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Gammage gets scholarship; new wideouts praised for speed







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Junior safety Alijah Gammage joined the small group of former walk-ons to receive a scholarship at Arizona State this week as the team’s head coach, Herm Edwards, announced the distinction had been revealed to the team a day earlier. 

Gammage joins five other former walk-ons on the roster who had been placed on scholarship at some earlier juncture: sophomore quarterback Trenton Bourguet, junior fullback Case Hatch, senior wide receiver Giovanni Sanders, sophomore defensive tackle BJ Green and sophomore running back George Hart III. Green and Hart were the most recent players to be awarded scholarships after proving themselves as freshmen last season.

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Making for an even rarer feat that has not happened to any other family in recent decades, Gammage is the brother of former ASU wide receiver Fred Gammage, a former walk-on wide receiver who earned a scholarship as a sophomore in 2014. He totaled 52 receptions for 537 yards and three touchdowns during his tenure as a Sun Devil before joining the program’s football management staff as an intern in 2017, which evolved into an assistant director of player personnel role in 2018 and a scouting job with the San Francisco 49ers thereafter. 

Gammage was joined by his teammates, who were there to congratulate him for his achievement before hitting the turf as a team for the first time this fall. 

“It was a reaction, not only him but the team,” Edwards said during his post-practice press conference Wednesday. “How excited they were for him. And he couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity. And he’s been here a long time and he’s just kinda worked his tail off. The fun about that is when the team gets so excited, and they’re jumping up and down. And obviously, he thanked me and he thanked (ASU Vice President of Athletics) Ray (Anderson) and everyone else that were involved in all this stuff. Well deserved. And then today, he’s out there making plays like he’s an all-star because he’s all excited. ‘I’m a scholarship guy now.’ And I get it, I mean I get it. Being a scholarship guy to me is just like being a free agent in the National Football League.”

In his previous two seasons with the program, Gammage served the majority of his playing time on special teams. Reprising his role as a special teamer last season, Gammage appeared in a career-high seven games, in which he generated nine tackles and one pass breakup. He’s also taken reps in the two-deep at safety in spring ball and some earlier junctures. 

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Some of Gammage’s peers praised him for the hard work he’s put in to get where he is today.

“I’m excited, I think it’s well deserved,” junior defensive end Michael Matus said. “I think that kid has busted his butt ever since he’s got here. He came in with my class. He’s put the blood, the sweat, the tears into this program and I think he deserves it. And rightfully so.” 

Added senior linebacker Kyle Soelle: “I’ve seen [Gammage] put in a lot of hard work. He deserves it all. He’s made a lot of plays for us, and he’s gonna continue to do so. He’s earned that and he’s gonna keep working hard.”

Edwards expects him to continue in his role on special teams, but he also isn’t ruling out his chances to play at safety in the coming months either.     

“Alijah is a very smart player, and he has always been around the football,” Edwards said. “He can do that. He’s been great for us on special teams. We rotate guys, we rotate at a lot of positions. In the secondary a lot of guys play. He’ll find his niche in there. There’s a lot of competition though, there’s a lot of safeties all of a sudden. We brought in two more safeties. So there’s competition — [junior safety Kejuan Markham] is there as well. We got some guys there, so he’ll find his niche on this team. And right now, he’s a core special teams guy. But we plug him in, he’s a guy — he can go into the game. Trust it, he’ll go in the game.”

PASSING STRUGGLES CARRY OVER INTO FIRST PRACTICE

As the Sun Devils progress through their fall camp they will need to answer perhaps the biggest question facing their offense: Can they show improvement in the passing game?

The answer will be influenced by a variety of factors, including who its new quarterback will be heading into the season and how its wide receiver corps can perform with just eight scholarship players who’ve produced very little in the past.

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After being hindered by its lackluster production through the air last season, those struggles appeared to rear their head once more during ASU’s opening practice.

ASU’s quarterbacks failed to hit on any explosive plays through the air, while the majority of their passes either sailed over the intended target’s head or fell short of the mark.

Alabama sophomore transfer quarterback Paul Tyson in particular misfired on a number of his throws, uncorking several interception-prone balls throughout the session. He was picked off on a tipped pass near the line of scrimmage by freshman defensive end Blazen Lono-Wong, who proceeded to return the ball for a touchdown.

Florida junior transfer signal-caller Emory Jones was also imprecise with throws in his ASU practice debut with several tosses failing to lead the intended receiver, resulting in some batted balls by defenders.

The challenge that ASU faces with having to adjust to first-year offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas’ scheme with a lack of depth at receiver and a large batch of newcomers who will likely be featured in important roles this season could be tough to conquer when compounded with its shaky quarterback play.

All of those issues seem to be points of emphasis for the Sun Devils moving forward as they attempt to shape their offensive identity.  

“I don’t know if we have much time to be holding at this point,” Thomas said during his press conference Monday. “We gotta go. So I think we have to force that issue a little bit. But also give each guy that ample opportunity to show what they can do. So I think you have to be fluid with your rotation, get each guy in there with whatever the personnel grouping is, whatever the situation might be, and show what they can do. So I think we’re going to be more aggressive than proactive as far as that’s concerned. What that time is, is yet to be determined. But we need to figure it out sooner than later.”

CHARLES HALL AND ZEKE FREEMAN BRING SPEED TO WIDE RECEIVER GROUP

ASU has three newcomers in its wide receiver room this fall to help offset its losses at the position, including Vanderbilt junior transfer wideout Cam Johnson, who brings multiple years of starting experience to a thin group.

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And while the other two, Virginia Union senior transfer Charles Hall IV and Kilgore college junior transfer Zeek Freeman, lack the same Division I edge that Johnson provides, they appear to have a valuable trait that could benefit the group and the offense as a whole: speed.

“I think Charles’ athleticism is insane,” Johnson said ahead of camp Tuesday. “The first couple days of workouts, seeing how fast he was and just how high he could jump and things like that. We were really impressed with his athleticism. And then Zeek, he’s just a guy whose straight-line speed is insane. So I think that they’re both gonna do some really big things this year.”

Both were featured mainly on ASU’s second-team offense and occasionally even mixed in with the first team despite not having practiced with the team before Wednesday.

Hall was a dual-sport athlete at Virginia Union, participating in track and field along with football. As a junior last season, Hall caught 33 passes for 813 receiving yards and six touchdowns, netting at least 100 yards in four of the nine games he played in while averaging 24.64 yards per reception.

“Hall obviously can run, he runs fast,” Edwards said. “He makes my feet hurt. It’s just now figuring out what they do well, especially Hall. How are we gonna use him? Because he can threaten you vertically, there’s no doubt about it. And he’s got a build on him where he’s gonna be hard to tackle I think. He’s not a slight guy. It’s going to be interesting just to watch how Glenn figures this all out. Where do we use that guy?”

Freeman posted similar numbers at Kilgore college a year ago, in which he averaged 29 yards per catch on just 24 receptions for 697 yards and seven touchdowns.

They join a list of deep threats that are expected to be ahead of them on the depth chart, including senior Bryan Thompson and sophomores Andre Johnson and Elijhah Badger.

While they add depth to the group, the two could play a part in helping ASU’s quarterbacks get acclimated as well by providing open looks deep down the field. 

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