Generational Steps

Chris Coyle has stepped up his game this season, following in the focused footsteps of his parents.
Photo by Julie Vitkovskaya

Six catches. Chris Coyle caught six catches in all 13 games of last season.

The 6-foot 3-inch junior was redshirted in his freshman year under the previous head coach Dennis Erickson

Erickson ran a one-back spread attack, which featured the spotlight of senior players Brock Osweiler, Aaron Pflugrad and Mike Willie. The senior experience led a lethal offense with many weapons.

However, that offense did not include a chance for the tight end — a special mix between a receiver and an offensive lineman — to shine. The talent of the team’s experienced players was seen throughout the games every Saturday.

Wide Receiver Jamal Mile’s 40-yard dash speed was timed at a 4.50 seconds out of high school in the Scout.com combine. The specialty speed player was the only player in the nation to have a receiving, kickoff return, punt return and a passing touchdown last year. Running Back Cameron Marshall recorded a 1000 yard season with 18 scores to add to the Devil’s ground game.

Chris shows what he can do on the field for the Sun Devils when he uses his own family’s principles to achieve success.

With the focus on speedy wide receivers and elusive running backs, Chris was limited to 73 yards last season.

Chris even considered taking his talents elsewhere in the country, due to the lack of his position in the prior offense.

“I was thinking about transferring when they did not use the tight end in the offense, but everything in me wanted to stay here in Tempe,” Chris says.

That all changed after Erickson’s last season with a talented, but undisciplined 6-7 team. The 2011 team was ranked among the top 25 in ESPN’s preseason rankings, and posted up 100-to-1 odds in Vegas to take home the BCS Championship. This all came crashing down as the team lost their last five games of the season.

Todd Graham came into the ASU program from the University of Pittsburgh and immediately brought a sense of discipline to the team.

“The past couple of years there has not been that same discipline we have now,” says Coyle. “It’s weird.”

Discipline is something Coyle is used to because of his unique upbringing.

With both of his parents having military backgrounds, Coyle grew up in a family where discipline was expected at all times — even at school.

Rick and Karen Coyle are retired Navy Commanders, and Karen is the dean of Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village, Calif.

Chris walked the halls of Oaks Christian as his mother carried out her duties in the dean’s office. Karen says she has memories of her son during school hours and recalls the discipline from her son.

“I don’t think he had one detention during his high school days,” Karen says with a smile.

After high school, Chris received offers from all three military branches to play football, and was given the opportunity to step into his parent’s legacy.

“Army, Navy and the Air Force sent Chris letters to play for them,” Karen says.

Karen says he just wanted a “normal” college experience.

After receiving offers from the three military branches, Coyle choice to go his own path an come to sunny Arizona.
Photo by Kailin Biggerstaff

“The military schools were definitely a great option for me, but when I came out here to visit ASU, I fell in love with the weather. It’s such a beautiful area with a great environment and great people,” Chris says.

Chris chose ASU, and it required patience and discipline to finally showcase his talents.

“I’m used to that discipline and not having it, it almost felt like something was missing,” Chris says about last year’s team. “I actually feel more comfortable now that (Graham) is holding everybody, including myself accountable, and as teammates we hold each other accountable.”

Vontaze Burfict is just one of the names that highlight the sometimes too-aggressive schema we had over the Erickson era. In his junior year, Burfict had an incident with a wide receiver teammate at practice. Punches were thrown according to multiple sources and words were exchanged between the two, but neither were injured.

ASU often led the Pac-12 in penalties and penalty yardage. Coming in the first loss of the Devil’s season last year, the team gave up 91 penalty yards in crucial situations to hand the win to the University of Illinois.

Under Graham’s code of accountability and discipline, the Sun Devils are looking more professional on the field, and find themselves in a stat category that they are not so familiar with — fewest penalties.

This year ASU is ranked eighth in the country in team penalties per game at 4.1 per game. Compared to last year’s average at 8.4 penalties per game, ASU sat at the bottom of the ranks at 120th in the country.

Being held accountable is a part of Coyle’s family policy.

“We have a pretty structured family,” Karen says. “Our kids are responsible and are very focused. We set the right examples for our kids, and expect them to abide by them.”

However, the Coyle family is not too strict as they enjoy a day out when they can.

Karen credits her experience in Naval Aviation for the family’s interest in travel and adventure.

“We go wake boarding in the summer time and enjoy traveling,” Karen says. “Chris was a real big skateboarding fan too. He used to go to the park and do ‘bush jumping’. He would coast on his skateboard and then dive into a bush.”

Outside of football, Chris took part in the other seasonal sports.

