Foster unfazed by the pressure

D.J. Foster will be the first to admit that his recruiting process was a turbulent period of time that was covered at length by numerous media outlets. When he decided to pledge to his hometown school, he guaranteed that the local media spotlight would continue to shine brightly on him. Yet, the four-star running back is no stranger to the extreme attention that is bound to follow him to ASU.

The level of success that the 6-0 190-pound D.J. Foster has had at Scottsdale Saguaro High School, is one that has been virtually unmatched in the state of Arizona in the last decade. The running back rushed for over 5,000 yards during his high school career, and as a senior he averaged 13.1 yards a carry collecting 3,058 yards and 54 rushing touchdowns. He was voted the state's Player of the Year in 2011 as he helped the Sabercats win a second consecutive state championships.

One can definitely make the argument that the heightened publicity that is a byproduct of success, is a notion that Foster has been familiar with all throughout his high school football career. He believes his experience will prepare him well from what awaits for him in Tempe this fall.

"I know ASU wants me to make an impact as a freshman and I'm always up for the challenge," Foster said. "I'm excited for it and I'm ready to work hard to be successful. I know that there will be pressure with family and friends watching you all the time but the support I will get from them is the reason why I decided to stay home.

"I'm going to do everything the coaching staff asks me to do and whatever happens, happens. If I play as a freshman so be it. If I have to redshirt so I can develop and get a better hang of everything then I can do that too."

Despite all the well deserved accolades he has received to date, Foster's demeanor has been in sharp contrast to his explosive play on the gridiron. Stating that the running back has been grounded and humble amid his jaw dropping achievements would be a gross understatement.

"This is how I was raised," Foster explained. "My parents have always told me that there is more to life than just football. Being in some situations in my life, I realized that what they were saying was true. So when people start talking to me about that (football success) and hype me up, I do obviously like it but I know at the end of the day there is just so much more to life than just football."

The tragic death of his sister Jennifer, just weeks before Foster was going to see his first ever action on the Sabercats' varsity squad, has further put football in its proper perspective.

"Her death showed me how much life was short," Foster stated. "I will always take football seriously, but there is more to life than that and you can't take life for granted."

In light of all these statements, it should probably come as no surprise that Foster isn't the proverbial football junkie who is consumed with the game once he sets foot off of his high school campus. Chances are that you wouldn't find the former Saguaro standout glued to his TV on the weekends watching college or pro football.

"When I'm away I will usually do anything but football," Foster admitted. "I can just stay home and chill, being an everyday kid. Sometimes I feel that teenagers who play the game don't take advantage enough of being just a regular kid away from the game.

"When it's time to work hard on football I can do that. But when it's time to just relax and enjoy life I will do that too."

***

Foster wasted no time making his presence known as a sophomore, collecting over a 1,000 all–purpose yards and scoring ten touchdowns during the 2009 season. Recording those feats in the Sun Devils' backyard naturally caught the attention of then Head Coach Dennis Erickson who personally offered Foster a scholarship that year.

"I just remember having a lot of emotions because this was my first offer," Foster recalled. "I didn't know if I was going to get the opportunity (to play college football) and now I had one opportunity in front of me. After that offer things started picking up speed and I got a lot offers.

"I really didn't know much about ASU and I didn't commit to them in the end because they were my first offer. It was an important offer because it was my first one, but it wasn't like I knew I was going to end up there. A lot of people were actually telling me that I should go out of state to play college football and I was really leaning early on to not stay home. But I realized what was important to me - being close to family and people that I know."

***

The ASU program certainly didn't enjoy much success during the three years that it pursued the Saguaro running back, but Foster was often willing to put aside the win-loss record when forming his opinion about the program.

He was very close with then running backs coach Bryce Erickson and had developed a strong relationship with former offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, when in the first week of November 2011 ASU was sporting a 6-2 record and was virtually just a win away from capturing the Pac-12 South championship.

