Lucien embracing new opportunity in Tempe

Arizona State's wide receiver unit is expected to get an unlikely boost from a rare in-conference post-graduate transfer, Devin Lucien.

Devin Lucien is done with UCLA. So much so he said he doesn’t want to talk about the experience. He’s been there, done that and moved on from his time with the program. Considering what he had to deal with last year in his personal life, it’s understandable.

In his third and final year playing wide receiver for UCLA, Lucien wasn’t himself. As his game day tradition, he would look up to the stands to see his father, Darryl Lucien, and Stephanie Aldrete, his girlfriend of three years, cheering him on, but not the absolute leading lady in his life: his mother.

This season, a post-graduate from UCLA for a fifth and final season of college football at Arizona State, Lucien said he will undoubtedly see his mother sporting maroon and gold at every single game.

And for Lucien, that’s a big relief.

Last summer, Lucien’s mother, Trina Matthews, was diagnosed with breast cancer and when she was given the results, Lucien was at UCLA’s summer football camp. Not wanting to distract him, Matthews waited until after camp to tell him the news.

“As a parent, you’re always trying to protect your kid,” Matthews said. “I know my kid and if you know your kid, you know what they can deal with and what might be a glitch and I didn’t want him to have any glitches at summer camp. Who wants to talk about cancer anyway?”

Lucien spent the next year trying to balance football and take care of his mom and Aldrete said the toll of everything happening in Lucien’s life showed when he hit the football field.

“I remember so many games that he was like, 'I am going to do this for my mom,'” Aldrete said. “I get so emotional thinking about it. It was really hard for him. But, in the end I think that’s what helped him make this move to ASU.”

At UCLA, Lucien eased into a role over fours years, after redshirting as a true freshman. Over the next three seasons, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound wide receiver totaled 58 passes for 752 yards and scored four touchdowns, becoming a sometimes-starter in the latter half of his time at the school

With the Bruins, Lucien wasn’t a high volume target, but was a legitimate big play threat and had 20.8 yards per reception average as a junior and 18.8 yards per catch as a sophomore.

At ASU, Lucien is looking to play that same role and be the downfield target that was lost when Jaelen Strong left to the NFL and junior wide receiver Cameron Smith had knee surgery in the offseason.

“We feel good about our vertical passing game as well as our ability to spread it out,” ASU head coach Todd Graham said. “That's a lot to say with how good Jaelen was, but our guys are so different than they were last year. Cameron Smith (out with knee injury) is similar to what Devin is.”

Lucien said the transition to ASU was initially pretty easy and then started getting increasingly difficult as time went by due to the abundance of calls in ASU’s playbook. However, Lucien said he’s starting to get the hang of things by staying late after practice and getting one-on-one time with senior quarterback Mike Bercovici.

Lucien knew Bercovici from their days, playing high school football in southern California and Lucien said he’s constantly at Bercovici’s house going over the offense and if he’s not, he’s on campus going over plays with a graduate assistant.

“I think that’s the best way I learn,” Lucien said. “I can’t just go off a board and then come out and do it the right way on the field. I have to go through it, probably mess up one or two times and then I’ll know how to do it. I’m not a guy that can go straight to the board and then get it right as soon as I go on the field so I just have to rep it and repping it with coach Graham, that really helps a lot, especially getting to work with Berco.”

Since Lucien is planning to take over Strong’s starting position as boundary receiver, he said ASU has been really trying to get him up to speed on the back-shoulder type throws that Sun Devil fans saw Strong excel at, especially when the Sun Devils needed to move the chains on third down.

Lucien said he’s always been taught the back-shoulder throw is a reaction, but at ASU they’re looking to throw it so the technique and way he thinks going into a route is a change he has to master.

“We concentrate on everything around here, so if it was just X's and O’s, it would have been a lot easier than it has been so he (Lucien) has done a great job of embracing the philosophy and then on the field, just the little things that we’re starting to adjust in terms of game plan preparation and what we have to get him caught up with,” ASU wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander said. “But as far as what we’re doing every day in camp, he’s starting to come on strong.”

Even though his coach said he’s coming along, Lucien still expects a lot from himself and Aldrete believes it’s Lucien’s passion for the game that overwhelms him and causes him to overthink every move he makes.

“Especially to do with football, he’s a perfectionist,” Aldrete said. “He wants to do everything right. If he messes up at practice one day that will haunt him until the next practice and if he doesn’t do better the next time that will kill him. That will kill his whole day and that’s crazy. He just wants to be all that he can be.”

Lucien has been that way from a very young age. His dad, Darryl Lucien said he first started teaching Devin to play football when he was about two or three-years old at Devin’s older brother’s football practices.

The father and son started playing catch on the sidelines and Devin did such a good job catching from a short distance, his father told him to go out seven to eight feet, but what happened next is an emblem of Devin’s persistence.

“I threw up the football and it came down and hit him straight on the mouth,” Darryl Lucien said. “He starts just crying and I felt bad that he’s crying and he’s all bloody in the mouth, but then four minutes later after he stopped crying he wanted to play again.”

