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7 Arizona State
Christian Stone
August 31, 1998
The Sun Devils are absolutely giddy that this season's national title game will be played in their home stadium. Now, if they can just get themselves an invitation...
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August 31, 1998

7 Arizona State

The Sun Devils are absolutely giddy that this season's national title game will be played in their home stadium. Now, if they can just get themselves an invitation...

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FAST FACTS

1997 record: 9-3 (6-2, 3rd in Pac-10)

Final ranking: No. 14 AP, No. 14 coaches' poll

1997 Averages

Scoring

Rushing Yards

Passing Yards

Total Yards

OFFENSE

27.9

193.8

212.6

406.5

DEFENSE

18.4

112.8

223.9

336.7

The story of J.R. Redmond was one of the few that went untold during the magical fall of 1996, when the Sun Devils came within 19 seconds of winning a national title. That season the spotlight belonged to Derrick Rodgers, the former high school trumpet player turned All-America defensive end; left tackle Juan Roque, the gregarious son of Mexican immigrants who also was All-America; and Jake Plummer, the charismatic quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist. But even then cornerback Courtney Jackson could foresee a time when Redmond would be attracting just as much attention as that trio. "I remember J.R. standing at midfield as we were breaking down into position drills toward the end of a summer practice in '96," says Jackson. "He had been working out at a bunch of positions, and he was a little confused because he had six coaches asking him, almost begging him, to join their group. You could see it coming back then: the day when people would be talking about J.R. Redmond as one of the special players in college football."

That day is here. Arizona State coach Bruce Snyder has no doubt that Redmond can play six positions. This year, however, he will ask the 6-foot, 205-pound junior to play only four—tailback (a team-leading 865 yards, 6.1 yards per carry in '97), wideout (15 receptions, 186 yards last fall), kick returner (21.6 yards per kickoff return, 9.8 per punt return last year) and his newest position, safety, where Snyder plans to deploy the Heisman Trophy candidate in passing situations. The reasons for this expanded role are practical—Redmond played defensive back in high school and the Sun Devils are thin at safety—and psychological. "The special players, the ones like J.R., make their teammates a little better, make them stand a little taller," Snyder says. "The more we get him out on the field, the better this team is going to be." In short, Redmond can mean the difference between 10-1 and a New Year's Day bowl, and 8-3 and Christmas in El Paso.

Redmond has bought into the strategy, largely because of the success Charles Woodson had at Michigan last season. "I don't know if anybody's ever dominated a game like he did," says Redmond. "He walked onto a field, on offense and defense, and just said, 'I'm taking this game over.' And look how Michigan ended up."

But Redmond, like Woodson, is not a one-man show; the other talented Sun Devils should assure that Arizona State ends up in the thick of the national title race, which will conclude, seductively enough, in Sun Devil Stadium as the Fiesta Bowl plays host to the national championship game. This is Snyder's deepest and most talented team since he arrived at ASU in 1992, especially on offense, where he welcomes back his quarterback, two of his three top rushers and the four most productive receivers from last season. Sophomore quarterback Ryan Kealy completed 54.5% of his passes and had a 2-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio as a redshirt freshman. With the return of Redmond and senior Marlon Farlow (450 yards on 57 carries), the Sun Devils, who led the Pac-10 in rushing yardage last season, will again be loaded at running back. Senior wideout Lenzie Jackson heads the conference's finest group of receivers.

Defense, though, is a cause for concern in Tempe. After losing players who accounted for 25½ of the team's 37 sacks last year, Arizona State will have to find new ways to generate a pass rush. Gone, too, are three starting linemen and two of four starting linebackers. Snyder signed three junior college linemen, hoping that at least one of them will have an impact similar to that of Rodgers, the juco transfer who had 12 sacks in '96. "Who knows how they'll work out," says Snyder of his junior college additions. "It's like investing in pork bellies."

The schedule could work out nicely for the Sun Devils. They do not play powerful league rival UCLA, and they get Washington and Notre Dame—most likely their toughest opponents—at home. However kindly the schedule might seem, ASU players promise it will not breed complacency. "Every day we're going to walk on the field where the national championship is going to be played," Courtney Jackson says. "What can get you pumped up more than that?"

From time to time even Snyder finds himself considering the possibilities while staring out his sixth-floor office window, which overlooks the stadium. Whatever the uncertainties, he knows that he has Redmond, that exceptional player who makes bigger things possible. Rest assured, Redmond's story will not again go untold this fall.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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