Arizona State Running Back Overview
Ideal Scholarship Roster Number: 5-6
Potential Returning Number (in 2018): 3 (Nick Ralston, Eno Benjamin, Trelon Smith)
Likely Returning Number: 3
2018 Commitments: 1 (Brock Sturges)
2018 remaining needs: 1-2
This is the last season in Tempe for senior Arizona State running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage. They're expected to share a majority of the snaps in the team's backfield in the year ahead, just as has been the case in the last couple seasons. After that we'll see a changing of the guard at the position.
There's going to be a lot of jockeying behind Richard and Ballage between now and August of 2018, with potential for an exciting competition playing out over that span. Sophomore Nick Ralston is well liked by ASU staffers for his execution and well-roundedness. He's also the only returning scholarship player at the position now that the unit has thinned out with the departure of Tre Turner, a two-sport athlete who is expected to only play baseball moving forward. Turner likely wouldn't have been on the three-deep in 2017.
Ralston could end up getting a decent amount of action this season, but figures to be competing with true freshman early enrollee Eno Benjamin for that role. Benjamin, a U.S. Army All-American and the highest rated high school running back signee by ASU in more than a decade out of Wylie East in Texas, wasn't able to practice in the spring after ankle surgery but was in all of the meetings and an attendee at all the practices. That should expedite his assimilation into the program when camp begins in August. ASU running backs coach John Simon told us he's very willing to get Benjamin game action as a true freshman if his practice performance warrants it.
Ralston and Benjamin will be joined in the backfield by freshman newcomer Trelon Smith, a Houston-area product who was the No. 6 ranked running back recruit in the state by Scout (Benjamin was No. 2). Smith figures to be the most likely to redshirt out of the group because he's the newest member and the Sun Devils have two experienced returning starters, but he's still capable of pushing Ralston and Benjamin as the 2018 battle takes shape behind the scenes.
Now we've learned that Brock Sturges is preparing to join the competition after this season. Sturges, a 5-foot-9 1/2 and 193 pound running back at Allen High School in Allen, Texas, became the Sun Devils' third overall commitment -- first at the position -- in the 2018 class on Friday, three days after visiting the school.
Sturges also visited Arizona and Colorado this week, and also had been offered a scholarship by Iowa State, Kansas, Utah, and Vanderbilt, among others. ASU benefited from its head coach Todd Graham having been the head coach at Allen High School from 1995-2000, and also from having two Allen High products on the current roster projected to start on defense this season, linebacker Christian Sam and safety Chad Adams.
Just as important was Benjamin's early involvement in the recruitment, and running back coach John Simon's relationship development. Benjamin was first to inform ASU coaches about Sturges and get Simon to watch his junior film about three months ago. Simon then worked to build a strong bond, which yielded the visit and contributed to the commitment.
Sturges has had a productive varsity career to this point, and done so against some of the nation's best competition in the highest classification (6A) in Texas. In 2015 he rushed for 1,313 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore at Katy Seven Lakes, in the same district as cross-town Katy High School, which went 16-0, won a state championship, and was ranked by some as the nation's best team. Seven Lakes went 4-6, but Sturges averaged 6.1 yards per carry.
For his junior year, Sturges moved from the Houston suburbs to the Dallas suburbs due to his father changing jobs. Allen High School went 14-1 last season, losing only in the 6A-1 semifinals to underdog The Woodlands. His productivity continued unabated, as would be expected because Sturges was older and playing for a better overall team. Sturges had 1,138 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns, averaging 7.1 yards per carry.
Sturges split time in a backfield last season with Kirby Bennett, who rushed for 808 yards and six touchdowns on 127 carries (6.4 yards per carry). Bennett has since moved to Las Vegas, where he's a 2018 recruit at Bishop Gorman, which means the table is set for Sturges to put up a potential monster senior season at Allen as a senior if he stays healthy and gets the type of carries he hopes for. A 2,000 yard season as a rusher isn't out of the question given that Allen could play as many as 15 or 16 games.
