Q&A with Coach Tom Nordquist

Shortly after the ASU's running backs coach resigned from his post, Devils Digest sat down with Nordquist and discussed the trio of running backs signed in the 2006 recruiting class, reviewed his group's performance last year and talked about his reasons for leaving the Sun Devil football team.

DevilsDigest: Coach, a fine trio of running backs signed with ASU on Letter of Intent day. What can you tell us about each of them?

Tom Nordquist: Rodney Glass - "His speed speaks for itself. He was one of the fastest high school players in the country going into his senior year. Very athletic, can catch the ball from the backfield, makes people miss and a hard nose runner. He comes from an outstanding program and no question he knows how to win."

Dimitri Nance – "You can't dispute a 3,000 yard rusher in 5A football and being a Texas state champion. He has a lot burst. He's a hard runner that gets a lot of carries per game and knows how to win."

Ryan Torain – "He's going to add some experience being a junior college kid. He split time with another very talented back at the JC, but I remember watching him as a freshman and that guy is the complete package. He can run the same type of plays we run. He's a bigger back that has good speed, and a very smooth player."

DD: When you look at the running back group of 2005, it would appear that they were more productive than 2004. How would you evaluate this group?

TN: "Obviously I was very happy with what Rudy Burgess did for us. We used him in a lot of different ways and he was the second best rusher and receiver on the team. His versatility has gone a long way for us. He's a very durable player that has a lot of football smarts to him. Keegan Herring was very impressive, as a true freshman, coming in and breaking the ASU freshman running record. He was top-10 in all rushing categories in the Pac-10. He has a bright future ahead of him. Preston Jones always gives you everything he's got, and has been very productive for us. So, I was very happy with all those three guys and what they did for us."

DD: The plan for this year is to move Burgess to wide receiver. As someone that has coached him as a running back, and with all his versatility that you mentioned, do you think wide receiver is the best position for him?

TN: "That's a great question. I don't know him well enough as a receiver. Last year (2004) was his first year of playing time, and in the middle of the season is when we moved him from wideout. He didn't play extensively as a wide receiver and all of sudden he does a lot of good things at running back. I know what he has done as a running back, but I know he has enough skill and football knowledge that he'll be successful wherever he plays."

DD: You talked about Herring and the great numbers he put up, and you said in the past that you weren't all that surprised with his performance because of his solid high school career. Do you really feel that his learning curve was less steeper compared to the typical true freshman?

TN: "He did pick up the system very quickly and I was very happy of that. The one thing that an outsider wouldn't know is that he has a great will and desire to play the game of football. He's a tough kid, he wants to learn and be coached, he doesn't like it when he does something wrong and tries to do everything the best he can. When you put the ball in his hands he knows what to do with it. The learning curve comes in from all the protections and schemes, and as the year progressed he did better and better with that. He has so much room for improvement and his future will be bright."

DD: Randy Hill won't play this year due to his injury. Can you talk about his past contributions to the program and what he will contribute in the future?

TN: "There's not a better kid around than Randy Hill. He has given us everything he can, but that knee won't allow him to come back and play the way he wants to. He did try to do it earlier this year and it just didn't feel the same. I respect his opinion and his goal right now is to help around the football office and be a student assistant coach. His long term goal is to be a teacher and a high school coach, and he'll be outstanding at that. So we'll start him in that direction and do everything we can for him."

DD: One area of the running backs that gets overlooked sometimes is the pass protection. With an offensive as vertical as Arizona State's, that aspect isn't a secondary one to say the least. Were you pleased with this area, especially in light of the performance of the team's quarterbacks?

TN: "That is a thing that's overlooked. When you give up a sack folks say it's the O-Line's fault and it very well could be a running back. We do work on that lot, and we stress that at this level you have to pass protect. If you're a one-dimensional player you're not gonna help the offense. I was pleased, but it's never good as you want it to be. Those guys understand the importance and take pride in doing it."

DD: A great deal of a running back's success is the blocking of the offensive line. With all the injuries that group suffered, were you pleased that the running backs worked through all that and still preformed well?

TN: "We never made a big deal about that, because there's nothing we can do about it. It's just like two years ago I had every running back get hurt – life goes on and the games go on and we had a good year. Injuries are part of the game and you keep on going and make the best with what you have."

DD: We're conducting this interview following you resignation announcement. How hard is it for you to walk away from the game that you played and coached for such a long time?

TN: "It is hard, and it isn't a decision that happened overnight. It's a decision that's based solely on me and wanting to spend more time with my two young kids. When you coach football, there's a six-month stretch where there's just not that much time at home. If I can try something where I make that a little better - that's what I want to do. I learned a lot from the game of football and it has been a huge part of my life and it's something that's isn't easy to walk away from. Maybe someday down the road I'll change my mind and get back into it. But with the stage of where my kids are and an opportunity for me to try and pursue something else – it's just a decision I've made. Dirk has been great in terms of helping me and I hope I'm leaving this program better than when I got here and I hope this team is successful down the road."

DD: Lastly, what's your favorite ASU memory?

TN: "The best memory…there's so many of them…any win over Arizona would be on the top of mind and this year was no different. And this is coming from someone who graduated high school in Tucson (smile)."

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