On Monday, the day before the start of 2014 spring practice for Arizona State, I had the unique opportunity to sit down and have lunch with ASU’s Deputy Head Coach Mike Norvell. The best part of working in this business for me isn’t the games, it’s being able to interact and pick the brains of the people involved. I thank the people at ASU for giving me the opportunity.
I wasn’t the only one there sitting at the table with Coach Norvell. In fact, his table was full and I was lucky to get a spot. But once I got that spot, I got to know a little more about him as a coach and as a person than I would have on the field after practice or at a big press conference.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, we talked a lot of offense. My biggest take away when talking about the offense, wasn’t what he had to see about their All-Conference, soon-to-be senior quarterback Taylor Kelly, it was what he had to say about Kelly’s back-up, Mike Bercovici.
Norvell told me that he has as much confidence in Bercovici to lead this team to a championship as he does with Kelly. Part of that reason is because he has been training every day since Norvell arrived as a member of Todd Graham’s staff.
“He prepares for every game as if he is going to have the ball in crunch time during the fourth quarter,” he explained.
He is using Bercovici as the example for every other position player on their offense whether or not they start or are a back-up. He mentioned that Taylor Kelly is what he is today because every day, he isn’t just being pushed by the play of other quarterbacks around the conference, he is being pushed by the one behind him on his own team. He mentioned he hasn’t seen very many players like Bercovici in his coaching career.
A lot has been said over the last couple of years of Bercovici to whether or not he should transfer and get an opportunity to start somewhere else. Norvell remembered one time in particular of a report that he was in fact looking to transfer. Norvell called Bercovici right when he saw it and was told that he has no intention to transfer and even if he did, he would go to him before ever making that decision. Norvell said that ever since, he no longer even asks.
A lot of eyes this spring and on through the summer will be on offensive line transfer and former Hamilton High School star Christian Westerman. He had to sit out last season after transferring to the Sun Devils after originally playing for Auburn. When you ask Norvell about Westerman, his eyes light up.
He tells me of Westerman that a lot of times when players transfer and have to sit a year, it is hard to keep them focused enough to be able to develop and fully take advantage of that season away from the field on Saturdays. But Norvell said Westerman was an absolute workhorse and by the time he was practicing during the weeks of bowl preparation, he had drastically improved.
He went on to say that the team was recently doing max reps on the bench during a workout. Westerman was forced to stop once he got up to 450 pounds on the bench…
We also talked about a few of the new faces that will be joining the team this fall. The first, Running back Kalen Ballage from Peyton, Colorado. At 6-2, 219 pounds and the ability to run a 4.37 in the 40 yard dash, Norvell believes he has the physical makeup to be able to play as a freshman and is excited to throw him into the mix this fall and see how he does.
A lot was made out of what happened with Ballage on signing day and with snow preventing him from being able to sign with ASU on that day. There were reports that UCLA was making a late and hard push to steal him away as a result. Norvell dealt with that same stress over that two-day span. He communicated with Ballage who told him he was going to still sign but there was still the feel of uncertainty until the papers finally came through.
The suspense actually brought out blood from Norvell, literally. He had scheduled a physical for the day after signing day and was getting blood drawn when he finally received a call from Ballage himself that at any moment, it was going to be official and he was going to be a Sun Devil. Norvell grabbed his when he saw who was calling him, not thinking that there was a needle in his arm when reaching for the cell phone. As a result, the needle came out when he grabbed the phone and blood started squirting everywhere.
You could say that the recruitment of Kalen Ballage brought sweat, tears and literally blood but in the end, they got their guy.
Finally, I asked him about one of the two local valley players that are part of this upcoming class in Chaparral’s Tyler Whiley. Norvell mentioned to me that the lobbying and fighting to have him come in and play receiver as opposed to defensive back is over and he will be playing wide receiver. The versatility that Whiley has with his ability to play on both sides of the ball as well as multiple positions on the offensive side is what makes him that much more valuable and that kind of versatility is what they really look for in players they recruit.
Spring practice begins bright and early on Tuesday and these are just some of the story lines out there that will get you through the spring and summer to get you excited for what’s to come this fall.