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ASU football kicks off 2022 season following massive roster changes

The Sun Devils kick off the season Thursday against NAU following an offseason full of player and coaching changes

ASU unlv Tyler Johnson

ASU redshirt junior defensive lineman Tyler Johnson (1) walks off the field after warming up for ASU game against University of Nevada, Las Vegas on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021 at the Sun Devil Football Stadium in Tempe. ASU won 37-10.

There have been many speculations about this year's Sun Devil Football Team. The team has gone through a massive transition in the offseason, gaining 43 new players and losing most from last year's core, but these changes can give ASU fans a lot to look forward to going into this recondite season. 

The Sun Devils got their new quarterback, redshirt junior Emory Jones, who transferred this summer from the University of Florida. The Georgia native has been hailed as "very energetic" by head coach Herm Edwards, and has "great arm velocity while throwing from multiple different arm slots." He will look to make his mark early after only being a Sun Devil since July.

"I'm excited for this team," Jones said. "We've been improving everyday, we've been building team chemistry and becoming closer as a team every single day."

ASU also has a new starting running back, graduate student Xazavian Valladay who transferred from the University of Wyoming at the end of last season. Valladay, called "X" by his teammates, has been highly rated through spring ball and training camp leading up to the first game on Thursday versus NAU. 

Fifth-year linebacker and team captain Kyle Soelle sung praises for Valladay's performance at last month's Pac-12 media day saying "he's one to watch" and that he is "going to open some eyes this season."

Valladay will replace former star running back Rachaad White and has already made an impact in the locker room. Redshirt sophomore running back Daniyel Ngata had only good things to say about Valladay. 

"I like X because he has his own style as a running back," Ngata said. "He is a shifty guy that moves around the field really nicely. He has a lot of tools that I can learn from him." 

On the defensive side of the ball, the front seven seems solidified with the defensive linebacker fifth year duo of team captains Merlin Robertson and Soelle. 

New defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson said he is "really pleased with (Robertson's) development," explaining Robertson "has taken on a different leadership role" this year.

However, the secondary unit has been through plenty of changes over the offseason. Not only did the Sun Devils lose two NFL-level cornerbacks in Jack Jones and Chase Lucas. They also hired a new defensive back coach, Aaron Fletcher. Fletcher has taken on the challenge of coaching this young secondary. 

"We have a lot of camaraderie and some versatility in our unit," Fletcher said. "We have a next-man-up mentality when it comes to development and depth."

Redshirt sophomore cornerback Ed Woods sees Fletcher not only as a coach, but as a mentor, especially when it comes to individual development.

"Honestly, he's a great player's coach," Woods said. "He is more of a helping hand than a coach that wants to only do it his way and force the players to do that."

There have also been multiple changes in the wide receiver group, with many concerns after former no.1 option Ricky Pearsall's left the team for the SEC during the offseason. 

The core is made up of players that have not had a chance to play at a big level for ASU. Graduate student Bryan Thompson, senior Giovanni Sanders, and redshirt sophomore Elijah Badger are headlining the core this year, as well as redshirt junior Andre Johnson who is looking to finally make his mark as a Sun Devil. 

"We have a lot to prove this year, especially with the receivers that left last year," Johnson said. "We're ready to show everybody that we are a great group and we can get things done."

The Sun Devil football team kicks off their season Thursday versus NAU for at Sun Devil Stadium at 7 p.m.

Edited by Kathryn Field, Grace Copperthite and Piper Hansen.

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Vinny DeangelisSports Reporter

Vincent Deangelis is a full-time reporter for the sports department at The State Press. He has previously worked for Arizona PBS and 

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