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Sun Devil football fans woke up to some disheartening news Thursday morning. ASU senior wide receiver Ricky Pearsall and sophomore linebacker Eric Gentry entered the transfer portal, a source confirmed to PHNX Sports.
Pearsall was ASU’s top pass catcher a season ago, while Gentry was a consensus freshman All-American. The transfers are pivotal blows to an already lackluster Sun Devils roster. The departures also came after spring ball, leaving the program in a much worse state than if they had come sooner.
Sports tend to rely on a next-man-up mentality. Coach Herm Edwards’ team will have to adopt that mantra. There are a handful of guys who will need to take their game to the next level to replace the production lost with the Pearsall and Gentry departures.
LB Kyle Soelle
Soelle was the man in spring camp. Seemingly every defender the media spoke to over the course of a few weeks dubbed the redshirt, fifth-year linebacker the heart and soul of the Sun Devils defense.
Coincidentally, Soelle played more than just a vocal role last season. He led ASU in total tackles (82).
“I call him Captain America,” Gentry said on the PHNX Sun Devils show. “Just cause how he is. Kyle is amazing. He’s a leader, whatever you ask of him he doesn’t pout or just show a bad example of it as a leader. An open-minded person, I mean I love Kyle, I could go endless about 3-4.”
Edwards and his staff will need their Captain America to put the rest of the defense on his back this season. The ASU defense was already in need of upgraded play across the board with several pieces of last year’s secondary entering the NFL Draft. Now it’s imperative that Soelle stay consistent on the field and in the locker room.
At this point, the Sun Devils can’t afford to lose any more players on either side of the ball. Otherwise, they’re in real danger of being one of the worst teams in the Pac-12. It will be up to Soelle and fifth-year linebacker Merlin Robertson to keep the defense together through these next few weeks and months.
DB Jordan Clark
ASU’s defense is losing some serious star power with Gentry hitting the transfer market. That’s true without even mentioning the unproven secondary. Now is the time for redshirt junior defensive back Jordan Clark to find his stride.
Clark tallied 21 total tackles and an interception a season ago, but the need for Clark to boost his play doesn’t stem from the loss of Gentry. It stems from his game-changing ability.
The Sun Devils need a true star on both sides of the ball, and right now there’s no clear-cut guy who’s destined for that role. Clark made some impressive plays during ASU’s spring practices, but he still looked like he was a ways away from really becoming a force to reckon with in the secondary.
Give ASU’s recent losses, he’ll need to speed up that timetable.
“As far as stepping up, guys filling holes, filling spots that were held by some pretty good players last year, hasn’t really been any specific conversation about it,” Clark said a couple of weeks ago after spring practice. “It’s just next man up. Let’s go.”
RB Xazavian Valladay
Even before Pearsall entered the transfer portal, there were some serious questions about his ability. The ASU offense was going to miss running back Rachaad White, who declared for the draft.
Graduate transfer running back Xazavian Valladay is sure to benefit from Pearsall’s absence. The two don’t play the same position, but there will be more touches to go around.
Valladay rushed for 1,070 yards and six TDs at Wyoming last season. It was the second time he’s done so during his collegiate career. He also caught 23 passes for 233 yards.
If the media saw anything from spring practices this season, it was just how dynamic Valladay was. He possesses a unique burst for a tailback of his size.
Valladay will likely see more time as the season progresses, but with the Sun Devils offense in need of a star, he may have transferred to Tempe at the perfect time.
WR Elijhah Badger
As a freshman last season, Badger had just seven catches for 61 yards. There’s a real chance that Badger will enter the 2022 season as the Sun Devils’ No. 1 wideout.
Badger ran with the first-team offense throughout the spring, and now the Pearsall transfer leaves the door wide open for Badger to etch his name as the go-to guy.
The redshirt sophomore made some spectacular plays during ASU’s spring showcase a couple weeks ago. While the quarterback competition still needs to sort itself out before the opening kickoff, Badger will be the lead guy for either gunslinger.
At just over 6-feet tall, he’s not the biggest wide receiver, but he put on full display his catching ability throughout the spring. It may be sooner than anyone anticipated, but Badger has the potential to carve out a killer season for the Sun Devils’ offense in 2022.
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