As a graduate senior transfer from UCLA with just one season of eligibility to compete at Arizona State, Devin Lucien career as a Sun Devil didn’t have much of a chance to live up to those of his fellow upperclassmen.
That’s why Lucien said earlier in the week that Saturday’s Senior Day and Territorial Cup wouldn’t mean as much to him as it would to his teammates who have been at ASU for four or five seasons.
After a career-high nine-catch, 190-yard performance earned Lucien the Bob Moran Territorial Cup MVP and a proper place in rivalry lore, the Encino, Calif., native might want to reevaluate the measure his one season in Tempe will have.
“Every former player that I talk to and Coach (Frank) Kush tells me, "Let me tell you something, how you're measured first and foremost as a Sun Devil, did you get it done in that (Territorial Cup) game?" Period,” ASU head coach Todd Graham said.
After Lucien’s outbreak led ASU to a 52-37 victory over Arizona, it’s safe to say Lucien “got it done.”
In a season in which the Sun Devils’ offense desperately lacked the big-play potential ASU had become accustomed to with Jaelen Strong on the roster, Lucien finally exploded with the type of outing his team had searched for all year.
Lucien put together the most complete performance of any ASU receiver in a single-game this year, and it began on the Sun Devils’ first scoring drive.
Late in the first quarter, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound deep threat surged past an Arizona defender and hauled in a high, arcing pass from senior quarterback Mike Bercovici. The reception marked ASU’s longest pass play since a 93-yard touchdown catch by sophomore running back Demario Richard against New Mexico, and it set the Sun Devils’ offense in motion.
The 58-yard strike became the longest reception of Lucien’s career and set up a touchdown run from Richard, but the new career-high lasted only a matter of minutes for Lucien.
On ASU’s next offensive possession, the Sun Devils used misdirection in the backfield in an attempt to deceive the Arizona secondary. Lucien proved to be the beneficiary of ASU’s plot, as he snuck behind the defense and tracked down a perfectly thrown ball from Bercovici en route to a 59-yard score.
“It’s a lot of preparation that goes into it and a lot of stuff that we saw on film that we were excited about heading into this game,” Bercovici said. “We have some serious deep threats, especially guys like Devin (Lucien) and Jalen Harvey a redshirt freshman that stepped up, and all it is is protection. It’s timing, it’s reps and reps and reps.”
Lucien’s offensive presence keyed a 400-yard first half output for the Sun Devils, who owned a decisive 31-10 halftime advantage thanks to an emerging weapon.
Though Lucien’s journey as a Sun Devil isn’t as glorious as ASU’s fourth and fifth year seniors, the juxtaposition of the road he traveled to reach this point is eerily similar.
While seniors like Bercovici and wide receiver Gary Chambers persevered through an ASU coaching change and battled to become play makers by adapting themselves to a new scheme and program philosophy, Lucien also needed an adjustment period to transform his skillset to a new offense and school.
Throughout fall camp, Lucien built up a reputation as the last ASU player to emerge from the field after practice. The transfer spent countless hours working to develop chemistry with Bercovici, who was also devoting time and energy to maximizing his potential within ASU’s offense.
“Me and Berc (Bercovici) worked all offseason on deep balls and just having that connection so we could have a game like we did today,” Lucien said. “I remember vividly, when we were in the bubble, I would run a post route, and he’d miss me by an inch and we’d just keep going and going. Today, he sees me and we got one so it’s just little stuff like that.”
The fact Lucien was competing for the Sun Devils at all was a surprise, given inter-conference transfers rarely take place in college football, and Graham admitting he had never accepted a graduate transfer before.
“I'll be real honest with you, I wasn't very -- it was something that I had to be sold on,” Graham said of bringing Lucien in for one season. “I've never done that. It's hard in that short a period of time to really understand how we do things. I'm going to tell you, it was hard for him because how we work and how we do things and the discipline and the structure and the rigor, not only on the field but academically in everything that we do.”
Nevertheless, with the departure of Strong for the NFL and an injury to speedy wide receiver Cameron Smith, ASU needed a play-making presence, and thought Lucien could contribute immediately.
From the outset of the season, Lucien’s initial impact was inhibited by a hamstring injury and a lack of familiarity with ASU’s offensive system. Much like the fourth and fifth year seniors celebrating their final home games today, Lucien’s career with the Sun Devils didn’t get off to the ideal start.
But instead of folding and giving in, Lucien adopted the mentality his new teammates did when Graham arrived at ASU four seasons ago, letting his perseverance speak for itself.
“When you take it back five months and see all the hard work that really comes out toward the end of the season,” Lucien said. “Like I’ve always said, this senior group is amazing, I don’t like to compare, but this is a really, really close-knit group. I went to an all-boys high school, Crespi High School, and we were very close there. As soon as I got here, I got the same exact vibe here.”
After posting six catches in the first half, Lucien built on his display with three more receptions for an additional 53 yards. Though Lucien’s second half catches didn’t lead directly to points, his 26-yard pickup on third and nine early in the third quarter gave the Sun Devils’ their first third down conversion of the game.
On Saturday, Lucien gave ASU everything it had been missing. Whether it was a vertical threat, a third down reception to move the chains, or a selfless, team-first attitude, the MVP-worthy performance characterized the type of Territorial Cup outing Graham expects of senior leaders, even one playing in just his eleventh game as a Sun Devil.
On Senior Day, Devin Lucien played for his teammates, with the goal of returning the gift ASU gave to him.
Just as Lucien was given one final chance to make his mark heading into the season, ASU’s seniors had one last shot to deliver a lasting memory from an otherwise unsatisfying season, and together, Lucien and the Sun Devils came through.
“To have a game like today, my hat just goes off to everybody else who helped put me in that position to do what I did,” Lucien said. “It was great, so I’m really at a loss for words because this is my first time doing something in a rivalry game.”