National signing day in college football seemingly always has a few unexpected twists for teams throughout the country. For Arizona State that surprise was the commitment of Marion Grice. The talented back attracted attention from many top-tier programs but eventually felt most comfortable with ASU, giving the Sun Devils the nation's only four- star junior college running back and someone to shoulder the load going into the fall.
"Well, the guy who was recruiting me, (former Running Back Coach) Chris Thomsen, we built some good chemistry together," said Grice of his recruitment to ASU at media day on Saturday. "We would talk a lot and he got me talking to Coach Norvell and Coach Graham and we all just kind of bonded. I knew they really wanted me and I wanted to come out here, so it was a good mix."
It was a combination that eventually provided Arizona State with a newcomer who will provide a significant injection of talent at running back position. In his two years at Blinn the 6-0 200-pound Grice rushed for 2,221 yards and recorded 33 touchdowns. He's described as an all-around back, offering a balanced blend of speed and power to the Sun Devil backfield.
"I can do a little bit of everything," Grice commented. "Basically I just work hard at it. I always told myself I don't want to be just a one type of (running) back. I really worked on my speed and do a lot of explosive drills. I don't want to be short at anything from becoming the best back I can be. And catching out of the backfield is something I like to do too."
Grice arrived on campus three weeks ago and has fully immersed himself in the new Sun Devil football culture since then. The Texas native says it didn't take very long to develop a good relationship with the coaches, in particular new head coach Todd Graham, another fellow Texan.
"I really like them all; they're pretty good coaches and everything," he remarked. "They all seem really forward about what they expect from the team. They're really big on discipline and coming together and doing things as a team, and I really like that. It's not about a one man show, it's about working together and being committed. That's a big thing for them, being committed."
On Friday morning, Grice got his first taste of an ASU practice as he watched from the sidelines during along with his fellow newcomers, learning from the veterans who have already had the benefit of going through spring sessions with Graham, and came away both impressed and eager to get on the field.
"It really gave me a good impression about how the practices are going to be going forward and how the tempo is going to be and what sort of things they expect from us," he said. "It was good to learn from some of the other guys. And I love watching film, seeing how other guys practice and picking up things from them."
Grice, along with a number of newcomers to the team, returned to the Kajikawa practice field Friday night for their first live practice session. Coach Graham said afterwards that he was one of the players who really made an impression, pointing out the playmakers speed.
For Grice, it was nice just to get his feet wet and start learning the new offense.
"It was actually pretty good," Grice said of that Friday night session. "Basically, it was just a chance for us to get loose and run around and install some of the plays the coaches have been working with us on.
"I've gotten together with (running backs) Coach Porter and Coach Norvell a lot, and some of the GA's (graduate assistants) and basically they're just trying to get me to learn all the plays before anything else. So right now I'm just in the process of learning everything about the offense."
Grice admits one of the big attractions about coming to Arizona State was the chance to play for running backs coach Larry Porter, who has a history of recruiting high level running backs in schools such as LSU and developing them into NFL caliber players such as Jacob Hester and Joseph Addai.
"He seems like he has a lot of experience working with running backs,” Grice commented, “and developing them from just being good college backs to making them ready for the next level. I really like that and the way he coaches."
Like all other Sun Devil players, Grice has been introduced to Coach Griswold's strength and conditioning program since arriving at school. While the running back is no stranger to the weight room grind, he has found a number of benefits to the new program.
"We've had some good workouts so far but I'm used to everything since I was working out a lot before I came out here," he stated. "I like that they spend more time working on the right technique because that was something that I was struggling with. But they've been working with me a lot of the time on my technique and helping me get stronger."
With less than four weeks until the start of the 2012 season, Grice knows he has much to improve on. For now, he's elated to be part of the team and remains focused on his goals.
"My main goal is to stay healthy," Grice acknowledged "Right now I'm on a weight gain program and that's coming along pretty well. I'm trying to get back to my old weight; I weighed 210 while I was at JUCO. But I wasn't lifting as much as I used to because I was in school, trying to get the grades, so I was lost a lot of weight. I'm at 200 now. And, of course, to graduate."