The recruitment of D.J. Foster to Arizona State was one that kept Sun Devil fans on their toes virtually until national signing day last February. Admittedly, the Scottsdale Saguaro standout was ready to pledge to the maroon and gold during the early stages of the 2011 season before having second thoughts as ASU struggled to close out the year.
Six months later and in the midst of his first college fall camp, the running back is glad to be past the recruiting circus and be part of the team he always wished to join.
"It feels really good," said Foster Saturday night after the team wrapped up their first fall camp scrimmage. "It takes the business aspect out of it and it just feels good to be playing football again and being a part of a team. I'm getting to know every one of these guys, making new friends every day and it really feels good to part of a family."
Foster wasted very little time this past week making an impression on his new teammates. With an array of dazzling plays in practice, he has earned praise from his coaches and already is getting some reps with the second team offense at running back, a position of great depth for the Sun Devils.
Despite all that Foster confesses that there has been a bit of an adjustment adapting to the college football level and the frenetic pace Head Coach Todd Graham conducts the teams' practices in.
"The speed and the tempo of the way our offense goes, that's definitely been hard" Foster described, "and then just learning all the plays. With this playbook, you've got to put a lot more time into it than in high school. It doesn't come as easy because there are so many more aspects to the game in college, so I've just been trying to learn the plays, the pass blocking and stuff like that."
Nonetheless, Foster claimed not to be overwhelmed.
"It's getting better every day," the running back commented. "Each day I learn something new; I can read something better or plays are starting to slow down. At first everything was just really fast but it's all getting better as we go along."
Foster credits the support he has received from his fellow running backs for helping him get familiar with his role on the team and the expectations of the coaching staff, as camp trudges on and players continue to battle for positions on the depth chart.
"Cameron Marshall, James Morrison, Deantre Lewis, we're all just a close group," Foster described, "and they help me on the side if I mess up or something. They're always talking and really helped me a lot through this scrimmage."
On Saturday night the team played their first scrimmage of the fall inside Sun Devil Stadium, which was closed to the media, with the Maroon team edging the White team 23-7. With very few details of the scrimmage being revealed, Foster admitted the team struggled a bit offensively although he remains optimistic about the team's potential.
"It was tough," Foster remarked concerning the scrimmage. "We've just got to stay positive and remain motivated as an offensive group. The defense played very well. Offensively, we've just got to come together and be crisper.
"Coach is always saying the details are what's important so I think if we just tighten up the details to our offense we'll be a lot better."
Some of those aforementioned details may sound familiar to most Sun Devil fans as Foster indicated that the offense came undone a couple times due to penalties and untimely turnovers, both of which have been commonplace in recent years, contributing to the team's failures.
"I think that we drove the ball pretty well at times," Foster said. "We would have good drives but one of the things that we've got to work on is penalties. We'd have a drive and then stop because we'd have a penalty and we had two interceptions. So penalties and other details are things we need to work on."
Graham has indicated that he plans to run the ball with greater frequency this season, both because of the talented depth at running back and because of the inexperience at quarterback.
On Saturday the team experimented with some different looks with all the running backs seeing the field at various times. Foster, who had five carries in the scrimmage, thought the group performed well overall but knows they're not quite where the need to be, yet.
"We did a lot of running and rotated a lot," said Foster. "We all got a fair chance and I think we all looked good. Each one of us had spurts of good runs and some bad runs. We've got to work on our reads and some other stuff."
The man most responsible for helping this group of playmakers will be new running backs coach Larry Porter. Porter, a late addition to Coach Graham's staff, comes to Tempe with an impressive track record of developing running backs in powerhouse programs such as LSU and is someone Foster is excited to be coached by, despite still trying to get to know his new position coach.
"We have a very good relationship," Foster stated. "He came in later so me and him, and really all the guys, are still trying to develop a good relationship with him. I like him a lot though. He expects a lot out of us. He strives for competition and likes toughness in this group."
Running back surely won't be the only position that Foster will see action at in 2012. Recently Offensive Coordinator Mike Norvell said that the multi-purpose back is a big play threat to score no matter where they line him up on the field. Foster acknowledged that he'll play in a variety of ways offensively this season and even on special teams, giving him the most chances to make an imprint on this squad.
"I'll definitely be playing at the slot positions and the running back some," he said. "And then special teams are one place where I'll be able to get on. I did punt returns and handled one kickoff return (Saturday) night. Wherever I can help out I'll be fortunate to do so.
"That's one of the things the coaches have stressed; all the starters are going to play on special teams. All the players are getting in and rotating."
To get prepared for the grind of the upcoming season, Foster fully entrenched himself in the strength and conditioning program of Coach Shawn Griswold over the summer and even before then as he was finishing up at Saguaro.
Despite not being allowed to work out with the team prior to the summer, Foster said that he would come in and work out individually with the conditioning guru, pushing himself to get in the kind of shape he'll need to be in order to handle the workload and expectations the staff and fans have for him this season and going forward.
"I'm still not where I want to be - I'm not sure any of us are - but it's hard to run our offense and be out of shape," Foster remarked. "So the conditioning has really helped me a lot and all the summer workouts. We did a lot of agility drills and speed stuff in the summer and we've continued to do it through camp and just making sure we're staying flexible."
Also helping him prepare for the upcoming season and the number of touches he'll have has been Coach Graham and his unique way of mandating that players carry a football with them at all times off the field while challenging others to dislodge the ball whenever possible.
It's a unique practice that the Foster, his teammates and even coaches have embraced, despite falling victim to a few dropped balls so far.
"Yes, plenty of guys," Foster replied with a smile when asked if he's had anyone force his ball loose. "They'll catch you off guard. You'll be bending down or grabbing some food and they'll come up and smack (the ball). The coaches do it too. Everyone does it. That's been one of their big points so far this year; own the ball. That's why we've been doing that."
The team will have Sunday off before returning to the practice field for two practices on Monday and then departing the next day up north as they return to Camp Tontozona after a four-year hiatus.
The team will spend most of this week up in the woods, which will culminate with the second scrimmage of the fall - this one open to the public for all interested fans - on Saturday. The experience will be something new to Foster who despite being a homegrown kid, was never able to attend Camp Tontozona.
"I've never been up to Camp T but when I was in high school we went up to NAU so I know the elevation is definitely tough," he stated. "I know there are lots of bugs and critters and animals and all types of stuff up there. It'll be the first experience for me so that's all I can expect."
With the season less than three weeks away for the Sun Devils, who start things off against Northern Arizona on August 30th, Foster says he's counting down the days with great anticipation. With everything that has led up to him becoming a Sun Devil now a thing of the past and feeling fully acclimated to college life, he's ready to prove himself on the field and happy to be a Sun Devil at last.
"I'm excited," a grinning Foster said. "It's definitely a new chapter in my life. It's going to be crazy but this is what I love to do. I'm just going to have fun with it and be glad to a part of this team and the ASU community."