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Kalen Ballage, Demario Richard Make NFL Case

Running back pair among five Arizona State products at combine


Arizona State running backs Demario Richard (left) and Kalen Ballage are aiming to impress NFL teams at the combine.

INDIANAPOLIS – Splitting carries never bothered Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard at Arizona State. Neither does splitting a room at the NFL Scouting combine.

The Sun Devil running backs were placed together for their stay here in Indianapolis, and after four years of battling for playing time, it was fair to wonder if their relationship stood the test of time. A glow in Richard's eyes gave away the affinity he has for Ballage when the topic came up.

"That's been my guy since we came in," Richard said. "I love him to death. I'd do anything for him. He'll be in my wedding."

Before any matrimony, Ballage and Richard first hope to get wedded to NFL teams. Richard had the stronger statistical career with the Sun Devils, surpassing 1,000 yards rushing in two different seasons while averaging 4.9 yards per carry for his career. However, a 4.7-second 40-yard dash time may jeopardize whether he gets drafted.

Ballage has been one of the hot names in the draft process, as he stood out at the Senior Bowl and then ran an impressive 4.46 40-yard dash on Friday. At 6-foot-1 and 228 pounds combined with that speed, Ballage has an intriguing skill-set, and he's getting mid-round buzz. However, teams will wonder why he never topped 157 carries in any of his four seasons, and why he only averaged 4.4 yards per rush for his career.

"If I could carry the ball 80 times a game, I would," Ballage said. "That's just my mentality. At the end of the day, the coaches didn't feel like that was best. There's another great running back here from Arizona State as well. But we both ended up here."

Richard said it was much easier splitting the workload with a guy who was such a close friend. Additionally, he believes it is a benefit to them both now.

"It helped us out in the long run, because we're a lot fresher than running backs that didn't split carries with people," Richard said.

Ballage and Richard are two of five Arizona State players at the combine, joined by offensive tackle Sam Jones, linebacker Christian Sam and defensive end JoJo Wicker. It's a large increase from a season ago, when only kicker Zane Gonzalez was invited.

"I feel like there was a lot of talent on our team," Ballage said. "Unfortunately, we didn't win a lot of games the last couple of years. Maybe some people were overlooked. Hopefully with the combine process this year, they'll see that there is a lot of talent coming out of that establishment."

Cardinals coach Steve Wilks said it's a benefit to the professional franchise when the local colleges are consistently producing NFL-caliber talent.

"It is, because then they're right there in your backyard," Wilks said. "You can see them weekly, particularly on the news, sporting events, those types of things. But also, it's important, too, when you start talking about your local area workout, now being able to get those guys at your facility. Most importantly, the things you can't identify on tape are the mental and the heart. And then you can get them in there on the board and test their mental. I think that's an important thing as well."

Richard believes the 2017 showing was the outlier, and that the Sun Devils will have a steady stream of players matriculating to the combine moving forward.

"That five shows you that the culture is changing up there," he said. "I'm expecting another five more next year, or even more than that. They've got a very talented team coming up, a very disciplined team. And Herm (Edwards) is up there now. I'm excited to see what they do."

Images of Cardinals cheerleader Bree from the 2017 season

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