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August 8, 2012Perhaps Arizona State coach Todd Graham has underestimated his star running back.
Recently, Graham playfully joked that senior Cameron Marshall was capable of rushing for 30 touchdowns this season, which would be three more than the conference record set by Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart at Stanford in 2009.
When told of his coach's hyperbole, Marshall didn't miss a beat. On the contrary, he added another layer.
"If the head man says 30, then lets start with 30 and work from there," Marshall deadpanned. Or did he?
At 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds, Marshall's thick-yet-impossibly-chiseled physique is the first hint he's not worried about conventional wisdom. After all, people just don't look like this.
Now consider that Marshall tied a school record last year with 18 rushing touchdowns while playing the entire season on a bum ankle that required off-season surgery to remove bone spurs.
Consider too that former coordinator ASU coordinator Noel Mazzone ran a pass-heavy offense that had 100-plus more throws than runs last season and those numbers will likely be flipped in the run dominant style preferred by Graham.
Consider the Sun Devils' situation at quarterback, where 2012 second round NFL pick Brock Osweiler has moved on, leaving a trio of utterly inexperienced players in his wake at the position.
Consider that ASU must replace four of its top five receivers and 55 percent of its total receptions from last season.
Taking all of that into account, Marshall may not have thought his coach was joking. Or maybe he did but decided it was an opportunity to show the way he thinks.
Let's start with 30 and work from there.
Who says that? The guy who got horse collar tackled in camp last August and hobbled around ASU's practice facility with a limp that belied his otherwise bionic appearance and yet still somehow rushed for 1,050 yards does. The guy whose work ethic doesn't change whether he's just rushed for four touchdowns in a win or watched his team get creamed from the sidelines. The guy whose expression remains constant whether he's perfectly healthy or cringing in pain behind the stoicism.
"He's well respected and with that, it puts him in a position of leadership," first-year running backs coach Larry Porter said. "He's a great ambassador for our group and our team. These guys lean on him. That's kind of nice when you have a guy like that."
Like a classic jukebox that remains in an otherwise completely remodeled restaurant, Marshall is the melodic soul of these Sun Devils. Without him, they would have nothing familiar to rely on rhythmically, and probably wouldn't have any remote chance of achieving Graham's lofty goals.
"I don't really want to go to just a bowl game," Graham said at Saturday's media day when challenged about realistic expectations. "I want to win a (conference) championship. I think Cameron Marshall, deserves that from this program. I think these kids deserve it."
So they may need him to get those 30 rushing touchdowns after all, or at least somewhere close to it, and Marshall certainly doesn't mind. He's going to give you everything he has regardless.
"I don't think there is a way you can avoid injury, football is such a physical sport," Marshall said. "You go out there and leave your all on the field and what happens, happens. So hopefully I'll be blessed with good health this year. I'm just going to leave it all on the field and hope for the best."
A year after he hurdled helpless USC defensive back Loren Harris in the Los Angeles Coliseum in his most signature play, Marshall leapfrogged former Sun Devils on the career rushing and touchdown lists in droves last season where he currently sits 12th and 4th respectively, with 2,131 yards, and 29 touchdowns, just 10 behind leader Woody Green. Another 1,000 yard season would put him solidly among the greatest ASU running backs in history. He could obliterate the career rushing touchdown record.
"I want to surpass my numbers from last year and to be consistent every game," Marshall said. "I think last year I struggled with consistency week in and week out, and so I want to consistently play at a high level every week."
ASU's new scheme should help. Last season he was forced to hobble laterally in zone stretch runs before picking a hole and exploding into it. Marshall isn't the type of back who prefers moving sideways. He'd rather run you over.
"I think [the new scheme is] pretty good for me because it allows me to get downhill quickly and allows me to see the hole at my shoulder square rather than running horizontally so I think that plays to my strengths working downhill," Marshall said.
Senior offensive guard Andrew Sampson will likely spring Marshall free to head hunt as much as any of the team's players this season, and is looking forward to it.
"It's fun when you get your block and then look up and you just see him and he's already through the hole and doing something crazy to the defense and you can just watch it from there, hoping he gets into the end zone. And he does that, a lot," Sampson said.
Not as much as he'd like.