Grice finding his groove

When Marion Grice committed to Arizona State on signing day, it came as an unexpected surprise to Sun Devil fans. Since then, it hasn't taken long for them to become familiar with the multi-dimensional running back who has made an immediate impact. Halfway through his first season in Tempe, Grice appears to be coming into his own and at just the right time as the schedule begins to toughen up.

For all intents and purposes, Marion Grice is a quiet guy who lets his game do the talking for him. You may not hear much from him during the week, but his presence is most certainly felt on game days.

Grice joined an already overcrowded Sun Devil backfield in the fall after transferring from Blinn Community College in Texas, and after breaking off a long scoring run on the first day of camp, it seems like the Houston native has yet to slow down.

Through Arizona State's first six games of the 2012 season, Grice, the number one rated junior college running back in the nation last year, has rushed for a respectable 206 yards on 37 carries, averaging 5.6 yards per attempt while providing the Sun Devils with a potent third option in their high-octane ground attack.

Despite that though, the always humble Grice takes his success in stride while remaining focused on what still needs to be done.

"I really wasn't expecting to be playing like this," Grice remarked after Monday's practice. "Basically, every opportunity that I get I'm just trying to make the most of it. I know I've got some competition on the offensive side of the ball with the other running backs and everything. I've got to bring my A game every time I get on the field, so that's just what I'm trying to do.

"I've just got to keep working. Some people might say that I've had some success so far, but really, I've got to thank my offensive line. Without them, I wouldn't be able to make the plays that I have. I've just got to keep working every day."

For Grice though, his running ability only tells half the story as he has shown flashes in recent weeks of being not only a high-caliber running back, but a dangerous receiving target out of the backfield for Sun Devil quarterbacks.

In last week's road win over conference foe Colorado, Grice hauled in five catches for 101 yards, including three touchdowns. For the season now, he has posted 13 receptions for 189 yards and four scores, giving signal callers Taylor Kelly and Michael Eubank just one more threat to help exploit the opposition's defense.

"As a running back, I mean, it's an option," said Grice of his new receiving role. "It's something we do so I take pride in it; running routes for the team and catching balls. I like doing it. When I'm in practice, I take catching passes very, very serious.

"I'm comfortable with it. They're not trying to put too much on me but they know I can handle it and execute all the plays. When I'm in there, I just give it my all."

Grice says that route running and pass protection have become two of things the Sun Devil coaching staff has spent the most time with him on since the season started. Of course, having a mobile quarterback doesn't always make the task easy for a newcomer like Grice who's just trying to learn his assignments, but at the same time, he's found a way to make it work to his advantage.

"We've picked up a little drill in practice called the scramble drill where I've just got to make a run for it when they do that and get open," Grice said with a laugh.

His grounded approach and leveled demeanor have kept him open to the new roles and opportunistic when moments present themselves. For the season, Grice has scored a team-high nine touchdowns, showing his knack for finding the end zone in even the most crucial situations.

The junior college transfer, who tries to emulate NFL players Mark Ingram and Darren McFadden, has demonstrated in just a short period of time that he can be the ultimate complement to the two other featured running backs for the Sun Devils, in senior Cameron Marshall and freshman D.J. Foster.

With the right blend of speed and power, he's the perfect back to spell either at any given notice without limiting the fast-paced Arizona State offense.

"I don't want to brag on myself but I work on some of the things that the other don't need to work on," he said. "I mean, DJ's tough enough and I feel like he can run between the tackles but he doesn't have the size so I feel like I can be the guy to run between the tackles.

"And with Cam, I feel like I can run to the outside. I'm in between them both. Cam's got the power and DJ's got the speed, and I'm just right in the middle."

Despite that though, the talented back admits that he's still making adjustments to football in the Pac-12.

"Tempo," he acknowledged emphatically. "It's a big difference in the play up here; the tempo. The game speed is just way different. I've had to adjust to it and I'm still trying to adjust to it, even in practice. I practice how I play, so that's just what I've got to do every day."

On Thursday when Arizona State hosts the Oregon Ducks he'll get a heavy dose of that trait as speed will meet speed in a nationally televised game featuring two of the more explosive offenses in the conference. Even with Oregon's lofty third place ranking in the season's first BCS poll unveiled on Sunday, Grice maintains it's important for he and his teammates not to overhype the matchup and prepare for the Ducks as they would any other team.

"To me, it's just another game," Grice commented. "I understand who we're playing and everything, but they put their pants on just like we put our pants on. We've just got to come in and be focused and execute. It's really no different. It's just another game on the schedule and we've got to come out and play hard."

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