity of Style in Backfield

The Sun Devils have a number of backs who can get the job done in various ways.

TEMPE -- It's no secret Arizona State loves to run the football. 

The Sun Devils averaged over 38 rushing attempts per game last season, and how could you blame them with backs such as Rachaad White and Chip Trayanum? 

Fast-forward to present day: Arizona State has a new offensive coordinator, a new quarterback, and White/Trayanum are no longer on the roster. 

Change is happening within ASU's offense, and while we don't precisely know how different the Sun Devils will look heading into 2022, we know running backs coach Shaun Aguano is very much up for shouldering the load with his guys.

"From a selfish standpoint I hope they run the ball 80% of the time and we welcome that load," Aguano joked with reporters. 

"I know it's gonna have to be more balanced from under the saddle with our new quarterbacks with some play-action, but I think from a foundational standpoint, it starts with the run and hopefully we'll be productive in that way."

Being productive will be one of many requirements to tote the rock for Arizona State moving forward, and while the uber-efficient White is off to the NFL, the Sun Devils believe they've got a handful of guys capable of upholding the standard around ASU.

The new shiny toy in Tempe is running back Xazavian Valladay, who arrived via the transfer portal and has looked the part of Arizona State's RB1 heading into 2022 through the first few spring practices. 

Valladay averaged over five yards per carry in 2021, leading Wyoming in rushing with 1,070 yards on 209 attempts and scoring six times. Valladay also reeled in 23 passes for 233 yards.

"I was a little concerned on the long speed but you know, after a couple of practices, I think he has that long speed," Aguano said of Valladay. 

"But he was vicious in his running. I thought within that 10-yard, first and second level that he exploded really well. I thought he got skinny through holes and his vision was always pretty good. And so when I saw that, I knew he was going to be special. 

"(Valladay) is that slasher guy. I love his ability on a one-cut and getting vertical, he's quick. I think he is versatile in the pass game as well, kind of Rachaad-ish in a way. I think he's a little bit smaller than Rachaad, but I think he hits the first and second level with authority."

Valladay has received most of the hype, but returning running back Daniyel Ngata has taken first-team reps all spring and looks to play a prominent role for the Sun Devils. Ngata played well in the times he was asked to produce, averaging 5.5 yards per carry on 56 attempts and scoring four times on the ground as ASU's third option. 

"Daniyel is that slippery guy, it's hard to see him behind those linemen. I think he has a burst within those first and two (levels). I think it's different from not having Chip (Trayanum) last year for that bigger body," said Aguano, who was then asked how he envisioned the starting job playing out.

"Those two guys (Ngata/Valladay) will probably carry the load and hopefully, knock-on wood, that no injuries occur, but I am confident in George Hart as well. But I think again, we'll kind of go through the season and whoever is the most productive will get more playing time and I think that'll happen within the first two games because I'm still feeling (everybody) out, especially with Daniyel too. He was a plug-in guy a lot of those games. I want to see if he can handle the load himself."

Arriving new to the scene is freshman Tevin White, who grades as Arizona State's top recruit in their 2022 class in 247's composite rankings. Aguano praised White, but believes time in the weight room will do him justice.

"Hopefully Tevin can come along," Aguano said. "I think he, from a physical standpoint, he'll be that guy. It might take a year or two, he's just a little baby still, but I'm confident that he's going to be productive as well.

"George Hart is our bright guy, (he) always does things right. I think he'll be there ready to go as well. So I'm excited about all the different styles. X is a different style from Rachaad. I like the way he just slashes and gets going. I want to make sure that he's physical at the point of contact. I got to see that because we're only in thuds right now and we don't finish to the ground, but I'm excited for all of those backs."

Only one person can carry the football at a time. Don't let story lines driven by quarterbacks make you forget there's also a tight battle to see who will emerge as Arizona State's top rusher in 2022. 

"You know, it's funny, because we talked about how special that room (last year) was from a relationship standpoint. I think that relationship standpoint still stands within this room (with) people helping each other," Aguano said. "I miss Jackson He. He was a leader from a mentor standpoint in that group and Rachaad, all bright kids. I think X and Daniyel are now taking that leadership role, and it's fun to watch those guys grow. 

"Again, they're all competing for just one position but at the same time, they're helping each other out. And so again from the application from in the classroom, in the transition to the field, how well do those guys help each other and connect with each other? I'm very happy about that."

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