Manny Wilkins' maturation keys development

ASU sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins' maturation has impressed head coach Todd Graham and translated to success on and off the practice field.

Arizona State head coach Todd Graham has maintained that the Sun Devil players know their starting quarterback, but declined to publicly name a starter at his Monday press conference.

Graham has suggested the media ask offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey which player won ASU's quarterback competition this fall, and when asked Tuesday, Lindsey said the Sun Devils have yet to make their decision. 

Though the statements from Graham and Lindsey don't exactly add up, sophomore Manny Wilkins remains the favorite to lead ASU's offense onto the field on Saturday against Northern Arizona in the Sun Devils' season-opener.

While neither coach is ready to commit to naming Wilkins the starter in a public fashion, Graham did comment on how impressed he's been with Wilkins' maturation process during his time at ASU.

"I can still remember him (Wilkins) coming in as a freshman and obviously that is the most immature you are going to be," Graham said. "But he’s matured a great deal, the biggest thing I would point to is academics, I think he had a 3.6 or so GPA last semester and has really matured and just works hard."

Wilkins said his academic progress was one of the biggest factors in his maturation process and admitted it wasn't something he focused on as closely in high school. After a few semesters at ASU, Wilkins said he finally found a balance between playing football and focusing on his school work and the proof is in his results.

"Just maturity, man, I think i've just grown up these past few years and it's just clicking," Wilkins said. "So I kind of got in a groove, where I get in a routine and in high school that wasn't really my thing, so I just got in my routine, doing homework and stuff, and just popped out a 3.67. I'm very proud of that, it's a big accomplishment, not for me but for my mom to see, my uncle, just making them proud academically." 

In the past, Graham has cited the academic excellence of previous ASU quarterbacks Taylor Kelly and Mike Bercovici as significant factors in their development, and said Monday that each of the quarterbacks on the Sun Devils' roster now understands the responsibility that comes as a leader thanks to the players who have come before them.

"There is a standard with those quarterbacks, you look at both he (Wilkins) and Brady (White) and Bryce (Perkins) and the guys that came before him have left a really strong legacy on what it takes to be quarterback here," Graham said. "It’s leading by their actions on the field, off the field, and in the classroom, so that is where I’ve seen the most maturity from him."

If Wilkins does indeed earn the start on Saturday night, he'll become the third starting quarterback of the Graham era at ASU and the first to win an open quarterback competition since Graham's first season at the helm of the program. Wilkins was measured in his excitement about the opportunity on Tuesday, but did expand upon what he hopes the offense accomplishes against Northern Arizona. 

"Putting points on the board, explosive plays, running backs with long runs and just going out there and showing everybody what we do is what we love to do and going out there and having fun doing it."

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