ASU football suffered a massively shocking defeat last week to Eastern Michigan University at home where the team was favored to win by nearly three touchdowns going into the game. In spite of the Sun Devils' failure, the one bright spot in their play came from graduate student running back Xazavian Valladay, referred to as "X" by his teammates.
Valladay collected 127 rushing yards on the night with 16 carries, including a 44-yard rushing touchdown with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. It wasn't enough as another night of Valladay's exceptionalism was overshadowed by a team loss.
This is Valladay's first year in Tempe after transferring from the University of Wyoming at the end of last season and he already leads Pac-12 rankings after three weeks with 361 rushing yards to his name.
On Sept. 10 against Oklahoma State, Valladay rushed for 118 yards and scored one touchdown. It wasn't enough against the 11th-ranked team in the country at the time as the Sun Devils lost 34-17.
Former running backs coach, and now interim head coach, Shaun Aguano, expressed his appreciation for Valladay's seasoned presence in the locker room and his pure intent at getting better at his craft.
"He's a mature guy that knows what he wants. He's very analytical," Aguano said on Sept. 6. "He gets through his progressions really well. But on a day-to-day basis, he's the guy that I've seen watch more film in my running back room than anybody I've ever coached."
Aguano became interim head coach Sunday after after Herm Edwards entered into a "mutual agreement" with Vice President of University Athletics Ray Anderson that he would relinquish his duties with the team.
READ MORE: Herm Edwards out as football head coach
Agauno was hired as the running backs coach in 2019 and immediately found success with former running back Eno Benjamin who had 1,083 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns and who was on his way to earning first-team Pac-12 honors. Benjamin was drafted in 2020 and has a starting role with the Arizona Cardinals.
After Benjamin was Rachaad White, who featured as the main back in the Sun Devil offense last year. Now, he's in the NFL playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. White played just 15 games in his ASU career, but remarkably ran for 1,426 yards and 20 touchdowns with 224 carries.
It's safe to say Aguano has fostered talented running backs before, and Valladay seems to be next on the list for the brand new head coach.
"I saw his ability to make people miss in space, he's going to get better and better," Agauno said on Sept. 6. "Now he has the graduate level of understanding what the second and third level of the defense is doing with watching more and more film, and executing that part of the game instead of just figuring out what's going on at the first level."
Valladay is a player who takes football seriously and the want to watch film is a part of that. He knows to get to the next level, every little detail matters.
For Valladay, the ultimate goal is to suit up in the NFL like his predecessors at ASU.
"A lot of pro athletes talk about separating yourself from a lot of the guys that play the same position as you, I try to harp on that and separate myself," said Valladay after the OSU game. "Football is a job for a lot of college athletes and I really take this seriously. I want to separate myself and be the best running back I can be."
Valladay and redshirt sophomore running back Daniyel Ngata, serve as role models for not just the running backs, but for younger players on the roster, Agauno said. Ngata praised his fellow running mate for his diverse skillset.
"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."
The Sun Devils will more than likely turn to Valladay in the next game for the majority of the offense, just as they have in weeks past. ASU takes on No. 13 Utah opening Pac-12 conference play this Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium at 7:30 p.m.
Edited by Kathryn Field, Logan Stanley and Piper Hansen.
Vincent Deangelis is a full-time reporter for the sports department at The State Press. He has previously worked for Arizona PBS and AZPreps365.com.