Rob Malara

Sun Devil AD steps up marketing campaign beginning Saturday

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Saturday will mark the final of fifteen spring practice sessions for the 2014 Sun Devil football team.  Yet it will also mark the kickoff of an off-season campaign that runs through mid-Junewith the close of the Sun Devil Fan Story as well as the renovations to Sun Devil Stadium that are finally starting to gain some steam both on a financial level as well as a structural one.

We’ve seen the ebb and flow of the Sun Devil spring game on the team calendar over the years.  Sometimes exciting, as was the case in 2012 when the search for new hope began in the Todd Graham era of football.  Both the media and the fans alike were on the verge of learning who might be the new stars going forward.  Then there was 2013, where those in attendance and viewers of the Pac-12 Network coverage were treated to a watered down version of the biggest and only game on the calendar for the first 9 months of the year.  Along the way we’ve heard reports of how the Sun Devil experience was being coached up by none other than the same people who helped dream up the latest and greatest version of Sparky.

These days the coaching fraternity has fractured off into a sect of believers that have certain faith in the fact you have to hide as much of what you think makes you successful as possible.  The fear being others will find out and leave you in the dust.  Be it practices closed to even the media, vanilla spring games, or weekly press conferences that would make Donald Rumsfeld in his hay day blush.

We’ve come to the point however where the rubber meets the road as both fans and consumers.  If coaches are going to be continued to be paid increasingly higher salaries and buyouts following suit, the money has to come from a portion of the pie bigger than boosters in most situations and this is where marketing comes in.

While ASU has become proactive rather than reactive in its drive to improve upon its home field, its facilities, as well as be able to pay the going rate for the coaches of a team that has won 18 games in the first two seasons, it knows it needs to tap into every revenue source possible.  And its followers of both the ticket buying and home media viewing variety have been very tough to get a grip on over the past two decades.  But this is where a day like Saturday April 19th can be the spark of a campaign that doesn’t end until well into December or January of 2015.

This Saturday fans both young and old will once again be able to say they had a chance to see all facets of this football program as the spring roster is split into two groups; Maroon versus Gold.   The two teams opening in the morning with a drill that fans of the NFL Combine will recognize, the W-drill, a drill that will show fans who some of the most agile and quick players are on the team.  Will it be speed versus speed or will we be treated by getting to see a few interior lineman go up against each other?  My bet is on quick and loose defensive backs and wide receiver’s if I’m in charge of either team.

From there it’s the session that has revolutionized how current football is played and that is the 7-on-7.  The off-shoot of the customary 11-on-11 that now fills the summer for prep players out west and especially in Texas (its origin) as well as California.  Both RGIII and Andrew Luck trace their ascendance as dominant quarterbacks due in part to their time in tournaments based off of the 7-on-7 and on this day fans will be witness to the likes of senior starting quarterback Taylor Kelly spin it out to the dominant hands but tender foot of Jaelen Strong, while junior backup Mike Bercovici having the likes of Strong’s understudy redshirt freshman Ellis Jefferson not to mention 2014 starting running back D.J. Foster.

But this day will not just be about offense and speed as the team will then transition into a pass rush competition where members of both teams square off against each other to see who can pass block and who can get to the quarterback.  Looking to see who replaces the pass rush prowess of newly departed 2013 stand-outs Will Sutton and Carl Bradford?  Look for players like senior defensive end Marcus Hardison, junior Devilbacker Eriquel Florence, as well as speedy linebackers DJ Calhoun the true freshman, and junior Antonio Longino to make one last statement to the coaching staff that they should be at the head of the class come fall camp.

From there the teams square off in the full allotment of personnel where fans will see the Maroon lead by new defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, square off against the Gold lead by deputy head coach Mike Norvell.  In this sequence each team starts off in the Red Zone, specifically at the 9 yard line and gets four chances to see how many times they can find pay dirt.

After a short break to keep the little ones entertained the dual fifteen minute quarters will be the main event on this day as we start to see the evolution in the process that is the development of a team that has just seven senior players in its 2-deep as it exits this practice cycle going into the summer.  It is here where this team will start to take shape in some ways in front of a national audience.   We will see the end of more than 40 hours of on-field time exhibiting whether or not Kelly has taken the next step as a three year starter in Mike Norvell’s offense.  How junior guard Christian Westerman holds his own against junior defensive lineman Jaxon Hood not to mention senior Jamil Douglas who has been tried out late this spring at left tackle against the likes of Hardison?  And don’t forget about center Nick Kelly, who has the task of replacing two-year starter Kody Koebensky squaring off against the enigma that is Mo Lutu, with the junior having by many accounts a very positive spring after shedding at least fifteen pounds after tipping the scales at over 380.

Bring it to a close with a final sudden death period from the 25 yard line for both teams followed by an autograph session on the field after play closes and you can start to feel the message of what it is this team is trying to get out to its fans.  What excites me about a day like this is its feel of a throw-back in time to my days as a devout NHL fan watching the All-Star challenge every winter.  This new direction of the Fan Fest helps turn the final day of spring practice into a pseudo skills competition building momentum into the scrimmage finale.

So on the verge of the 10th annual Pat’s Run, spend your Saturday morning with this team, on their dime, and don’t forget to take a peek at the beginnings of the renovations while you’re at it.  While it may not match the intensity of the Stanford game four months from now, it will get you by at least until you can watch these same players along with the fall additions up in Camp T.

About Rob Malara

Rob Malara

Rob Malara is a 2002 Sun Devil grad having spent the majority of his time in Tempe as a football, basketball, and baseball season ticket holder and front row inhabitant. A member of the Football Writers Association of America, he hosted the ASU Devils podcast and was its sub-optimal technical producer through its lifespan. Currently the president of the ASU Alumni Association's Northern Colorado Club, he is part of a family of maroon and gold residing in Fort Collins with his Sun Devil wife and nearby Sun Devil sister.

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