Redshirt sophomore running back Nick Ralston sits behind seniors Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage on the depth chart, but his attitude says otherwise. Instead, he has one trait that should serve him well in anything he does.
“Meticulous” is the word redshirt junior quarterback Manny Wilkins used to describe Ralston. Wilkins said Ralston pays great attention to detail on the field, in the film room and weight room, and even in his studies at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State.
“He does everything right, I mean to a T,” Wilkins said. “If a coach tells him to not look at the ball if we’re going to give him a handoff, he will not even connect with (the quarterback) at all. He’ll go full speed looking (forward), and if you don’t get it to him, you’re wrong.
He doesn’t want to be wrong. That’s just going to make him a better person and father at the end of the day, but it’s going to pay off here on the football field as well.”
Ralston has just 139 yards and two touchdowns in his short ASU career. Both of his scores were in garbage time — one in a season-opening win against Northern Arizona, the other in a loss at USC. Even with a limited impact in the box score, he hasn’t lacked worth ethic.
Perhaps that’s because he takes nothing for granted. It’s a mindset he has always held.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” Ralston said. “You should treat every play like your last play. Sometimes it’s hard to think like that, but you got to keep pushing it because that play could be your last play.”
However, his thinking was validated during his freshman year in 2015. Ralston had dressed for four games, but hadn’t carried the ball once. And in September, a torn hamstring assured he wouldn’t carry the ball at all that year.
Ralston redshirted that season. He said he grew stronger in his religious faith and learned a lot about himself.
“It’s depressing,” Ralston said of missing that season. “It’s hard to be motivated when everything hurts. You push through it, you pray, you cheer on other guys out there and you’ll get through it.”
Monday marked the final week of ASU’s spring football schedule. The team will practice again on Wednesday and finish with its spring game on Saturday. Ralston has run with the second team during the offense’s 11-on-0 tempo sessions, but he’s really the third-string running back behind Richard and Ballage.
With two established senior backs ahead of him, Ralston knows what his role is.
“I just got to be a do-it-all guy,” he said. “When they need me, I just got to get the job done, whatever that is.”
Head coach Todd Graham said ASU will often play with two running backs because of its depth at the position. Ralston said he believes there will be some sort of a set rotation with the running backs.
And with the way Graham spoke of Ralston, the running back’s number of snaps should increase.
“He’s had an unbelievable spring,” Graham said. “He’s setting himself up to have a great year. Really pleased with how hard he runs the ball, he’s just developed his body, he looks like a big-time tailback.”
Ralston has also looked slimmer. Some recruiting sites list him to be as heavy as 240 pounds during his senior year of high school. Two years later, he is listed at 210 pounds on the roster that ASU handed to media members at the beginning of spring practice. He said a change in diet helped him slim down after the torn hamstring sidelined him from not only playing, but working out.
There has been a uniquely large amount of turnover on ASU’s coaching staff over the past two seasons. One of the most recent changes is the program hiring former Alabama wide receivers coach Billy Napier to be the Sun Devils’ offensive coordinator.
Thus far, player reviews of Napier have been positive. Ralston said Napier brings discipline and energy to the program. The coach will surely bring his own nuances to the offense too, most of which won’t be fully displayed until the fall.
“We’re just trying to establish our identity this spring,” said Ralston of the offense.
Just as the offense searches for its identity, so does Ralston.