Vision and pacing are Sturges' best attributes as a running back. He presses up to the line quickly but with enough poise to still allow the blocking to develop ahead of him, processing the best route to take. He doesn't tend to run up onto the feet of his linemen and get tangled, gets skinny, and squeezes through the hole as soon as it's ready. He's the type of back who is elusive enough to find a way through line traffic more often than would be expected. When doing so, he is reasonably effective at sustaining through arm tackles and even some off-center hits.
Sturges has bounding, active feet and is able to change his angle of attack on every step when running forward, an attribute that pairs well with his impressive vision. He can put runs together in which he slips through a hard to see opening at the first level and then sharply adjusts to make a linebacker miss. His perception of the field shows up nicely when there's bodies to avoid on the turf, as Sturges feels a lot of action around him peripherally. He has reasonably good balance, and feet which are light enough to make lateral adjustments to defenders in space on inside runs through the second level, which is important because he doesn't have explosive burst to rapidly get on and through linebackers.
An overall lack of speed (4.75 seconds in laser-timed 40-yard dash) shows up when Sturges is working to gain the edge, and also limits his big play potential. On sweeps and other outside runs he doesn't cut sharply while gearing up and seems to have to fight off inertia a bit more than would be expected, which presents additional challenges due to a limited top end gear. He's squatty with choppy steps, and a base that's a bit narrow, which particularly shows up as an outside runner. He's not explosive to the edge, and in the open field can be chased down from behind.
Sturges has pretty good ball skills and some basic route running ability. As is the case when carrying the ball, Sturges is better as a receiving option when working vertical releases, though he can run a decent enough wheel route to have to be accounted for. His body type and awareness make Sturges a good blocking option and he has three down potential. He's going to have to be careful about the type of weight he adds and how much, because another 10-15 pounds could hamper his explosiveness and speed, which is already a bit limiting. Sturges is probably going to want to play at no more than 205-210 pounds to maximize his athleticism.
A high floor/low ceiling type prospect, Sturges is likely to be dependable in what he can do well -- a natural running back who can produce in decently to well blocked situations -- and the drawbacks are pretty straightforward and easy to identify. He's not a power back and not a speed back. The frame to athleticism ratio is absolutely fine but also common for a Power 5 running back. Vision and instincts are the pluses in his game, which are key traits to have. There are some similarities here to another Arizona State running back from Texas, Dimitri Nance, a player who went on to have a pretty decent career (nearly 2,000 rushing yards in college).
Moving forward, ASU still needs to take another running back in the 2018 class. Sturges gets ASU to four total scholarship players, and that's too light on numbers at the position.
Scout.com analysis Gabe Brooks' evaluation of Brock Sturges
Sturges isn't a big back or a small back, but a stout, thickly built back relative to his somewhat limited frame. In other words, he possesses a great build with a naturally low pad level for his position. Sturges runs with a low center of gravity and quick, choppy steps. He does a good job of "getting" small in tight quarters to shrink himself as a tackling target.
Because of his stout build and foot quickness, Sturges owns the strength to run through arm tackles and gain yards after contact. He's not a make-you-miss back, but he shows enough lateral mobility in close quarters to give defenders a tougher time getting a square bead on him.
Top-end speed is one area Sturges can improve as he transitions to the next level. His initial burst is good, but he will occasionally be tracked down in the open field. That said, a 4.75 laser-timed 40 is adequate for the type of running back he is, especially considering that the first 10-15 yards are more important than long speed for the his position.
This fall will be interesting for Sturges, who may be the "the guy" after sharing time with fellow 2018 three-star running back Kirby Bennett, who transferred to Las Vegas Bishop Gorman. Even with Bennett around, Sturges led Allen in rushing with 1,138 yards and 16 touchdowns, so expect even bigger numbers this fall.