Foster who was growing weary from the recruiting process was ready to commit to the Sun Devils. However, ASU then went on a demoralizing five-game losing streak which not only denied them that division title but also put in jeopardy their chances of landing Foster as Dennis Erickson and his staff were fired.

"It made my life very stressful because I had to re-open my whole recruiting process," Foster said. "Schools that I wasn't interested at the time started contacting me again and I felt that I had to consider all of my options now to make sure I was making the right decision. I'm glad that I did take all my official visits because I did enjoy them and I was able that way to weigh all of my options.

"I did want to get my recruiting over with, but I guess everything happens for a reason. So I went through the whole process and still ended up at the place I wanted to be."

When new ASU Head Coach Todd Graham was officially hired in mid-December, recruiting Foster and working to secure the commitment of the state's top player was one of the first orders of business for the Sun Devil skipper. Graham and his offensive coordinator, Mike Norvell, had to make a strong first impression on Foster in an environment that was less than ideal. Needless to say this monumental task was successfully accomplished.

"They started recruiting me at the most stressful time during the whole process," Foster remarked. "I was starting fresh with them, and even though it was a school I did know a lot about I was starting all over with them.

"But I really enjoyed the first time I met Coach Graham and Coach Norvell. We didn't just talk about football and that really caught my attention. Coach Graham was talking about God, being a good man in general and just things about life that as a spiritual person I could really relate to. It was refreshing to be with coaches and talk about everything but football. He was on the same page as I was, saying that there is more to life than just football.

"That's what really made me click with them at first and we were off to a good start."

In the weeks leading up to signing day, Foster's former Saguaro High School Head Coach, John Sanders, was heavily rumored to be part of Graham's staff and that was an aspect that obviously did nothing to hurt ASU's chances of landing the coveted running back.

"I have a lot of respect for Coach Sanders," Foster said. "He's a great person and a role model. Of course it was a bonus knowing that he was going to be down there and be another person that I would know. But it wasn't the main factor why I chose ASU."

Some of the bigger influences in recruiting often come from current members of the program and with a handful of former Saguaro players on ASU's roster, there was no shortage of not only familiar faces but also voices that Foster could trust when seeking out a player's perspective of the Sun Devil program.

"Danny Clark is one of my best friends," Foster said, "and he's very good friends with Michael Eubank so I know him very well. Even with new coaches in place, at the end of the day some of the players stayed the same. Those are the guys that are going to be with you in the locker room and be with you through the battles.

"I like a lot of the players on the team, so no matter who the coaching staff was going to be I knew I would still have a lot of my friends and a lot of good people that I can play along with and that will support me."

Speaking of local support, Foster admitted that the admiration he witnessed from the Sun Devil nation through Internet message boards, didn't go unnoticed and was a fairly significant factor that helped him eventually settle on ASU.

"It really was a big difference especially coming down the end," Foster said. "Seeing all these people that care about me so much and wanted me to stay home…they didn't know me at all but still had all that trust and faith in me. That was one of the main reasons I stayed close to home.

"You can say it's more pressure on you, but it also shows that people care about you."

***

Early in the recruiting process Oregon appeared to be ASU's biggest threat to land Foster, and down the stretch it was certainly Cal that gave the running back a lot to think about not only prior to his verbal commitment to ASU but also just a couple of days before he ultimately signed his Letter of Intent with the Sun Devils.

"Cal came in late because in the beginning they wanted to recruit me on defense," Foster commented. "But then they recruited me on offense and I still have a lot of respect to their running backs Coach Ron Gould and Coach Tedford. I like them a lot and they became very close to my family.

"Between my commitment (to ASU) and signing day Cal was still recruiting me hard. I have to say that as much as I'm happy with my decision to sign with ASU, I still think about what it would be like to play for Cal and how different my life would be if I played out of state. But I'm never going to turn back and I'm very excited with my decision to play close to home at ASU. I'm very happy with what I did."

