It's tough to imagine a more ideal freshman year for D.J. Foster than the one he experienced last season. The Scottsdale native became just the fifth Sun Devil true-freshman to start his very first game at Arizona State, scored a touchdown in the team's season-opening win and never really looked back.
Despite sharing playing time in a crowded and talented ASU backfield, he led the team with more than 1,000 all-purpose yards (492 rushing, 522 receiving) in the regular season and his 37 receptions were the second most in the school's history for a freshman (Zach Miller, 56, 2004).
"I had a great time, just getting to learn all the plays, getting to know all of my teammates and just understanding that everything changes; traveling and staying in hotels and just understanding the college way and the system," Foster said after Sunday's practice. "As a team, I think we did well. I think we got to where we wanted to be but now our goals can be way higher. I think we definitely met where we wanted to be, but we see that from our mistakes, we can go way farther and that's why our expectations are way higher this year.
Not only did the running back help lead Arizona State to an 8-5 record under first year Head Coach Todd Graham, including a win over rival Arizona and its first bowl appearance in four years, but the dynamic playmaker was named to the Fox Sports NEXT Freshman All-American team, something he admits he couldn't ever have imagined accomplishing in his first year.
"It meant a lot," he said of the award. "Never even thought about it. The coaches always told me that if I come in here and work really hard and do as they tell me, that the sky's the limit and that I could be a freshman All-American. It's just crazy that it came true. I definitely worked my butt off for it too."
On Sunday, Arizona State wrapped up its first week of spring practice, their second under Graham. It marked the first time in four years that the Sun Devils are without three year starter Cameron Marshall at running back. His departure means the team is without its second leading rusher from last season and a key contributor to its offense for the last few years, creating an even larger role for Foster and fellow returning running back, Marion Grice to try filling this offseason.
"We know that we've just got to become more vocal," remarked Foster. "Neither me nor Marion are loud, you know, not yelling at people, so we understand that our roles have to change a little bit and talk more. If the younger guys need help, we've got to understand that we're not first year players anymore, that we're veterans, and just have to stand up and be more vocal and help everybody."
With Foster and Grice, the Sun Devils look to have one of the more explosive running back duos in the Pac-12. The two combined for 1,172 rushing yards and 958 receiving yards, including 25 total touchdowns in 2012, and expect to provide junior quarterback Taylor Kelly with some very potent weapons in 2013.
And while both players are still adjusting to their new roles within the offense, Foster is optimistic about the potential that they, along with Deantre Lewis who returned to his original running back position this week, possess.
"Last year I think it showed a lot that our running backs can catch and they had us out in the slot a lot," said Foster. "I think next year, there's going to be even more. They're coming up with some new stuff to incorporate with the backs in the slot, so I think it's going to be a lot like last year but better and with more stuff."
In anticipation of a more demanding workload this spring as he competes for the starting running back job, the speedy back reported to camp this week with a noticeably different look, not only with longer hair that he admits he hasn't cut since last October, but also a few pounds heavier than last time he was on the field.
"Probably 20 pounds," he said. "Just eating, trying to put on good weight the right way and just working hard in the weight room. I ran so much last year that I lost weight. From my senior year in high school to last year, I went down five pounds. I lost a lot of muscle because of all the running they had me doing. Since we stopped running, it gave me time to let my body recuperate and get back to where it is."
The playmaker was quick to point out that the added weight has not affected his speed, and that he'll most likely some of the weight throughout the course of the spring.
Also noticeably different have been some of the new formations Foster has been featured in during the first week of practice. Along with being the featured back in pistol formations, he also found himself as the wide out on passing plays as the coaches continue to look for more ways to get him involved in the offense.
"I'm so excited," he commented. "Just putting me in different positions to make plays, I think that's my best quality. I'm not the fastest or strongest guy, but I try to make plays. I'm just excited they're finding new ways to put me out there and get me the ball.
"I've just been trying to be competitive and just come out here and go as hard as I can. I know that everything is slowing down for me, so I can go out there and have fun with it more. Last year I was hesitant and kind of nervous, but now I'm just excited to come out here every day and try to get into the defense as best as I can and just help the offense."
With three weeks left to demonstrate he's capable of handling the starting duties for the Sun Devils in 2013, Foster says he's focused on improving each and every day, both on and off the field as he settles into his new role.
"Just trying to become more mature, become more of a man," Foster described. "Just understand what I'm here for and get in touch with myself. I'm trying to grow up and learn the system a little better, not goof around as much and just take it a little more serious.
"Just become more of a leader and be more vocal and have guys know they can look up to me and if they have a question, they can always ask me. Just be more of a leader for the team."