Humbled patience: Gary Chambers closing out his final chapter in long tenure with ASU football

Chambers has often had to wait his turn, but that won't take the smile off his face

It’s not often that you see ASU football redshirt senior wide receiver Gary Chambers without a smile on his face.

It’s not often that you don’t see him dancing along to the beat of the pregame music at Sun Devil Stadium while his team warms up. Those who interact with him rarely leave without at least a chuckle or two.

It’s not often that someone shows the perseverance and character to survive a coaching change and sporadic playing time to become a vital cog to the ASU program like Chambers has.

Beyond all that, though, is what Chambers really wants to be remembered for once he walks through the Tillman Tunnel for the final time as a play on Saturday.

“I want people to be able to know that I was a great teammate,” Chambers said. “I want them to know that I care for my brothers and I care for my people around me. I did whatever I could to help us win and just honestly be a great teammate to the ones around me because that’s who I do it for.”

Guided by this philosophy through his first three seasons as a Sun Devil, he caught just 10 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns.

His biggest catch of his career entering his senior season stood as an afterthought, as his leaping grab over the middle against USC with less than 30 seconds left was overshadowed just one play later by Jaelen Strong’s game-winning Hail Mary grab.

On Saturday, Chambers will walk out of the tunnel for the final time, as a crucial piece of the ASU offense. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound wide receiver has caught 21 passes this season for 392 yards and a touchdown this season while also being a primary target on third downs.

The path to his current position may not have been ideal, but it molded Chambers into the player and man that he is today.

“It’s gone how it’s gone,” he said. “It’s gone however God planned it to go. Everything happens for a reason. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve grown a lot as a player, as a person so, looking back on it now, I can’t say I would change anything. I’m definitely proud of my progress and it’s just fun to see everything kind of unfold.”

Things weren’t always this way.

Chambers came to ASU as a wide-eyed 18-year-old from Glendale who didn’t know any better. He wasn’t like D.J. Foster after him playing the glamorous “Hometown Hero” role.

When he signed with the Sun Devils, there was little fanfare. The former 2-star Rivals.com prospect was part of the last batch of recruits to come to ASU under former coach Dennis Erickson, something he shares with just five players left on the current roster.

After sitting out his redshirt season, Chambers saw a bit of déjà vu from his high school days at Ironwood High School. His coach was let go, and he had to learn a brand-new style and system.

At ASU, the first meeting with new coach Todd Graham was a stark change from Chambers’ time with Erickson.

“It was definitely a culture shock. It was definitely (pause) different. We weren’t necessarily prepared. It’s hard for everybody, regardless of who comes in a coaching change isn’t easy. I went through it in high school. It wasn’t easy then, so in college it wasn’t easy.”

The six players who remain from the Erickson era hold a tight bond, Chambers said.

“We’re close in general just because of time,” he said. “We’ve been with each other for years now and we remember. We have some of those memories that the other guys can’t share. They have no clue what the last coaching staff was like. We’ve just been with each other and just been together so long that we’ve kind of formed that bond.”

Redshirt junior wide receiver Fred Gammage, who walked on at ASU in the program’s first year with Graham, said he joined a much different program than the one Chambers started out in.

““It’s all we knew,” Gammage said. “Gary and I have talked about how (the transition) was kind of difficult. Things were a lot more relaxed back then with coach (Erickson), then coach Graham came in and changed everything.”

Graham embraced the challenge, and now looks back fondly upon the unit that embraced him when they could easily have left.

“There's guys like Mike Bercovici and Mo, Vi, Gary Chambers, it's the last of the guys that were here when I got here, and really, really proud,” Graham said. “Those guys are every bit as much my guys as the guys I've recruited, I can tell you that, because I can remember sitting here and talking to them about what we were going to do and how we were going to change the culture and what kind of culture we were going to bring here. You look at those guys, they conformed and were transformed, and obviously that didn't happen overnight, but just really proud of them.”

Chambers matured with the culture change, though he admits he still sees bits and pieces of himself out on the football field.

“I’m more mature,” he said. “Just me as a man, I’ve grown up a lot. I’ve handled a lot of adversity throughout the years whether it’s on the field or off the field. Just coming in as a freshman and 18 (years old) until now, I kind of see some of the freshmen come in that are exactly like I was and it’s funny seeing how much I’ve really just grown.”

That said, Chambers has retained some of his childhood habits.

“He’s a little dirty around the house sometimes, so he could clean up a bit more,” said Gammage, Chambers' roommate. 

Chambers and Gammage have continued to be close while living together, a relationship that continues to grow with each coming year.

“We’re best friends,” he said. “We do everything together. Go out together, go eat together, cook together, do everything together.”

Wide receivers coach Delvaughn Alexander, who came as part of Graham’s staff during his first season, has noticed the progression that Chambers has made in his career.

“Consistent growth,” Alexander said. “I really love how as the years have gone by, the progress that he’s made. His commitment to being a Sun Devil and his love for his team and the university.”

Alexander said there are few players who deserve the new limelight as much as Chambers.

“As a coach, you’re really, really happy for him,” Alexander said. “It’s tough not having some of the opportunities that other guys get. It’s tough sitting back and watching new guys come in and have a role, but you don’t get the reward the first time you come in. It’s a matter of the body of work. Now, he can look at his body of work and what he’s doing right now and feel pretty good about it.”

Several younger wide receivers, including newcomers Tim White and Devin Lucien, have had to look up with the longest-tenured Sun Devil.

“He’s an example,” Alexander said. “You’ve got to have examples, and some of the examples who are best examples are going to come from the guys that have been here the longest. He’s an example of a guy that’s persevered. He’s an example of a guy that always has a smile on his face. He’s an example of who you want some of these young guys to be as they enter the program and what it means to be a Sun Devil.”

On Saturday, Chambers gets to finish writing the story that is his Sun Devil career against Arizona. One of his best memories from the notable rivalry came before he even signed his letter of intent.

“Right before I was about to come to (ASU) I remember watching that game in 2010 where we blocked two extra points,” he said. “I was watching it on TV and seeing all my future teammates go out there and handle business. It was exciting. It means a lot. Talking to alumni and everyone else around, you know how big this game is. Having played in it, I understand how serious it is and just how exciting it is to go out there and play.”

Despite the anticipation of this moment, Chambers said he doesn’t expect that smile to come off his face any time soon.

“So much time goes into the time before Senior Day and all that stuff that we kind of go through pregame, but we still got to play,” he said. “We still got a job to do, and at the end of the day I’m still a football player. It hasn’t hit me as much as a lot of people think.

“We’ll see (If I get emotional). I can’t really tell you until I’m doing it. I might be talking like this right now but it right really hit me later on.”


Reach the reporter at fardaya@asu.edu or follow @fardaya15 on Twitter.

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