Grice with 'a lot to prove'

Hard to believe, but it's been less than a year since Marion Grice first arrived on campus at Arizona State. Yet, even in that short period of time, he still managed to lead the Sun Devils in rushing yards and touchdowns scored in 2012 as a reserve running back. As the new season approaches, the senior playmaker is poised to take over the reins at running back, putting Pac-12 defenses on notice.

Even prior to last season's regular season finale in Tucson, in which the Sun Devils rallied from a double-digit fourth quarter deficit to defeat Arizona, Marion Grice had already made a name for himself amongst Sun Devils fans with his workman-like effort and uncanny ability to find the end zone from seemingly anywhere on the football field.

His 156 yards rushing, 52 yards receiving and three touchdown performance not only earned him the MVP award for the Territorial Cup matchup, it signaled the emergence of a young man with the potential to be the Sun Devil starting running back in 2013.

However, it's what has happened since then that makes him truly remarkable.

Grice's brother, Joshua Wood, was fatally shot in a robbery attempt in Houston, Texas just a couple of weeks later. He left the team to be with his family, with anybody's guess as to whether he'd return for his squad's bowl game.

Nonetheless, just a few days later, Grice re-joined his teammates in San Francisco for the practices leading up to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Playing in memory of his brother, Grice submitted a heroic-like effort, rushing for a career-high 159 yards and two touchdowns to pace the Arizona State victory.

After taking some time to himself following the conclusion of the 2013 season, Marion Grice returned to the football field this spring, looking to regain the form he demonstrated last season. Despite struggling with the flu and a slow first couple of weeks, Grice has found his stride once again as the team approaches the end of spring camp, something all Sun Devils fans are relieved to see.

"I feel pretty good about it," said Grice on his progress throughout the team's offseason practices. "It's just time to get back on my feet. I'd been out of action for a while, so it's good to get back in these cleats and get back to football.

"I still have a lot of things that I need to work on, like always, and learning more about this offense. We still had a lot of mental errors, but that's stuff that we've just got to watch more film on and practice on our own. We still need to come together more as a group and execute better, but overall I think the spring went well."

By all accounts, Grice will be the starting running back for Arizona State come fall. The 6'-0", 206-pound Houston native who rushed for a team-high 679 yards and 11 touchdowns last year gives the Sun Devils one of the more dynamic running back threats in the conference, with a unique ability to be an every down back while also serving as a legitimate receiving threat out of the backfield for ASU quarterback, Taylor Kelly.

Grice also serves as the only senior running back on the team, and one of the few senior Sun Devil starters on the offensive side of the ball, seemingly forcing the soft-spoken star to become one of the on-field leaders that'll be counted on to help guide the team.

"I'm more of a lead by example type guy, but now I've got to be more vocal," Grice acknowledged. "We've got some young guys in here, so I've got to pick them up when needed. I'm ready for it. The offseason has got me prepared for it. I'm looking forward to being the starter. I've still got to encourage guys and make sure these younger guys are ready when their number's called."

Naturally the starting role will elicit a much heavier work load for Grice. While the Sun Devils kept things fairly balanced in 2012 between Grice and fellow running backs Cameron Marshall and D.J. Foster, Marshall's departure will surely lead to an increase in carries for Grice, something he's spent a considerable amount of time preparing for since the spring semester started.

"I've been trying to put on some weight," Grice noted. "I'm trying to get up to 210. I've just been going hard every day in the weight room with Coach Griswold, doing all the things he wants me to do and all the extra work too. It's all going to help me prepare for this season and get me where I want to."

Grice's position coach believes that these strength and conditioning workouts can truly increase the running back's production this year.

"I think Marion went through his first full offseason being in the weight room," commented ASU running backs coach Bo Graham. "Last year he was kind of thrown into the fire; he showed up late for us in the summertime but still managed to do well later in the season. With his body being the way it is now, he's much more physical, much more season-ready. There's no doubt he can handle the load, physically.

"I think the body mass he's put on and the physical progression he's made is going to allow him to take on a bigger load this year. We feel like he can do that. He and Foster can really man the backfield."

Along with trying to play at a faster pace, something offensive coordinator Mike Norvell challenges the offense on a daily basis, ball security has been a major focal point as well for the Sun Devils throughout practice. For Grice though, this element doesn't seems to be a concern, as the senior managed to go turnover free in his first season for the Devils and has continued that trend throughout camp, much to his own delight.

"It's just something that, growing up playing running back, I had some bad times and fumbled," Grice remarked. "I just told myself that I'll never fumble again, so I practice every day on ball security. I keep it high and tight and I don't take anything for granted. Every time they put the ball in my hands, I don't let it go."

Blessed with arguably the surest hands on the team, it probably shouldn't come as any surprise then Grice has also developed into one of the key receiving targets for quarterback Taylor Kelly, both down the stretch last season and also throughout spring practices. Grice hauled in 41 catches for 425 yards and an additional eight touchdowns in 2012, demonstrating his ability to become a viable downfield threat in the Sun Devils' high-octane, quick-striking offense.

"Last year I'd say that was a little bit of my game but I feel like I have more to show," Grice explained. "Being a starter, I feel like I have more skills to show to the coaches and my team, and show that I can be the starter for this team. I think mostly we'll focus on me running the ball. We're going to leave all that catching to D.J., but when it's my time; I'll still get out there and catch it."

"He's extremely athletic and can run routes just like a wide receiver," added Graham. "We've made some adjustments to our offensively that are going to play to our running backs' advantage. I'm excited about what he's done but I think last year was really just a small dose of what he can do.

"I'm looking for big things from Marion this year."

As spring practices come to a close on Thursday, a number of position questions will certainly linger until fall camp in August. Needless to say that the starting running back in virtually indisputable as coaches and fans alike are anxious to see how Marion Grice will follow up an outstanding 2012 campaign.

"I feel confident with myself," Grice said. "I'm just trying to stay positive. You can't show signs of weakness. I've just been trying to come out here every day and have a great practice and work on the things I need to in order to prepare myself for the season.

"I push myself every day. You can never feel that you can't get any better than where you're at right now. I know a lot of people have high expectations for me and I know that I have a lot to prove to my team and my coaches, and show that I can be that guy and carry the big weight that they need me to be doing and protect the quarterback and everything.

"So I still have a lot to prove."

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