College football: Pac-12 boasts multiple unsung heroes
EUGENE, Ore. — Every team has one of them: A player who hasn't gotten much attention from outside the program but has made a significant impact on his teammates.
It might be a scout-team regular, or even a walk-on. It might be someone who just grinded it out every day and never complained.
At Oregon, that guy is senior running back Jarret LaCoste.
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Ask his teammates and they'll all say he's a beast in the weight room, helping younger players to keep up their offseason lifting regimens.
LaCoste, who played this season against Washington and gained 55 yards on 10 carries, has already graduated, and he's about to embark on a job with a Portland accounting firm. He was never on scholarship during his career with the Ducks — but he jokes he's gotten some stylish Nike team gear.
"Honestly, I never would have dreamed I was going to play Division I football, ever," he said. "So my expectations just from the start were low, I was like, 'Wow, I'm just so honored to be on this team, I can't believe they let me on. This is awesome.' But then I thought, 'I feel very privileged and honored to be on this team, so I better give them everything I can and never let anyone down.'"
Arizona tight end Josh Kern was originally recruited by then-coach Mike Stoops as a quarterback but switched positions after a redshirt year. He's had only had a dozen touches.
But Kern has been the heart of the Wildcats. He gave the eulogy for senior outside linebacker Zach Hemmila, who died in his sleep in August. Kern also spoke at the funeral of fan Andrew Valdez, a local teen who lost his battle with cystic fibrosis last year.
"I've never had to worry about him doing the right thing," coach Rich Rodriguez said. "He's a leader in the community. He's our top service guy. I don't know if you can be a better role model for all of our players than Josh Kern."
His teammates echoed the sentiment.
"People don't see the stuff that goes on inside of here, but like when we come home from a game and get off the bus, Josh is like, 'Hey, you need you ride? Samajie, you want a ride?'" running back Samajie Grant said. "Josh, even though he hasn't been playing like he wants to, is still bringing it every single day."
At Colorado, quarterback Sefo Liufau pointed to junior cornerback Andrew Bergner, who joined the Buffaloes last season as a walk-on and provides the offense with a challenge during practice.
"Sometimes you can't always get the best looks from your scout team, sometimes you don't have the depth," Liufau said. "Sometimes you don't have the players to go out there and give us a half-decent look. He's done a really good job this year of going out there and playing ball."
Some unsung heroes are players who paid their dues for years and were finally rewarded with a shot. At UCLA that guy is quarterback Mike Fafaul, a former walk-on who became a starter with Josh Rosen sidelined by a shoulder injury.
A fifth-year senior, Fafaul was a scout team regular while the starting job was held by Brett Hundley and later Rosen. Last season he appeared in just one game.
He learned he'd make his first career start during warmups before the Bruins' game at Washignton State on Oct. 15. In a 52-45 loss to Utah back the following week, Fafaul set school records for completions and pass attempts (40-for-70) while amassing 464 yards passing with five touchdowns.
He got his first career win — and the game ball — last week when the Bruins defeated Oregon State 38-24.
"He's everything that you want in a quarterback in terms of studying the game and it being serious to him," coach Jim Mora said.
Sometimes an unsung hero can be a senior who has just worked unselfishly throughout his career. At Oregon State that's safety Devin Chappell, who has had to shift positions because of injuries that have struck the Beavers' defense.
Chappell,a walk-on transfer from nearby Western Oregon, started eight games last season, and this spring his teammates named him one of the captains.
"Devin is one of those guys. He's a self-made guy," coach Gary Andersen said. "He walked on, got a scholarship — which was so important to him. He's a good player in this league and he's proven. He's a team captain and a great leader. He would definitely be labeled a grinder."
Stanford guard Johnny Caspers, a fifth-year senior, is much like that, too, Cardinal Coach David Shaw said.
"Even before the coaches get to everybody, there are guys like Johnny Caspers setting the table saying, 'Here's what we're going to do.' So there's a connection between the coaches and the leaders of the football team," Shaw said. "When things are going well, Johnny is one of those guys who say 'Hey, hey, hey, hey, we haven't won a Super Bowl yet. We got a game this week, let's get back down to things that we're supposed to do.'"
This article was written by Anne M. Peterson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.