Canidate Rightfully Elected To Carry Running Game

Despite the overall struggles in the running game, there's no doubt that running back Cornell Canidate is probably the best first year player on ASU's roster. In this exclusive Devils Digest interview, he talks about the team's ground attack, defying expectations, and the legacy of "Room 303."

The redshirt freshman was one of the lone bright spots against Washington State. He rushed for 64 yards, which was his best performance since the Stanford victory, and his 5.8 yards per carry were easily his season's high. "I really felt good against Washington State. I was getting a lot of carries on a consistent basis. The more carries I get, the better I get as the game goes along. Once I get that first hit or break a sweat, it just gets better for me...we tried to put an emphasis on the run game last week, and did run a lot. But we obviously had to resort more to the passing game, because we got down so quickly." Despite his solid game. Canidate was critical of his performance. "I don't see it as silver lining that I played well when we lost. I know I had a good game, but I know it definitely wasn't my best game. I want to hit 100 yards every game, so my stats didn't look good and I know I didn't play like I can."

Coach Dirk Koetter mentioned that the week of practice leading up to the matchup against the Cougars was very lackluster. Canidate recounts what transpired in those preparations. "Last week we didn't practice as normal. We just weren't crisp and sharp. They were dropped balls, fumbles, things that normally we don't have to worry about. It wasn't like it was done intentionally, but we couldn't stop it." When we asked him if the players was scolded by the coaches for the sub par practices, his response and attitude were refreshing. "The Coaches aren't our cheerleaders. When we got out and practice, we have to do our job. We have just have to talk to each other, and let everybody know we have to pick it up. Once the coaches get involved telling us to pick it up, then you know it got out of hand."

While the disappointing practices last week appear to be an aberration, ASU's struggles in the running game have been somewhat consistent. Aggravation isn't only reserved to the maroon and gold faithful, but also to the Sun Devils' leading rusher. "As a running back it's real frustrating, I know I'm a better back than what has been displayed or shown. It makes me feel like I have to step it up. Even if I'm working hard, sometimes the stats don't look good. I know all of us have to pick it up." When we asked him what specifically was the factor that held back the running game against Washington State, Canidate was hard pressed to put his finger on only one cause. "After the game the running backs group spoke. We just said that plays weren't made, and we made way too many mental mistakes. It was a big game, and we didn't come out and played like we should of. It was hard for us to really say what the problem was. It seems that everything that could of gone wrong did go wrong."

Struggling running game or not, the Alhambra High School graduate is having a very solid year statistically. He leads all rushers with 493 yards, averaging 3.9 yards a carry. He's second on the team (to Shaun McDonald) in touchdowns scored with seven. With the season winding down, Canidate is thankful for his play in his inaugural season. "So far in this season I give thanks to god because I'm blessed to be in the situation that I am. I came off my redshirt year, and after only five games I'm starting. Everybody wants to play a lot, and I'm just honored that I can. I had some injuries, sickness, but when the team is winning everything seems to go by quicker. That's what really happening, and everything is going in a blink of an eye. For me personally, the season is going OK. It's not the best, but I know I have a lot of things to work on and I know I will get better. I did improve drastically from last year, but I still got a lot more to work on." One aspect of his game, that seem to be lacking early in the season was the ability to effectively run block in comparison to ASU's other running back Mike Williams. The Arizona Republic's All-Arizona selection was on a mission to improve this facet of his game, and by the rave reviews he's receiving from his coaches he's succeeding quite a bit. "Run block is a challenge I look forward to. I don't like when people don't believe in me and what I'm capable of doing. Last year I wasn't good in pass blocking, so in the summer I did a lot to work on it. I do take a lot of pride in it. I know that to be a good back in the Pac-10, you can't just run the ball. You have to be able to protect the quarterback, and let him get his job done. If anybody can't see yet that I'm a good pass blocker, then they have a problem (smile)."

Criticism and doubt in general seems to fuel the running back. We all know about the Pac-10 media's ninth place label put on the Sun Devils before the 2002 season. On a personal level, Canidate was also not shown a lot of love – being virtually labeled as the distant third running back in the allegedly pre-season starting battle between Hill and Williams. The redshirt freshman believed that both of those two schools of thought were wrong, and he's happy to sit back now and see those forecasts go up in flames. "Those are the type of things I look forward to – people doubting the team, and doubting myself. I didn't worry about the talk about me being third string. I come from a strong family background, and my mom always talks about competing and being patient. Mike and Hakim knew all three of us would compete, and I didn't mind that in the beginning I was in the shadows back there. I knew I would get the job done, and I put a lot of time and work to get where I am right now. The media just went off what we did last year. But the team and the coaches knew we were gonna be much better, but we kept that to ourselves and believed in each other. This year the bond is stronger than last year. We don't doubt the players playing next to us."

Playing a position which Sun Devil greats Mario Bates, J.R. Redmond, and Delvon Flowers once played, isn't the only legacy Canidate is trying to live up to. On a lighter note, the "303" tradition is another heritage that is dear to his heart. The running back explains: "303 is one of room numbers in the dorm where a lot of the players stayed. Players like Terrell Suggs, Ricardo Stewart, and Andrew Walter, and myself all stayed in that room. I told the boys we have to come up with something, so everybody knows that the guys making plays are from 303. After a big play, we just hold up our arms, and make the number three signal on each side of our helmet. That way, everybody knows that a player from 303 made a big play. Some others try to bring up their room numbers, but it doesn't work (smile). It's a fun thing. I'm the president of 303 (smile). It's our legacy."

Speaking of legacy, prior to Cornell's career, his brother Trung made quite a name for himself playing, out of all places, for ASU's archrival. A lot of Sun Devil fans took pleasure in seeing the U of A alum, who was labeled a "Sun Devil Killer' during his tenure in Tucson, stand on the Devils' sidelines a couple of weeks ago cheering on Cornell. ASU's rushing star downplays the whole rivalry when it comes to his brother's encouragement. "It means a lot to me that Trung supports me. When I decided to come here, my whole family supported me. There was no ASU/U of A thing going on. He was all for it. People think that once you go to U of A you just hate ASU all the time, but it wasn't like it with him. He's getting ready to watch me play U of A. It's gonna be fun. I don't know if he's an ASU fan, but he's my fan (smile)."

The consensus after last week's defeat was that the team's players are not only embarrassed, but also hungry to continue the overall success they have been enjoying this season. With the Cal game just a couple of days away, Cornell Canidate is anxious for the team to come out and play a complete game. "The running game was there at Washington State, but we had to pass. We gonna try and run against Cal, but if they give us the pass that's what we're gonna take. If they stop the pass, then we'll start running. We just have to get out to a fast start, and once we get the whole team going - having offense, defense, and special teams play well we won't we beat."

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