By Kendall Rooker
For ASU’s new offensive coordinator, Zak Hill, starting the seven-game season on November 7 is a relief.
“It is good to be back out at practice and have a future goal,” he says. “You can feel the energy. It’s exciting knowing we’ll get to play. It was frustrating seeing other teams play. Now, for us, we got to stay focused on day to day. It is a daily process.”
The offense is clicking in its first few weeks of practice, thanks to the Sun Devils getting in a few spring practices before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Hill and Prentice Gill, the assistant recruiting coordinator and wide receiver coach, agree the spring sessions helped young players get a preview of the offense.
“The spring practices helped a lot. It helps Jayden,” Gill says about quarterback Jayden Daniels.
“We need elite QB play as organizing moving pieces around, when 5 (Daniels’ number) is used to it. When our guys get lost out there, Jayden can move pieces around and help them. If we didn’t have it, it would be hard to function right now.”
The receiving core for the Sun Devils has improved; it added the freshman pieces it would like to use this season to add depth. Not only are they adding depth, one of the captains is graduate student Frank Darby, who is returning this season. He’s helping incoming freshmen play at the collegiate level.
“Frank leads by example,” Gill says.
“He is an older guy who cares about the positive direction of the team. He is constantly watching other guys and trying to correct different things. It holds him to a high standard. He is getting better himself, and I keep pushing him to not only being a captain but to be our No. 1 guy.”
Incoming freshmen include wide receivers Johnny Wilson and LV Bunkley-Shelton.
“Johnny and LV are people we need for depth and the playmaking ability; they’re what we needed to push this group. They’re dynamic in their own ways,” Gill says.
The Sun Devils plan to use Wilson in the slot position. At 6-foot-7, 220 pounds, Wilson will create great matchups, Gill says.
When Daniels returned to practice in early October, he worked on offense and his relationships with Hill and head coach Herm Edwards. Daniels showed off changes he made during the quarantine.
“It helped me when COVID did hit to go back home and put on some more weight and come back out here to get bigger, put on some more weight and get more muscle mass to take more hits,” he says.
Daniels’ relationship with Edwards is 100% real, Hill says. He’s witnessed them walking to practice and chatting in the coach’s office.
As for Hill, Daniels and his new offensive coordinator have chemistry.
“It is exciting going to someone (like Hill) to talk to him about what he wants to do,” Daniels says. “I feel like now I know the offense, know the details of everything I want to do and I built a relationship with coach Hill.”
Daniels is confident in knowing the offense and in his receiving corps led by Darby and the supporting cast around him.
“We knew, coming into the season, Frank was taking the leadership role, and we got a good supporting class around him that are receivers who are hungry and playing to win,” Daniels says.
Although Daniels is happy to be preparing for the season, it was rough for him to adapt to playing in November and starting camp in October. It is a different offseason from usual; usually camp would start in August.
“It has been difficult. By now we’re in season,” he says.
“I would rather be in camp right now and getting ready to play than not playing this whole fall and watching people on TV play. It has been hard, the transition to wanting to play and keeping the focus and angles we have.”
The Sun Devils are set to start their 2020 season at USC at 10 a.m. Saturday, November 7.
They will play six other games for their full season, and the Pac-12 championship will be December 18.
The games will be played without fans until January, when the Pac-12 revisits it. CT