- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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There is a simple answer to the question, why?
The answer? For a pair of shoes.
But the answer doesn't make sense. There's no logic to someone being gunned down for a pair of sneakers. And for Arizona State running back Marion Grice, the answer simply isn't good enough. If he could confront the three men arrested and charged with his brother's murder, that's the question he would ask.
"Why did it have to come down to the fact you had to shoot a gun," said Grice, speaking for the first time about his brother's murder. "I don't understand. What was the reason? What did they get out of it? I just don't understand any of it. I want to know why."
Grice became a national name days before the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl for all the wrong reasons. Already in the midst of a dynamic first season with the Sun Devils -- where he earned all-league honorable mention -- Grice's world was fractured on the morning of Dec. 21 when he received a phone call from his sister, Melanashia. It was right before he was heading into an offensive meeting.
Their brother, Joshua Wood, had sustained a gunshot wound during a robbery attempt. The suspects wanted the Nike Air Jordans Wood had just purchased for $185. According to reports, Wood was in the passenger seat of a car when three men approached them. Wood was shot and the driver ran. But Wood managed to get behind the wheel and get away before crashing into the side of a house in the Houston suburb.
Melanashia was at the scene, but police and paramedics couldn't move in because they feared the car had severed a gas line. All Grice could do was listen as his sister described the grievous events of that morning.
"She told me he wasn't moving," Grice recalled. "I was talking to her and she was crying. I was trying to calm her down. It was effecting me too. But I had to be strong for her."
Wood was transported to the hospital where he died, and Grice told head coach Todd Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell he had to leave. For how long, he wasn't sure.
"It was a tough meeting," Norvell recalled. "It was an extremely tough time for Marion -- like it would be for anyone who has been through that kind of tragedy. Anytime you go through something like that, you have to latch on to those relationships and realize how special people really are. We stayed in constant contact the entire time he was gone."
Grice opted to return and play in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. It was an emotionally charged decision, though not a difficult one. After spending a week with his family, he joined his teammates already in San Francisco.
"I've never missed a game," Grice said. "I really believe my brother wouldn't want me to miss any games. I was playing for him and my dad (who died when Grice was a sophomore in high school). Both of them were on my mind."
Grice went on to win Offensive MVP of the bowl game, rushing 14 times for 159 yards and two touchdowns in ASU's 62-28 win over Navy. It was as heart-warming/wrenching a scene as Norvell had ever been around.
"It was a really special day to see him go out there and play and be there on the sideline when he had that first touchdown," Norvell recalled. "To be able to hug him and see his face and know his team was behind him and honor his brother. It was special. Nobody should ever have to endure what Marion has gone through, but I know he has a great sense for how much he's cared for by this football family."
One year in the books and Grice has transformed from touted JC transfer to elite Pac-12 playmaker. Despite splitting time with Cameron Marshall and D.J. Foster, he had more touchdowns per touch (7.5) than De'Anthony Thomas (8.5), Marqise Lee (9.3), Kenjon Barner (12.9) and Ka'Deem Carey (14.1). He rushed for 679 yards and 11 touchdowns and also caught 41 balls for 425 yards and eight touchdowns.
In Arizona State's running back-friendly scheme, Grice has flourished. Norvell uses him in screens, split out in the slot and as a straight-ahead runner. With Marshall graduating, there will be more opportunities for Grice to shine.
"He's a complete back," Norvell said. "And in my opinion, I think he's the most dynamic back in the country."
Looking ahead to 2013, Grice is determined not to let the tragedy of last December define him as a person or player. Though he admits he might never truly move on. He stays home a lot more than he used to. He calls his mother, Melonice, daily. He's got some guys on the team he can pull aside and get deep with when he has to, but he's more guarded than he used to be.
"I don't take life for granted," Grice said.
The Sun Devils are poised in 2013 to make a big move in the Pac-12 South and challenge for a spot in the Rose Bowl. Grice is a big reason for that. He's quiet by nature. But he knows that when he does speak, he commands the respect of his teammates.
He's also bulked up in his first true off-season with the Sun Devils after joining the team mid-summer last year. Many have already penciled him in as an all-conference performer and his name has even been dropped a couple of times as a Heisman darkhorse.
"I want to do what I can to lead my team to a championship," Grice said. "I'm stepping up and being a leader. Nothing in this life is given to you. You have to work for it and not take anything for granted because it can all be taken away quickly."
2hDavid M. Hale