“He was always busy as a kid playing soccer, baseball, some lacrosse and football,” Karen says. “Between football, little league, skateboarding and paintball he was always an active kid.”

Chris says he just loves the feeling of playing sports and being active growing up.

“I really love the adrenaline rush of skateboarding and extreme sports, and not knowing what is coming next,” he says.

Karen says it only makes sense: “We think that he may have gotten his focus from the military family environment.”

ASU was notoriously characterized as a tough team that struggled with unnecessary penalties.

Chris’s 43 receptions through nine games this year is on pace towards Zach Miller’s 56 reception freshman year in 2004.

Going from six receptions last year to record numbers this year required training and a father who has already been through the ropes of collegiate sports.

Growing up with not only a father in the military, but a father who played collegiate water polo at University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), Coyle is used to the discipline that Graham is trying to put out on the field. Coyle did not aspire to be in the pool like his father, but he took on his hard-working attitude and work ethic.

“My dad has always held me to really high standards,” Chris says. “When I started playing football he always said, ‘Anything that touches your hands, you have to bring in, and he always tells me to get my job done out on the field.”

Chris’ father was a member of the 1972 UCLA championship team as a three year starter.

His experience in collegiate sports and other levels of competition has helped Chris adapt to his new role with the ASU team.

As a goalie during his four years in the UCLA pool, Chris’s father job was to block the ball coming towards him and maintain ball control. The same duties that Rick had in the pool, his son Chris has on the field for ASU.

Coyle learned his grip on the ball from his father’s water polo goalie experience.
Photo by Kailin Biggerstaff

“You have to have soft hands,” Rick says. “You have to be able to feel the ball to control it so that was always something that I always told Chris as he was learning the game of football.”

Growing up, Chris played multiple positions in baseball and had a love for football in the 6th grade.

It wasn’t until his junior year in high school that Chris put his focus towards football. When Chris finally committed to football, he started learning more about having soft hands and bringing the ball in.

Chris Thomas, his receiving coach, taught him how to catch the ball more efficiently. He had one rule for Chris: no gloves.

The catching gloves that a majority of wide receivers and tight ends wear on the field are not a part of his equipment for a game.

“Thomas would not allow Chris to wear them,” Karen says. “Thomas would also put a pair of blinder glasses on Chris so he would only see the ball as it was coming towards him.”

Chris’s gloveless hands lead the team in receptions.

However, tight end is a versatile position and requires more than just catching.

Chris’s position also requires him to protect the quarterback. When the play begins, he lines up on the offensive line next to the big bruisers of the team. Depending on the play call, he will either stay in with the offensive linemen to block the defense from getting to the quarterback, or he will run a route down the field to get open for a pass.

Even though the stats don’t show his blocking abilities, he has been working with some of the offensive line to improve his pass blocking.

Starting right guard Andrew Sampson lines up on the line of scrimmage to the right of the center. Sampson, a senior, uses his experienced blocking abilities to help keep pressure off of the quarterback.

When Chris is lined up only two spots to the right of Sampson, he is in the game to either run a receiving route or to block with the offensive line. He credits Sampson to mentoring him on how to keep the defense in front of him, and how to protect the quarterback.

“Being showcased in the offense has really given him the chance to breakout,” Sampson says. “It’s about time for his hard work to pay off.”

The 230-pound junior causes confusion on the defense with his versatile abilities.

“Defenses don’t expect him to be so agile and athletic,” sophomore Quarterback Taylor Kelly says. “I can count on him when it’s 3rd and long or 3rd and short.”

Leading the team in receptions this year, Chris is finally making the plays that his mother knew he could always make.

“He’s always had the skills but he hasn’t been in the position to use them,” Karen says.

After years of seeing her son train for college, work with the special teams unit and become a tight end, Karen got to see Chris put up a game high 10 receptions when the University of Illinois came to Tempe earlier in the season.

“After the Illinois game I had tears in my eyes,” Karen says. “I was so excited that he was finally getting to do what he does and what he’s been doing for years.”

Chris was able to reach the end zone against Illinois twice, racking up 131 yards receiving— more than the Illinois team combined.

Coyle’s focus and discipline have put him in a great position to succeed in the Sun Devil offense — patrolling and protecting the quarterback himself, and on the attack with great route running and his bare hand catches.

As for his most dedicated fans, they call themselves the “Coyle Loyals.” His family, friends and teammates show their support of wearing “Coyle Loyal” shirts at every home game.

Chris’s fan base will surely keep loyal throughout the remainder of the season, as the Sun Devils hope to remain a threat. From his military parents, to the disciplined athlete he is today, Chris will continue to impress the ASU fan base and achieve success as he adds on to a legacy of greatness.