John Humphrey wasn’t himself last year.
After transferring to Arizona State from Oklahoma, he was forced sit out the entire 2016 season due to NCAA transfer rules. He could still practice, study in the film room and immerse himself in other football-related activities.
But come Saturday, he was relegated to the sidelines.
“Me going week in, week out practicing, busting my (behind) and not playing on Saturdays,” said Humphrey, a redshirt sophomore wide receiver. “That sucked. I was hurting like almost every day knowing that I wasn’t going to get to play.”
Humphrey may have been melancholy off the field at times, but he made sure to leave it all behind when he was around football. Around his teammates, he morphed back into his normal, upbeat self.
“Every time that I stepped onto the field or walked into the locker room, I put on a different face,” he said. “No one would ever tell you that I was ever down or whatever. I always gave off positive vibes, a positive attitude, just ready to work every single day.”
Senior running back Demario Richard knows just how tough concealing one’s true feelings can be. He has been honest about not being himself last season due to injury issues he felt kept him from reaching his potential.
Richard said Humphrey’s positivity helped him stay “above water” when he was dealing with his ailment. The running back admitted his body language changed throughout that difficult stage.
That’s why Humphrey acting like everything was normal impressed Richard.
“I give him nothing but respect for that, nothing but respect,” Richard said. “He’s better than me. I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
This year is different because there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Humphrey isn’t just living from practice to practice. He will instead now have the end goal he didn’t have last season: playing on Saturdays.
Transition is nothing foreign to Humphrey. In 2016, his position coach was Jay Norvell and Chip Lindsey served as the offensive coordinator. Now, Rob Likens is the wide receivers coach and Billy Napier stepped in as the offensive coordinator.
Humphrey said Napier’s offense is improved from Lindsey’s, with one of the reasons being that more players are featured in Napier’s scheme who uses different concepts to get everyone the ball.
“Sometimes he’ll probably single a receiver out or something,” Humphrey said. “Everything is based off matchups. Like if he thinks I can beat this guy, he’ll set something up that’s to my advantage.”
Humphrey said the transition to this new system has been a smooth one. He also said the playbook is easy to understand.
ASU only signed one receiver in its 2017 class — Curtis Hodges. During his Feb. 1st National Signing Day press conference, head coach Todd Graham said the reason the program didn’t recruit sign additional receivers was because it factored Humphrey and Ryan Newsome — another transfer receiver who sat out last year — into the mix.
Along with Humphrey and Newsome, the program returns N’Keal Harry, whose standout freshman year caught the eyes of some national pundits. Additionally, Jalen Harvey is back.
The receiving corps lost playmaker Tim White, but Humphrey said he believes the group is one of the best in the country.
“I say that because we have everything,” he said. “We have speed, we have physicality, we have height, we have a little bit of everything.”
After a year with Norvell, Humphrey has had ample time to become accustomed to Likens’ style as ASU is more than halfway through its spring practice schedule. Humphrey said the two are almost alike, but Likens is more energetic.
One can feel the palpable energy when speaking with Likens. He is often beaming with a smile when talking about football and more specifically, practice.
Likens said he likes his players to practice extra hard because that’s when they will be at their best. He quipped that their in-game performances will be a “watered down” version of how they practice because of elements like fatigue and pressure.
“In every drill, he wants us to haul butt,” Humphrey remarked. “He wants us to give our all, so during the games, we’re not jogging. He wants us to play at a very high tempo so that when game time comes, it’ll be nothing new to us.”
For the second consecutive year, ASU has an open quarterback competition. Manny Wilkins, Brady White and true freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole all received starts last season because of injuries at the position. Alabama transfer Blake Barnett was added to that mix this spring.
Redshirt sophomore Bryce Perkins is participating in spring ball after a neck injury sidelined him for the 2016 season. However, he has been in a non-contact jersey. White, who suffered a broken foot that ended his season in the lone game he started, has been limited this spring even more and is hoping to be fully healthy come fall camp.
The point: The Sun Devils don’t know who will be behind center for the season opener. And while there are still a few months to figure to answer that burning question, the receivers naturally have to be ready for any possible scenario. Humphrey said building chemistry with each of the quarterbacks hasn’t been a challenge.
“If something is off, I’ll go tell the quarterback or he’ll tell me, ‘Hey man, we need to fix this,’” Humphrey stated. “As of right now, I’m feeling comfortable about all of our quarterbacks. All of them can play.”
Humphrey said there is a different vibe to this year’s team, and he thinks it’s because most of its players are more confident due to an increased level of experience.
There is one more notable aspect though that has been prevalent in the 2017 Sun Devils.
“There’s a lot more emotion because we’re trying to prove a point,” Humphrey admitted. “Last year, we didn’t do too hot, so our goal is to show people that that’s not how Arizona State gets down.”
Humphrey, who redshirted during his one year at Oklahoma, said ASU is different because there is more unity. It feels like a family. He loved that second family so much that he was willing to hide his feelings when he was distraught throughout the past year.
Humphrey has three younger brothers who look up to him and two parents who expect a lot from him. They were the ones pushing him through a difficult season where he never had the opportunity to see a week’s hard work pay off on game day.
“What really drives me is the Humphrey name,” he said.