Sunday, 18 August 2013

40 Players in 40 Days: Number 11 Marion Grice

(photo cred: Christian Petersen)
The next player in the Pac-12 Top 40 players of 2013 is one of the nation's best kept secrets. His team was well off the radar nationally and he came in as a junior college transfer last season so he did not have nearly the recruiting hype that most top new players have. It also took him some time to earn the trust of his coaches and get more touches in his team's offense. Once he did get those touches though, hoo boy did he show himself to be quite a player. Defenders don't know this young man too well yet, but they are all about to learn to fear him. The 11th best player in the Pac-12 is Arizona State running back Marion Grice. We will reach the top 10 tomorrow so with that in mind, let's take a look back at the previous players on the countdown:

40. WR Chris Harper, Cal
39. OLB/S Dion Bailey, USC
38. S Alden Darby, Arizona State
37. OT Tyler Johnstone, Oregon
36. DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, Colorado
35. S Deon Bucannon, Washington State
34. LB Shaq Thompson, Washington
33. DE Taylor Hart, Oregon
32. DT DeAndre Coleman, Cal
31. CB Terrance Mitchell, Oregon
30. C Hroniss Grassu, Oregon
29. DL Henry Anderson, Stanford
28. QB Kevin Hogan, Stanford
27. LB Carl Bradford, Arizona State
26. RB Storm Woods, Oregon State
25. QB Taylor Kelly, Arizona State
24. DL Cassius Marsh, UCLA
23. S Ed Reynolds, Stanford
22. OT Jeremiah Poutasi, Utah
21. TE Colt Lyerla, Oregon
20. RB Bishop Sankey, Washington
19. DT Leonard Williams, USC 
18. WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State 
17. OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA
16. OLB/DL Trent Murphy, Stanford
15. OL David Yankey, Stanford
14. TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
13. LB Shayne Skov, Stanford
12. DE Scott Crichton, Oregon State

Grice didn't receive any scholarship offers out of school. But, after scoring 33 touchdowns in two seasons at Blinn Junior College (if that sounds familiar it should, that's where Cam Newton bridged the gap between Florida and Auburn) attention from big time schools was not a problem. Grice was rated a four star recruit and was recruited by top teams from all over the country but he eventually settled on giving a verbal pledge to Texas A&M. That commitment didn't last long though as Grice built a relationship with Chris Thomsen who had been hired as Arizona State's running backs coach and Thomsen was able to sway Grice away from the Aggies and into signing with the Sun Devils. Grice put pen to paper on his Letter of Intent only to get a phone call from Thomsen telling Grice that he was not going to coach at ASU but was instead taking a position at Texas Tech.

Grice had lost his one connection to ASU and the reason he had been so excited to join the Sun Devils. After a lot of thought he almost chose not to enroll in Tempe but ultimately decided that ASU was the right place to be and my what a good decision that has turned out to be. Grice was a key piece in the Sun Devil offense from day one but it took awhile for him to become the feature playmaker. He ran for 107 yards and three TDs on just 14 carries mostly in garbage time in his debut against over matched Northern Arizona. After that solid first game though he only received 16 total touches in his next three games combined. After three weeks of light work loads he was finally given a chance to touch the ball frequently against an opponent with a pulse. ASU offensive coordinator Mike Norvell entrusted Grice with 14 touches from scrimmage against Cal but Grice was only able to pick up 72 yards. Five yards per touch is a decent clip but it wasn't what the ASU coaches were looking for. Incumbent senior Cameron Marshall was still effective and true freshman D.J. Foster was producing as well and earning a bigger work load. Grice had scored just one touchdown in four games since the opener and he was starting to look like a complimentary piece in the Sun Devil offense.

Then the Colorado game came around and Grice was only given one rushing attempt that went for precisely zero yards. But the CU game was exactly when it all changed for Grice and he woke everyone up as he caught five passes but broke them for 101 yards and three touchdowns. He showed everyone how special he could be with the ball in his hands but the ASU coaches still struggled to get him the ball. He had another big day against UCLA with 117 total yards and three scores but still couldn't get a feature workload in the ensuing weeks. But, Grice finally broke those chains at the end of the season as the Sun Devils needed a spark to come from behind against rival Arizona and Grice provided it with 156 yards and three TDs on 18 carries, most of which came in the second half. Just when things were looking up for Grice it looked like he might not make it to ASU's bowl game after his brother was tragically murdered in a mugging gone horribly wrong just days before the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. With unimaginable pain in his heart, Grice went out and did this:

Grice decided to play with a heavy heart and put together a master piece, averaging 11.7 yards per carry and totaling 159 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His season had come full circle and he finally gave everyone reason to take notice of him.

If I was asked to provide one word to describe Marion Grice it would be explosive. 23 of his 103 rushing attempts went for at least 10 yards last year while 42.7% of his 103 attempts went for either a first down or a touchdown. he also came up with explosive plays in the passing game as he caught 41 passes and turned 16 of them into 15 or more yards. 27 of his 41 receptions resulted in either a first down or a touchdown. he also came up huge when it really mattered. He averaged 7.58 yards per carry in the 4th quarter, by far better than his numbers in the first three quarters. As mentioned above, he also got better as the season went along.
Grice is one of those players who seems to be moving at a different speed than everyone else. He has elite track athlete speed but what really impresses me is that he can change direction and make very impressive jump cuts without slowing down at all. He's also very well put together at 6'0'' and 204 pounds. While people wonder if De'Anthony Thomas up at Oregon is built to be a feature back, that won't be a problem for Grice. I think ASU's coaches were ready to make Grice their guy and give him 20 touches a game anyway but with Cameron Marshall graduating and leaving 148 touches to be filled by Grice and Foster, I don't think getting 20 touches should be an issue. Grice finished with 1104 yards and 19 touchdowns on 144 total touches in 2012. That calculates to an average of 7.7 yards per touch and a touchdown on 13.2% of all touches. If he gets those 20 touches and maintains his level of performance from last year he would end up with 2002 yards and 34 touchdowns. I don't think he'll be that productive because with more carries, his averages are bound to come down at least a little bit. But, could he roll off 1700 yards and 25 scores? Easily.
Before I let you run off and do less important things, I just want you to watch a little more film on Grice. Rather than breakdown all of his pros and cons, I just want yo to sit back, relax, and watch one of college footballs most explosive playmakers do his thing:

What more can I say? Even if you hate the Sun  Devils, you need to appreciate this player. playmakers with this type of ability only come around every so often. Learn to appreciate this young man and pray to God that Mike Norvell has the good sense to give him the damn ball.

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