ASU Football expects Eno Benjamin to contribute right away

The freshman running back is learning the system from seniors Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard

As ASU Football’s offense develops an identity, it appears head coach Todd Graham and offensive coordinator Billy Napier will lean heavily on the run game

Senior Kalen Ballage, who tied the FBS record with eight touchdowns in one game against Texas Tech last September, is taking on a larger role in the offense and as a leader. In addition to Ballage, Demario Richard also returned for his senior year.

Heading into 2017, Ballage and Richard are arguably the best running back duo in the Pacific 12 Conference.

Last Saturday, during the annual scrimmage on the final day of Camp Tontozona, both players made explosive plays. Ballage broke away from a defender with a helmet-to-helmet hit near the right sideline for the offense’s first touchdown. Richard also broke off several big runs.

Realistically, expect Ballage and Richard to garner most of the carries. But the talent at the position does not end with the two seniors. Two members of Graham’s 2017 signing class are ready to contribute right away.

Since he arrived in Tempe, freshman Eno Benjamin has been drawing praise from Graham and the rest of the coaching staff.

“He is physically tough, mentally mature,” Graham said. “Very smart young man and he just has a gift. He is a gifted inside runner. He doesn’t need much space, and he knows that all the yards are that way (up the middle).”

On Tuesday morning, during practice at the Kajikawa practice fields in Tempe, Benjamin physically beat freshman safety Ty Thomas at the point of attack during ball security drills. The four-star recruit from Wylie, Texas, impressed during the scrimmage. Benjamin showed he can break away on outside runs and run up the middle through the teeth of the defense.

Benjamin, who verbally committed to ASU in January, is focused on adjusting to the college game and learning the Sun Devils’ playbook.

During his four years at Wylie East High School, Benjamin totaled 2,652 rushing yards, 232 receiving yards and 43 total touchdowns. As a sophomore, his first season as the number one varsity back, he compiled 1,724 yards and 25 touchdowns.

Despite these accolades, Benjamin knows how much faster the college game is.

“Picking up blocks, blitz pickups, it is a bit more complicated than it was in high school,” Benjamin said. “Just getting to read the defense.”

In addition to picking up blocks and reading blitzes, Benjamin said he is focused on perfecting his footwork and watching the film with second year running backs coach John Simon.

Simon, who spent three years in the National Football League, said Benjamin is working hard and doing all the right things.

“We sat down and had a conversation about what it would take to be great,” Simon said. “That is him coming in and learning from the veterans as much as he can. Learning from their strengths, their weaknesses, spending extra time in the film room and learning those extra details. He has done that.”

Simon said he is excited about where Benjamin is mentally and, although he was nursing a foot injury while his teammates practiced this spring, believes the time off allowed Benjamin to learn.

Right now, Simon said there is nothing he cannot do. The coaching staff is focused on developing Benjamin as a route runner and a blocker. But, Simon made it clear what he thinks Benjamin can become.

“He is an every down back,” Simon said.

As he adjusts his skill set to ASU’s scheme, Benjamin said he is thankful to have Ballage and Richard to lean on and learn from.

Benjamin said the chance to learn from experienced backs is one reason he chose ASU.

“Just to take some knowledge and learn from those guys,” Benjamin said. “Kalen has been huge, just when I have questions with the playbook and I am just watching him do it. I am going to follow in his footsteps one day.”

As he continues to work with Benjamin, Ballage said the freshman has a lot going for him.

“He is a great running back as you guys can see,” Ballage said. “But, I have the experience and he doesn’t. I have just been able to give him little tricks of the trade and teach him little ins and outs of playing college football.”

As he continues to progress, Benjamin’s confidence might be his greatest asset. The 5-foot-10 200-pounder said he chose ASU because the inside outside zone scheme the Sun Devils plan to run fits his skill set.

“I think it is pretty much the same,” Benjamin said. “That is one of the reasons why I came here. I felt the scheme and what we’re doing here fits me best.” 


Reach the reporter at jjacquez@asu.edu or follow @joejacquezaz on Twitter.

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