Every once in a while, Arizona State football will find lightning in a bottle with a running back to take over the game.
Rachaad White dazzled the past two seasons and became the workhorse for the offense.
But while White showcased immense talent that he hopes will carry him to the next level, the Sun Devils are left with the unenviable task of replacing the offensive output he left behind. White accounted for 30.5 percent of ASU’s total yards on offense and 35.6 percent of ASU’s total touchdowns last season.
With only redshirt freshman Daniyel Ngata remaining as the most experienced running back after DeaMonte “Chip” Trayanum transferred to Ohio State, ASU was young again.
And too young for running backs coach Shaun Aguano.
“When I looked at the transfer portal and talked to coach Edwards, the maturity level needed to be dealt with. I needed someone who played snaps before in big games. Do I think those other guys will rise to that level? Yes, ”Aguano said.
However, Aguano wanted a veteran presence to lead in the running backs room. Ngata had one game as the No. 1 in the Las Vegas Bowl, but he had only appeared sparsely in 11 games. Ngata averaged 28.09 yards on the ground from 56 attempts.
Enter Xazavian Valladay, a graduate transfer from Wyoming. In his final campaign at Wyoming, Valladay led with 1,070 yards and averaged 82.3 yards per game to rank 41st among running backs at FBS schools.
“I know from a workhorse standpoint, X did that at Wyoming and carried the load. I’m confident he’ll do that again, ”Aguano said.
Valladay brings in a “versatile” style that involves running and catching when necessary. Valladay hit his career high in receiving yards last season with 233 yards on 23 catches.
Having another player with the abilities that White possessed last season will help as players like Ngata continue to develop those skills.
Though the style that Valladay possesses isn’t to be confused with White’s.
“I like his play style,” Ngata said. “I like playing with other running backs and seeing how they play just because you can learn from it. Everybody has their own style and I’ve never seen anyone with a style like that. It’s really intriguing watching him play and how he runs. He’s a really good player and he moves really well. I’ve never seen nobody move like that. ”
Valladay contemplated going pro after playing four seasons at Wyoming, but decided it was in his best interest to remain in college and face tougher competition. In his talks with Aguano, he felt a connection that ultimately drew to him to ASU.
“I feel like I’m developing a great relationship with him on and off the field. I’m still learning just as a young man and on the football side, ”Valladay said. “Just to have coach Aguano sharpen my intellect and give me some key points on how to be a better football player, it’s been great so far.”
As close as last year’s running backs group was, there was still room for Ngata and sophomore George Hart III to forge new connections and learn from another veteran as they did with White and Trayanum.
“With the group we got now, I think we’re really close. It wouldn’t change the relationship me, Rachaad, and Chip had, ”Ngata said. “The way X came in, it kind of felt like the way I came in. Everybody brought me in like family and I try to represent that. ”
The turnover at the position was somewhat expected but came in all at once for Ngata ahead of the Las Vegas Bowl to end the 2021 season. Ngata carried for 23 yards against Wisconsin in the 20-13 loss and views the opportunity as a lesson for the upcoming season with White and Trayanum ahead of him.
“It’s probably just the same, really. Just now since they’re really gone, I got to take on that heavy load of carrying the ball so that toll is going to be heavier and we all know that. Now I got to take care of my body even more seriously than now, it’s all on me now, ”Ngata said.
Any decision on the go-to running back will not be decided until the first two games as Aguano wants to see if Valladay or Ngata is more productive. Aguano hasn’t seen much of Ngata besides him playing as the plug-in and wants to give the decision time.
For now, he’s enjoying what each running back brings to the team.
“X is that slasher guy, I love his ability on a one-cut and getting vertical as quick. He’s versatile in the pass game, kind of like Rachaad in a way. I think he’s a little bit smaller than Rachaad, but I think he hits the first and second level with authority. Daniyel is that slippery guy and it’s hard to see behind those linemen and I think he has a burst, ”Aguano said.
Odds and ends
- The Sun Devils held their fourth of 15 spring practices Monday with players in shorts and shells (shoulder pads). The next is slated for Wednesday but is not open to the general public.
- Junior offensive lineman Ralph Frias participated in some skill work for the first time in more than a year He missed last season with a non-COVID medical issue.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or 602-647-4122. Follow her on Twitter @jennarortiz.
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