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ASU Football: Todd Graham surprises five walk-ons with scholarships

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(Photo: ASU Athletics)

Under the lights of Sun Devil Stadium, the Arizona State football team donned their flame helmets for the second half of the final two-a-day of fall camp.

Prior to the practice, the team released an updated depth chart that didn’t feature many surprises. Most notable was the inclusion of Edmond Boateng as the first-team Devil-backer after just one practice in the role and the selection of Marcus Ball as first-team bandit safety despite a lengthy absence due to injury.

After the evening’s session, Coach Todd Graham revealed to reporters his list of team captains who had been named as such weeks prior: Quarterback Taylor Kelly, offensive tackle Jamil Douglas, tight end/Devil-backer De’Marieya Nelson and safety Damarious Randall.

“The best players are leaders, there’s no doubt about that,” Graham said. “Whether you appoint them or not. I think clearly the two best leaders on this team are Taylor Kelly and Jamil Douglas, and Taylor is the leader.”

Scholarship surprises

While Graham spoke about the undisputed leaders of the team, it was five walk-on players that stole the show on Wednesday. During an afternoon meeting with the full team in attendance, Graham awarded Jordan Simone, Fred Gammage, Chip Sarafin, Brandon Matthews and Jason Franklin scholarships.

“All those guys are 3.0 students, Scholar Ballers, doing things the right way and representing the program the way it’s meant to be,” Graham said. “It was a special day and that’s something we want to do. I like guys that have invested and earned it and deserve it.”

Among those players was Simone, a redshirt junior who transferred to ASU from Washington State after the 2012 season. He has shined in fall camp and earned reps despite strong depth at the bandit safety with Marcus Ball and James Johnson in the lineup.

“It still hasn’t even hit me that I’m on scholarship,” Simone said. “I guess it’ll hit me when I pick up a check with Mike [Bercovici], D.J. [Foster],  Ellis [Jefferson] and those guys. Usually I just drop them off and sit in my car.

“I broke down,” Simone said of the moment when he heard the news. “It’s been such a long journey. It’s only going to make me work harder and I’m really excited.”

While Simone earned a scholarship in his second year with the program, it took until year five for offensive lineman Chip Sarafin, who has worked with the scout team his entire Sun Devils career and admitted that the thought of quitting has crossed his mind.

“I think every walk-on, every person on scout team goes through that,” Sarafin said. “Coach Graham likes to say the first thing that you think of in the morning is yourself and that passes through my mind. Waking up at 5:30 a.m., sometimes I think about that stuff, but I committed to this program.

“It was definitely great to be given a scholarship. There are a lot of deserving walk-ons in this program and for Coach Graham to select me, I was very honored and blessed, so I was very happy to receive it.”

Practice Notes

– Jaxon Hood was the most notable absence of the night, but Coach Graham said after the practice that he had a meeting/appointment that kept him from the evening session.

– Kalen Ballage showed up in the morning with a maroon (offensive) jersey, switched to a green (no contact) jersey, but switched back to a maroon jersey again for the evening session. He didn’t appear limited at all, getting plenty of reps on kick return and tearing through the opposing unit at full speed.

– On the topic of kick return, the brother combination of AJ Latu and Viliami Latu will be a dangerous pair for opposing special teamers. The pair have been the lead blockers on kick returns and have worked together very well in several practices, running shoulder to shoulder and blowing up several scout team players. Ramp up the speed and disregard for the well-being of the opposition, and the Latu brothers should dish out some pain this fall.

– The media portion of practice ended just before the beginning of 11-on-11, although we were able to snag a peek at the first-team offense doing pooch punts with Taylor Kelly. That likely explains the larger-than-usual lineup.

First-Team Offense

Quarterback: Taylor Kelly

Running back: D.J. Foster

Wide Receivers: Jaelen Strong (X), Ronald Lewis (Y), Grant Martinez (TE), Kody Kohl (TE)

Offensive Line: Jamil Douglas (LT), Christian Westerman (LG), Nick Kelly (C), Vi Teofilo (RG), Tyler Sulka (RT)

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