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Young ASU football players continue to step up for the team amid injuries

Circumstances with injuries have led younger football players to take on a formative role for the Sun Devils

ASU redshirt freshman linebacker Tate Romney (24) makes a tackle against Colorado at Mountain America Stadium on Oct. 7, 2023, in Tempe. ASU lost 27-24.

It is no secret that ASU football has an injury problem, and this seems like it can only be a negative thing. However, through this, opportunities arise. Younger players within the ASU Football team are adapting to more mature roles as they see more time on the field.

Besides the slew of cuts and bruises the football team has endured throughout the season, the team has also had to adjust their game plan with players who weren't one hundred percent. Their response has been to utilize players just starting their campaigns with the program. 

Coaches told freshman wide receiver Kaleb Black beforehand that he would play his first game with the team in the Colorado game. He continued to play in prominent games, including against Washington State and Utah, where he started to tally his first yards as a Sun Devil. 

While this may be daunting for a freshman, Black isn't afraid of the moment.

“No pressure,” Black said. “I have to do my best to compete. Every time I’m in the game, I just think about competing.” 

Black said it feels good to contribute to his team at a young age. Sophomore running back Javen Jacobs said he feels the same way. 

“It’s been good, really, to just help out the team where I can,” Jacobs said. “Last year, playing a lot more on special teams, I feel like it was a good route for me my freshman year, and just being able to make the most of my opportunities, and that’s what I was able to do this year too.”

Jacobs saw time on the field for 11 out of the 12 games last season with the special teams unit. Besides being readily available to compete anytime, Jacobs also exhibits versatility. He previously played wide receiver in high school but transitioned to running back this spring after the coaches asked him to help out in that position. 

While Jacobs acknowledged the two positions are a little different, he said running back has been easy to pick up. This was proven during the Utah game after he recorded the first rushing yards of his collegiate career. 

With the personnel for the offense and overall team continuing to change, head coach Kenny Dillingham is spearheading the effort to adapt to circumstances. 

“We gotta have more relief at times for the o-line, so that relief for two and a half weeks was speed sweeps,” Dillingham said during Monday’s press conference. 

Dillingham also admitted that coaches catch onto the motion of an offensive player taking the quarterback’s handoff. Changes to the game plan will continue to be evergreen. 

“We got to continue to adapt to change what we’re doing, to help our guys who maybe shouldn’t be in a one-on-one,” Dillingham said.

This has meant creating a more formative role for these freshmen and sophomores, who aren’t focused on the injuries or challenges the team has faced.

“It’s just like every day when you get up for work,” Black said. “There’s a lot of distractions. You might not even want to go to work that day, but you got to focus and just do your job. It’s really what I do.” 

This collected composure is shared by Jacobs, who aims to stay locked in not just for big moments but weeklong so he can consistently execute. 

“You just have to go about your business every day, and you just stay locked in every meeting and practice,” Jacobs said. “I just try to respect the game and, you know, go hard every practice, like it's a game, and you'll be ready when an opportunity is coming on Saturday.” 

Edited by Vinny DeAngelis, Walker Smith and Caera Learmonth.

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