- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Despite the high ankle sprain ... despite the bone spurs in his ankle ... despite the fact that he was a running back playing in a pass-first spread system, Arizona State's Cameron Marshall was still one of the top statistical running backs in the Pac-12 last season.
With all those things working against him, Marshall still pounded out 1,050 yards on the ground and matched Oregon's LaMichael James for most rushing touchdowns with 18.
Consider all of the above factors and then let it sink in. You might start to realize that the 5-foot-11, 223-pound back is a special player.
The sprain has healed. The bone spurs have been surgically repaired. Arizona State's new offense is run-first. And Marshall is poised to establish himself as one of the conference's elite backs.
"I think I needed to go through that last year," said Marshall, a senior from Valley Christian High School in San Jose, Calif. "It hurt when I walked. It hurt when I would just be standing. But I think in the end it was good for me to go through. I learned a lot about myself. I learned I can play through the pain."
Marshall missed much of the spring session rehabbing his ankle, but says he's "almost" 100 percent and should be completely ready for fall camp. Not surprising, he's excited to be playing in a Todd Graham scheme, which led the nation in total offense in 2007 and 2008 and was fifth in 2010.
"As a running back, that's the kind of offense you want to be in," Marshall said. "It's a lot of downhill running. I can keep my shoulders squared. I think that plays very well to my skill set because I'm much more of a downhill runner than I am lateral runner."
Marshall knows he's not the first runner people think of when they look at the Pac-12's backs. And if it bothers him, he doesn't admit it. But his combination of speed and power has him slotted anywhere between a third-and-fifth round draft pick next year. And that's without pundits having seen what he can do in an offense that caters to his strengths.
First and foremost, he's looking to help ASU bounce back from the disappointing five-game skid that ended 2011. The Sun Devils -- after jumping out to a 6-2 start -- dropped their final four regular season games by an average of 6 points before closing out the year with a 56-24 thumping by Boise State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas.
"It's in the past, but it still grinds on us," Marshall said. "It was a year where we should have done better. There was a lot of hype around us early in the season when we were successful. This year I anticipate us being able to finish out the season instead of losing a bunch of close games.
"We're tired of being the team that has the potential but can't put it together."
And if the Sun Devils do put it together in Graham's first year, a big reason is going to be because of Marshall's legs. But he's not alone in the backfield. Arizona State has one of the deepest crops -- if not the deepest -- of running backs in the conference. Kyle Middlebrooks, James Morrison and Deantre Lewis will all see carries. And then there is Arizona prep sensation D.J. Foster, who might make an impact as a true freshman. Marshall feels the heat. And he likes it.
"As a competitor, you love that competition," he said. "They keep me on my toes and make me prove that I deserve that top spot. If I don't, then there are a lot of guys who could take the job. I have to practice harder than everybody else and be in the film room longer than everybody. And it's a realistic point of view of how it's going to be at the next level."
By the time Marshall leaves ASU, he might be the school's most celebrated running back. With 29 career touchdowns, he's just 10 shy of matching the school's career record.