With a future blindingly bright from the glare of potential All-American accolades and NFL riches, Ryan Torain is about to begin his senior season at Arizona State.
Most players in his position do not dare tempt fate, reaching for the cliches on worrying only about the next practice, the next game, and dealing with the future when it comes. However, anyone who has watched Torain carry the football is cognizant that he approaches nothing gingerly.
The 6-foot-1, 213-pound running back is approaching his post-Sun Devil career in the same manner he encounters opposing defenders on the field: full speed, and head on.
“I don’t see anything wrong with thinking about the future at all,” said Torain, a transfer from Butler County (Kan.) Community College who rushed for 1,229 yards (averaging 5.5 yards a carry) and seven touchdowns in 2006. “I’m so excited about what lies ahead after the season.
“I’m ready to go after it and see what happens.”
In becoming the first ASU back since Delvon Flowers in 2001 to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, Torain displayed a rare set of gridiron gifts.
He can elude tacklers by running over and shifting by them, and he is a dangerous receiving option out of the backfield. As a result, Torain has built an eye-popping list of preseason accolades.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper lists him as the nation’s No. 2-rated senior running back, and Phil Steele’s respected College Football 2007 Preview tabs him as a second-team All-American — ahead of Michael Hart of Michigan and Ray Rice of Rutgers, two backs that are being mentioned in Heisman Trophy conversation.
“My family has called a lot and let me know about some of the things that are said about me,” said Torain, who is on the watch list for the Maxwell Award, given to the nation’s top player. “I know the honors that I’ve been getting are very prestigious, but I’m not the kind of person to spend hours on the Internet looking for that stuff.”
Torain’s menacing football-carrying demeanor belies the person off the field, a soft-spoken individual often reluctant to call attention to himself. With summer workouts approaching, he was challenged to come out of his shell.
Quarterback Rudy Carpenter implored Torain to become a more vocal leader, causing Torain to grin sheepishly, look at the ground and say that he was not sure if he could do it.
“I grabbed him,” Carpenter said. “I said, ‘Ryan, you’ve got to do this. Players respect you and look up to you,’ and he agreed. He’s taken that role since then, and we’ve gotten a lot of response. Very few players have missed (workouts) since then.”
Breaking out of his comfort zone has been a challenge, but Torain cited a success story from workouts involving a cocky incoming freshman.
Torain’s message: You have talent, kid, but nothing comes easy. He then proceeded to tick off a long list of issues that the player needed to address before contributing at the Division I level.
“It’s been kind of an awkward experience, and I’m still getting used to it,” Torain said. “I’m more of a doer who leads by example. I’m more likely to encourage a guy, not cuss him out. I’m trying to get used to that.
“I can’t worry about if I say something that makes a guy mad. If he needs to be put in his place, that will help him in the long run.”
First-year coach Dennis Erickson said that leadership through action, not words, will remain Torain’s biggest asset.
“He’s not quiet by any means,” Erickson said. “But if a guy shows the way by doing it on the field and being a good football player and enjoys the game, that’s good enough for me.”
Erickson likens Torain to two runners he coached previously: Pro Bowler Chris Warren (with the Seattle Seahawks) and All-Pac-10 choice Steven Jackson (at Oregon State).
Warren and Jackson were workhorses for their team, and Erickson promises that Torain will have similar responsibility.
“We are going to wear him out,” Erickson said. “We’ll hand the ball to him as many times as we can.”
Torain emerged from a crowded running back competition last season, taking the starting role for keeps with a 191-yard effort at California in the fourth game of the year.
The running backs that Torain beat out — Keegan Herring, Dimitri Nance and Shaun DeWitty — return this year, along with junior-college transfer Jarrell Woods. But their opportunities for first-string carries will likely have to wait until 2008.
Torain, after all, has a lot invested in this season. And a lot to look forward to afterward.
“From the moment I got here, I felt that the job was mine,” Torain said. “I wanted to be the man, and I wasn’t playing around. That was my dream and focus when I decided to come to ASU. …
“Everything has worked out perfectly. I couldn’t imagine things better.”