***

For the last three weeks Foster has been getting a more vivid taste of his future surroundings as he attended some of ASU's spring practices, soaking up not only the overall practice methods of the new staff but also the manner in which the running backs are coached.

"I love watching practices," Foster stated. "I love Coach Graham and all the coaches and what they are doing. Practices are intense and high tempo and I think that is exactly what the team needed to reach the potential that it has.

"I love watching (running backs) Coach Porter and his drills. He's a real down to earth guy. He's the type of coach that doesn't scream and embarrass you. He wants what's best for you, making sure that all the running backs are doing everything right. I really like how he makes sure that you do all the little things that matter."

When Graham and his staff began to pursue Foster, they stressed how much emphasis their offensive system will place on running the ball. In their first major scrimmage, the Sun Devils rushed for over 200 yards, proving to Foster that the coaches' words back in December were not just lip service or a recruiting ploy.

"A lot of the scheme that they run is similar to what I did in high school," Foster said. "They let the running backs operate in space which I like. Banging up the middle doesn't always work, so it's good getting a running back working one on one against a defender and that is the style that I like to play in. They do more blocking than we did in high school so I have to get used to that. Coach Porter is making them pay attention to a lot of detail which is good.

"They definitely run the ball a lot which is a good thing because that opens up the pass. I could also play slot receiver in this system. It just depends how much weight I can put on by the time (fall) practice starts, how much stronger I will be and what position I can pick up faster. But either way I'm excited to play in this offense. In fall camp the coaches will try me out at both positions and I know they will play me wherever I will succeed the most at."

Foster stated that he currently weighs 190 lbs. and that he plans to add 10-15 pounds by the time fall camp begins. Furthermore, and this is pending the approval of strength and conditioning coach Shawn Griswold, Foster believes that in a couple of years he could eventually play weighing as heavy as 220 lbs. without losing his trademark speed and quickness.

"It's whatever Coach Griz thinks is best for me," Foster explained. "Right now I'm able to work out with him when the team isn't working out so it's good to get a one on one coaching. With school and everything I've had just a few workouts with him and so far it's been more of seeing where I'm at, what I can and can't do and what I need to improve on. I've been working mainly on my core strength, and weights to improve my explosiveness. I like Coach Griz a lot, he's an intense person and a great coach."

***

With all of his well documented high school accomplishments, there is no doubt that the level of expectations placed on Foster probably has virtually no ceiling. Some may have already pegged him as a prime candidate for this season's Pac-12 freshman of the year. On the other hand, Foster's goal for the 2012 season is much simpler than that.

"I want to just go ahead and play college football, that's my goal," Foster said. "I never had goals in high school about how many yards I'm going to rush for or how many touchdowns I'm going to score. I know that if I go out there everytime and play hard I'll be fine, because even though I know I'm blessed I still had to work hard to get all those numbers.

"I never really expected to achieve the numbers I did in high school. I just wanted to work hard with my teammates and win state championships."

Even with the emphasis of running the ball under the new ASU scheme, it goes without saying that Foster will be entering an extremely crowded backfield when fall camp commences in August.

Whether it's returning starter Cameron Marshall, an emerging Kyle Middlebrooks, some of spring's strongest performers in James Morrison and Deantre Lewis, or a standout JC transfer and fellow newcomer Marion Grice, carries will hard to come by even for such a talented athlete such as Foster.

As always, ASU's incoming freshman looks forward to the challenge without any apprehension or pre-conceived predictions that may hinder his approach to this new chapter of his football career.

"I really don't think about all the competition at running back," Foster claimed. "I just want to get to know all of them, trust them and have them trust me so I can form relationships with all the running backs. I don't care about if I'm higher or not than them (on the depth chart). I don't care about all that because I know the coaches have a plan and I can't control that.

"I just want to work hard, be part of the team and just go from there."

No pressure.


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