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October 17, 2012
Rashad Ross never lacked the confidence as a kick returner. But before last week in Colorado, the Arizona State senior wide receiver rarely got the chance to showcase his abilities when it counted.
That changed when incumbent returner Jamal Miles fumbled a kickoff right before halftime, prompting the coaching staff to give Ross his shot, one the speedster didn't waste.
Ross returned the opening third quarter kick 100 yards for a touchdown, igniting a brilliant second half performance by the Sun Devils and earning the senior the Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week award.
"I'm always prepared, that was one of the main reasons I was recruited last year, cause I was the No. 1 returner in the nation for JUCO," said Ross, who earned first-team All-America and Region I All-California honors by the California Community College Athletic Association as a return specialist in each of his two seasons at Butte College. "I am always ready but Jamal has been here for four years so it was his. I had to just make the most of my opportunity when it came."
Ross dismissed the notion that coming off the bench cold after only taking two kickoffs prior the game was difficult. He had prepared himself for the moment because he knew it could come at any time.
"It's not hard if you're ready and I've been ready," he said. "I'm always back there waiting for my name to be called."
It wasn't the first time Ross has taken one back either. In last year's MAACO Bowl Las Vegas when Miles was suspended he also took a kick back for a touchdown, running 98 yards for the score that time.
Moving forward it appears Ross will get more opportunities to make a difference on special teams as the senior said he will be the starting kick returning Thursday against Oregon.
Marshall Marshall Marshall
Over the last four seasons, ASU has benefited immeasurably from the exploits of senior running back Cameron Marshall, who is third on the school's all-time rushing touchdown list.
But when ASU takes the field Thursday against Oregon, it'll be trying to stop another Marshall, who nearly provided the Sun Devils with four more years of runs signature to the Marshall family.
Byron, a true freshman back for the Ducks and younger brother to Cameron, had ASU in his final three schools out of high school but elected to head to Eugene instead of following the footsteps of his sibling.
"He liked Arizona State, he thought it was a cool place, it just wasn't for him," Cameron said of his brother's decision making process. "He did want to do his own thing, he said that to me. Not that he didn't want to be next to me, it wasn't like that. He just wanted something that was his own. Didn't want to be in my shadow. Mostly though I think he just found Oregon to be a good fit for him."
Through his first six games of his collegiate career for UO, Byron, a four-star Rivals recruit, has rushed for 258 yards, which is only four fewer than Cameron this season.
"He's a little shiftier than me," Cameron said. "But we're both physical. We are good downhill runners."
Even though Byron's team is favored to win, Cameron hopes he can put his little brother in his place with an upset victory, just like he did as kids growing up.
"It wasn't much of a rivalry because I won everything," Cameron said. "It's great, though. I'm real close with him, I love him to death."
Although the brothers both play at the running back position, they still might find each other on the field at the same time if both end up contributing on special teams. That's a possibility Cameron can't wait to explore.
"I keep asking if he is playing special teams or not, just so I can get after him a little bit," Cameron said.
Rushing 57 times already through six games for 308 yards (210 when sack losses are accounted for), ASU sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly has established himself as a ground threat when plays break down around him.
But while the coaching staff is enamored with the signal-caller's ability to extend downs with his feet, ASU coach Todd Graham wants Kelly to protect himself more at the end of the runs by sliding instead of fighting for extra yardage.
"I've talked to him about that a little bit," Graham said. "He is such a competitor, but he is such a tough guys so I don't really worry about it. I think there have been times when he has taken a couple of shots and I'll have to tell him to protect himself a little bit on that."
There's a fine line between too aggressive and too careful, however, and the Sun Devils don't want to handcuff their playmakers in fear of injury.
"I don't want him to start being cautious at all," Graham said. "I am from a different school of thought on that. You've seen since last spring we were live, and I've always been that way. I want him to be aggressive but I want him to play smart. Smart comes first. Some of things I am more on him about are reaching the ball out and to quit doing that. Just get what you can get and when you reach the ball out, the ball is out."
Kelly's poise in and out of the pocket has impressed Oregon coach Chip Kelly throughout his film watching process leading up to the game Thursday night.
"He's really efficient and he's got a great grasp of what he's doing," Kelly said. "He always seems to throw it to the right guy. He can make people miss if things break things down too. He's doing a real good job, it's credit to him and his poise."
Friends in low places
In advance of the Sun Devils' showdown with the Ducks, Graham contacted his friend and former offensive coordinator at Tulsa, Gus Malzahn, to perhaps get a leg up.
Malzahn, now the head coach at Arkansas State, already went up against UO earlier this season in Eugene when the Ducks stormed past the other ASU, 57-34. The highly regarded offensive mind also faced UO a couple years ago in the BCS National Championship Game as an Auburn coach.
"We spent a little bit a time talking, we actually exchanged film and stuff like that, trying to help each other," Graham said. "He told me they were pretty good. He said you have to be able to obviously stop the speed. Everybody says the same thing, this is as good as Oregon football team as they've had, I think."
The film from this year can be particularly useful because Arkansas State runs a similar up-tempo offense to the Sun Devils' attack.
"It is a similar system," Graham said. "But when you watch them it is going to look different. Our players are different. Whether you are looking at Clemson, Arkansas State or us it is going to look different. It is the same book but it adapted to the payers so there will be some differences. They obviously all have different situations than what we are dealing with right now."