Devin’s determination at a young age carried on as his father started coaching him during Pop Warner. Early on, Darryl taught his son how to catch hard-thrown passes and by the time Devin was 9, he was the only kid on the football team who could catch those types of throws.

“One time I was throwing passes hard at the team and all the kids ran out of the way and Devin was the only one who could catch it,” Darryl Lucien said. “At the time, he caught it and tucked it in real quick he said, 'Dad, that’s all you got? Dad that’s all you got?!'”

That moment wouldn’t be the last time Devin would throw some trash talking words at his dad. Darryl recalled when they used to play football video games together and Devin would always win and trash talk nonstop. But one day when Darryl started beating Devin for the first time, Devin just started crying and called his mom to complain about his dad beating him at the game.

That’s when Devin’s passion for the game and the feeling of never wanting to lose kicked in. He even went so far to tell his dad after his first year of Pop Warner he didn’t want to be coached by him anymore because his dad was coaching a losing team.

However, that encounter didn’t stop his dad from helping his son along the way.

When Devin was 8 or 9 he played running back and his dad said Devin constantly couldn’t remember the number of the holes he was supposed to run through on the offensive line, so Darryl took out a pen and wrote the numbers on Devin’s knuckles so he could remember.

Needless to say, every time Devin was given a play to run, his knuckles are where his eyes went first.

Fast forward 10-plus years and Devin is 22, no numbers are written on his knuckles and he’s switched positions to wide receiver, but his passion for the game hasn’t simmered down. Aldrete said he’s has kept a journal ever since he started college football and writes notes to himself regarding football and life in general.

Lucien won’t even let Aldrete read the journal, but as his girlfriend, she took it upon herself to take a few quick peeks and said what it boils down to is he’s playing football and trying to go to the NFL, not just for himself, but for his family.

“He (Lucien) is a very family-oriented guy,” Aldrete said. “Like his mom, I feel like they’ve always been there for each other so it’s kind of hard to be there too. Whenever it’s just him and his mom, it really is just him and his mom and I understand that. She just loves him to death.”

Matthews and Lucien have a very special relationship, one that comes with Lucien being his mom’s only son. Growing up in Encino, California, and attending UCLA, Lucien had never been away from home before the move to ASU and so far, the distance has been hard on both.

“It’s difficult because I always get mad if he doesn’t answer the phone,” Matthews said. “I’m constantly sending threatening text messages because I don’t always know his schedule, but it’s fun. I first get mad and then we laugh about it. I just want him to be available when I want him to be available.”

Matthews actually took a trip out to Arizona this past weekend to visit Lucien and because Lucien is such a “nice and respectable guy,” according to his mother, he went with her to a Jill Scott concert.

For the pair, the weekend trip to the desert was a nice change from the first time Lucien and his mother visited ASU’s campus.

When Lucien was taking his initial college trips they headed to Tempe for a visit and Matthews said she 100 percent did not want Lucien going to ASU, specifically because of the connotations of the Sun “Devils” and ASU’s mascot, Sparky.

“I’m a Christian and I don’t play around with stuff like that,” Matthews said. “I remember Devin being so mad at me because he wanted me to buy him a backpack and some other paraphernalia and I was like, “I’m not buying the Devil.” So he was mad, but I have since come to a different realization and it doesn’t have anything to do with my faith. It’s just an image that means absolutely nothing to me personally so I’m really happy that ASU has given him this great opportunity and (offensive coordinator Mike) Norvell, Graham and Alexander have really accepted him and they are molding him into the player he needs to be.”

With the blessing of his mother, Lucien is now a Sun Devil and will be for only one year before he officially is done with college football. He will see his mother at every game -- she’s already bought five plane tickets for the first five ASU games -- and to everyone’s relief, but especially Lucien’s, she’s now cancer free.

Matthews said she still has to go through treatment for another year, but to her knowledge the cancer is gone at this time. Matthews had to go through chemotherapy last year and then had surgery in the beginning of 2015.

With his mother in recovery, Lucien couldn’t be happier to have his whole family watching from the stands while he’s at ASU.

“Devin’s a big ham and I think like a lot of football players, they like when people come out and watch them,” Matthews said. “They like the attention so he’s always had many people come to his games and wait for him after games and it’s like a ritual of ours. Like the whole after game talks and debriefing of the game, but when he gets to have me and his dad and the rest of the family, it’s just the icing on the cake for his game.”

After this upcoming season with the Sun Devils is all said and done, the next step for Lucien will be the NFL, where he, his mother, and his father hope he lands.

If the NFL isn’t in Lucien’s future, Matthews knows her son will have a career outside of football, whether that starts after this year or after a long career in the NFL, is yet to be known.

“That’s the one for sure thing,” Matthews said. “You will be an ex-football player, whether it be college or NFL. I just want him to be happy. He loves kids and he’s done a little coaching in his past and he really has a talent. Kids love him and they gravitate towards him so I think he would be an awesome coach or professor. The sky is the limit for him.”

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