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A star in the making: The rise to prominence of D.J. Foster

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On Aug. 30, 2012, the Todd Graham era officially began for Sun Devil football.  Though Arizona State hired Graham to rescue a program in need of a makeover well over eight months prior to this date, the Aug. 30 showdown against Northern Arizona provided the first test in evaluating Graham’s progress. Upon Graham’s hiring in December of 2012, Sun Devil fans around the country asked themselves, “How quickly can Graham transform ASU Football?”

16 minutes and 39 seconds into the season opening contest, they had their answer.

D.J. Foster in his debut against NAU. (Photo: Robert Kline)16 minutes and 39 seconds in, the Sun Devil offense commanded control and marched into the end zone for their third touchdown of the evening.  To most, the 21-0 score lacked notoriety, as the Sun Devils expected to dominate. However, the significance of this score was not lost on the Northern Arizona squad. 45 players on the Lumberjack roster hail from Arizona, and it is almost certain that each of the local players knew the legend of the man celebrating his first collegiate touchdown.

The Northern Arizona players would be the first to tell you: This is not just the start of the Todd Graham era; this is the start of the D.J. Foster era.

A little over a year before Foster plowed into the end zone in Sun Devil Stadium, he embarked on a magical senior season at Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, Arizona. A highly touted player on all three sides of the ball, the Sabercat coaching staff expected Foster to be the focal point of the team.

With 32 varsity touchdowns to his credit prior to his senior season, Foster ran himself into the state record books by rushing for 3,028 yards and 54 touchdowns in 2011. On his way to the Arizona Division III state title, Foster amassed over 200 yards in eight games including a staggering 508 yards and 10 touchdowns in a win over Sunrise Mountain.

As the stats piled up, so did the scholarships. Pac-12 offers poured in as schools such as USC, Oregon, Stanford, and Arizona charmed and courted Foster. Blessed with sprinter’s speed and an array of offensive talents, this West Coast wonder became a national commodity. Drawing interest and offers from Arkansas, Auburn, Notre Dame and other powerhouses, Foster had his pick of Top 25 programs.

Yet on Jan. 27 of 2012, D.J. Foster spurned BCS title favorites and perennial contenders to sign with Arizona State in the hopes of revitalizing a program in desperate need of a star.

By electing to sign with the Sun Devils, Foster became the headline player of Todd Graham’s first recruiting class all while adding to his local legend. Foster’s status as a blue-chipper placed him in nearly every recruiting service’s “Top 100” players and listed him as the #2 overall prospect in Arizona. Thus, his decision to stay home cemented his status in the hearts of Devils fans throughout the desert.

Eight months after his commitment, Foster took the field for the first time at the collegiate level as a member of one of college football’s deepest backfields.

Team captain and returning starter Cameron Marshall gained over 1,000 yards in 2011 and figures to take the lion’s share of the carries in 2012. Junior College recruit Marion Grice’s bruising style makes him an ideal candidate for short-yardage situations. Deantre Lewis gained over 500 yards as a freshman two years ago, and Coach Graham has praised his versatility (though his move to defense may open things up somewhat). Even Michael Eubank will steal carries in his role as a dual-threat change of pace quarterback.

So where does that leave D.J. Foster? If his first two games are any indication, Foster should be just fine.

D.J. Foster pounds forward against Illinois. (Photo: Matt York/Associated Press)Against Northern Arizona and Illinois, Foster has totaled a combined 208 yards and, perhaps most impressively, his stats are split right down the middle: 104 rushing yards and 104 receiving yards. As an offensive utility, Foster provides the X-factor, the spark needed to transform the Sun Devils offense into one of the nation’s best.

On a crowded depth chart, Foster has begun to carve his niche, drawing comparisons to Oregon’s trendy Heisman candidate, De’Anthony Thomas. Foster looks every bit the game-breaking threat Thomas provided the Ducks with last year.

But with all of the excitement surrounding his fast start, questions will certainly arise.

People will knock Foster’s size and durability until his 5 foot 11, 183 pound frame survives a 12 game season injury-free. People will claim his inflated statistics are a result of inferior competition. Finally, people will wait and see how Foster deals with failure.

Inevitably, he will meet coaches that yell louder, linebackers that hit harder, and losses that sting tougher than he has ever encountered before. Time will tell how Foster adjusts to the collegiate level and how he responds to the doubters.

As for now, there is nothing precluding Sun Devils fans from dreaming.

When the 2012 season comes to an end, Chapter 1 of D.J. Foster’s career will be in the books. And if Foster greets the rest of the college football world like he greeted the Lumberjacks, Sun Devil fans will not be asking, “How quickly can Todd Graham transform ASU Football?” Instead, they will be asking, “How do we stop D.J. Foster?” And they will have to struggle to answer this question for three more years.

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