October 28, 2004
Arizona State quarterback Chad Christensen was so pumped, he wasn't nervous at all about doing something he'd never done: play running back.
Trotting on to the field with 9 minutes left in the first half of Saturday's 48-42 win over UCLA, Christensen tapped the helmet of his roommate, center Drew Hodgdon, and told everyone in the huddle he was rarin' to go.
"I was a little bit jacked," Christensen said. "I was excited to be out there."
Running back is the least likely position for a former starting quarterback. But such was the state of the ASU backfield Saturday with starter Hakim Hill serving a one-game suspension for disciplinary reasons, joining three other scholarship runners on the inactive list.
Former quarterbacks usually end up playing wide receiver or free safety. Some who have size play linebacker.
But there was Christensen against the Bruins providing blocking for the man who replaced him at quarterback in 2002, Andrew Walter, and in the fourth quarter taking a handoff on a running play (a 6-yard gain).
And to think at the end of spring ball, he was on the verge of being phased out entirely because he didn't want to move to wide receiver and coach Dirk Koetter wasn't going to keep him on the travel squad strictly as a holder for kicker Jesse Ainsworth.
Christensen got a reprieve — making Ainsworth happy — when the Pac-10 expanded the travel roster by four. But in the last month, injuries have provided Christensen an opportunity to contribute more.
"Chad is the ultimate team player. Many guys in his situation would have either transferred or left," Koetter said. "He's always there to do what we've asked him to do for the team. He's always had a good attitude. He's always been honest about his feelings. I appreciate that."
Christensen had last gained a yard when he completed a 7-yard pass in a mop-up role in the Devils' 65-24 win over Stanford on Sept. 28, 2002.
He had lost his job as starting quarterback late in the second quarter the week before against San Diego State.
Last season, with Sam Keller firmly entrenched as Walter's backup, Koetter spoke with Christensen about moving to receiver.
"He wanted to stay in the role of quarterback and holder," said Koetter, adding that "he didn't like special teams."
Late last month, ASU's defensive coaches asked if Christensen could sub for injured receivers on the scout team.
"Every day the defensive coaches said, you should have seen the catch he made," Koetter said. "The players were talking about him."
Koetter had another meeting with Christensen about playing wide receiver and this time he agreed.
After Hill broke a bone in his right forearm against Oregon State, the staff held auditions for running back. Christensen made his mark teaming with a linebacker during a blocking drill.
"He might be the best protector in the bunch," Koetter said.
With the Devils trailing UCLA in the second half, Christensen's blocking was needed.
"I was jacked the whole time coming out there being I'd never blocked anybody before," the Desert Mountain High School graduate said. "I didn't let Andrew get hit on any of my plays."
When he made his initial appearance in the second period, "I said, ‘Man, this view is kind of different.’ "
On ASU's first possession of the fourth quarter, trailing 35-31, Christensen was handed the ball on a second-and-15 situation.
"I read the one technique and just ran as fast as I could," he said. Hodgdon and right guard Grayling Love opened a hole for a 6-yard gain. "I found a crease. I wish I could have stayed on my feet and kept going."
The next play, Walter was intercepted, but that wasn't the last from Walter, Christensen, or the Devils, who rallied for a huge win.
"To be in there, a major cog in the game last week, to be in there for four scoring touchdowns was definitely a thrill for me," Christensen said.
"I’m having a blast right now," he continued. "The last three weeks I've sat in on three different position meetings. I'm getting a taste for all different aspects of the offense."
With the taste of a versatile role, Christensen now wants more.
"I'm ready to run, throw and catch a touchdown in one game," he said, smiling.