RB Kalen Ballage (USA Today)

ASU running back Kalen Ballage to return for senior season

Arizona State senior Kalen Ballage will return for his senior season with the Sun Devils after exploring the idea of foregoing his final year of eligibility to declare for the NFL Draft.

Arizona State didn't pick up any new commitments from recruits on Wednesday, but the Sun Devils did receive news that should ensure their offense has plenty of weapons heading into 2017.

Running back Kalen Ballage has elected to return for his senior season at ASU after weighing a decision to forego his final year of eligibility to declare for the NFL Draft. Ballage's return was first reported by Jeff Metcalfe of The Arizona Republic, and later confirmed by SunDevilSource. 

According to ASU program sources, Ballage filed paperwork for an NFL Draft projection with the College Advisory Committee, but made his decision to return to the Sun Devils a week ahead of the league's January 18 deadline to declare for the draft.

Of the underclassmen who have announced their intention to declare for the NFL Draft, 17 are running backs including high-profile prospects such as LSU's Leonard Fournette and Stanford's Christian McCaffrey. 

In 2016, Ballage rushed for 536 yards and averaged 4.3 yards per carry while leading the Sun Devils with 14 rushing touchdowns. The Falcon, Colorado native also caught 44 passes for 469 yards and one touchdown.

Ballage was featured heavily in ASU's "Sparky" package, and burst onto the national scene this season with an NCAA single game record-tying eight touchdown performance in the Sun Devils' 68-55 victory over Texas Tech in December. ASU unveiled the "Sparky" formation during that game, and Ballage scored six times immediately after handling direct snaps out of the formation in the contest against the Red Raiders. 

After his performance against Texas Tech, however, Ballage's production decreased as he struggled to find running lanes in the Sun Devils' spread offense called by first-year offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey. A program source indicated that conversations between Ballage and Lindsey about Ballage's return to the program centered on finding creative ways to use the running back in the best way possible, which helped contribute to Ballage's decision to return for his senior season.

The 6-foot-3, 227-pound back is one of ASU's fastest players and was awarded the Sun Devils' Outstanding Running Back Award and the team's Offensive MVP Award for his efforts in 2016. Both awards are voted on by ASU players. 

With Ballage's return, the Sun Devils will have their top three running backs back in the fold for 2017. Ballage is joined by senior Demario Richard who amassed 593 rushing yards with a 3.8 yard per carry average as well as sophomore Nick Ralston who added 139 rushing yards with a 4.3 yard per carry average. 

ASU also returns redshirt freshman Tre Turner and has secured commitments from a pair of Texas high school running backs, four-star prospect Eno Benjamin and three-star recruit Trelon Smith. Benjamin announced his commitment on Saturday during the U.S. Army All-American game, and is a mid-year enrollee at ASU. Benjamin has already begun taking classes and will be eligible to participate in spring practices beginning in March.

Former four-star running back recruit Jason Lewis announced his decision to transfer from the program following the conclusion of the season, and earlier this week, Lewis tweeted that he will continue his career at Eastern Kentucky. 


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