(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
Much of the buzz around Arizona State’s spring practices has circulated around senior Mike Bercovici taking over as the surefire starting quarterback, senior DJ Foster moving to the receiving core and a defense that returns nine of its 11 starters from 2014.
However, in some cases, spring football provides freshman and junior college transfers to enroll in the school for the spring semester, rendering themselves eligible to participate in the spring practice sessions.
Such is the case for two freshmen: running back Nick Ralston and quarterback Brady White.
Both players have made a decent amount of noise over the last three weeks, but for Ralston, it came in a position that was initially unexpected. Hailing from Argyle, Texas, ASU recruited Ralston as an athlete who would likely play linebacker. However, once he arrived in Tempe, the decision to stick Ralston in the backfield was made.
The position was nowhere near unfamiliar for the 6-foot, 231-pound power runner. Rated as a two-star product, according to Rivals.com, Ralston was part of a 3A state title team in 2013. Over his career, he racked up nearly 6,000 yards and 94 rushing touchdowns between his sophomore, junior and senior seasons.
Despite initially expecting to play with the defensive front-seven, Ralston has no complaints about playing on offense. Either way, his mentality remains the same:
“I just want to hit people,” Ralston said. “Just run over people. Get the first down.”
When it came time to decide to leave high school a semester early, the decision was fairly simple given the benefits the decision has provided Ralston. Although he admitted to missing his family, their support in his decision has helped as he made the transition.
“It’s the best thing to do,” Ralston said. “It just helps you learn the offense, so it’ll be easier come the fall.”
Despite struggling for reps behind sophomores Demario Richard Richard and Kalen Ballage, along with redshirt junior De’Chavon ‘Gump’ Hayes, Ralston has made the most of his reps. During the team’s first padded practice, Ralston blew through three would-be tacklers on a run before being knocked out of bounds.
“These guys have really taken me in,” Ralston said. “I’m learning the offense better, so I’m really excited.”
While Ralston might have been a lesser-known commodity to the general public, Brady White, who is also his roommate, came to Tempe with every high school accolade imaginable.
Touted as the highest-rated quarterback signee for ASU in the internet evaluation-era, White was a consensus four-star prospect and ranked in the top-10 quarterbacks in every major recruiting service.
Having passed for 10,835 yards and 101 touchdowns over three years as a varsity quarterback, White arrived with the highest of expectations. Over the course of the spring, White has shown multiple times why those expectations exist as he and sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins split reps with the second team.
“I think I’m proud of myself,” White said. “I definitely have a lot of things to work on. I got to keep getting better day in and day out with every rep, but that’s what I’m here for. No one is perfect, so I’m just going to keep watching film, talk with coach (Mike) Norvell, (Mike) Bercovici and Manny.”
And for White, graduating early was something that was always part of the potential plan as he matriculated through high school.
“I wasn’t rushing to get out of my house and away from my friends, but I was ready for that next step in life,” White said. “And I’m lucky enough to be able to get an early start on it, and it’s a huge advantage.”
As for any challenges, White reverberated nothing but confidence in his choice to arrive in Tempe in the spring semester.
“There’s been no challenge,” White said. “Its been easy. Obviously, I miss my family and my friends and stuff like that. It’s not like I’m breaking down out here. I love it. This is my new home.”
White and Ralston both acknowledged how important the spring sessions have been in picking up ASU’s high-tempo offense and adjusting to the balancing act that is being a collegiate student-athlete.
“You’re so busy all the time with football and school,” White said. “So you’re very focused, and this is what I want to do. This is going to help me achieve my goals in life, and so I’m really just buying into this process and enjoying every second.”
Ralston added: “When I came here, the weather was perfect. Seeing all the size of the players, I was kind of like, ‘Wow.’ I’m glad to be here.”
While the upperclassmen at their respective positions have lent helping hands to the two freshmen, White and Ralston have been just as important to each other as well.
“It’s great,” White said about rooming with Ralston. “I love that kid. He’s definitely a great character, so we always have fun, but a lot of time, you’re living on the field, weight room, in the stadium, doing homework and stuff, but I’m lucky to have him as my roommate.”
Come the fall, White and Ralston may not see the field at all during the 2015 season, but if and when they do, the experience from this spring will be monumental in their developments early in their respective careers.
“The brotherhood is very strong,” White said. “We have a lot of close relationships on this team that continue to build as well as a family. I’m really looking forward to this fall and this season.”
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org