Alijah Gammage and others are shedding the “walk-on” tag

Arizona State defensive back Alijah Gammage proudly shows off the tattoo he got on the back of his neck a few years ago of the Phoenix skyline. The words underneath read “Blame the city. I’m a product of it.”

Gammage is indeed a proud native of the Valley. He is a product of Desert Vista High School. When it came time to choose a college, Gammage was all about the local university he grew up for and where his older brother Fred played from 2013-2016.

It didn’t matter that Alijah had to join the Sun Devils as an extra, that was where he wanted to play, with or without a scholarship.

After four years on the program, Gammage had that ‘walker’ status stripped and he was rewarded with a scholarship, official word of which fell last week from head coach Herm Edwards.

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Gammage stepped out onto the Kajikawa training ground the next day with a bit more pep in his step.

“Now he’s making plays like he’s a star because he’s all fired up,” Edwards enthused. “‘I’m on a scholarship now.’ And I get it, I mean I get it, being a scholarship holder for me is like being a free agent in the National Football League.

Gammage is one of six ASU players who began their college careers as extras. The group also includes senior fullback Case Hatch, junior quarterback Trenton Bourguet, senior wide receiver Giovanni Sanders, second-year running back George Hart III and second-year defensive lineman BJ Green.

The most notable of these is Hatch, a product of Perry High School who arrived in 2019 after a two-year LDS assignment in South Florida. Since he hadn’t played football in two years, Hatch was an unknown commodity but made a name for himself by earning All-Pac 12 first team honors for special teams his first year.

Gammage also bought time there and he just likes having the opportunity no matter where it comes.

“I love it,” he said after practice last week. “A lot of people come into the league that way, it’s another avenue. There are many roads to success and everything in life. It’s just another road to get there.”

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Arizona State defensive back Alijah Gammage (36) during practice at Kajikawa Football Training Grounds.

Edwards notes the joyous reaction of his teammates upon seeing one of their peers rewarded.

“It was a reaction, not just him but the team. How excited they were for him. And he couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity,” Edwards said of Gammage. “He’s been here a long time and he’s just worked his tail a little bit. The fun about it is when the team is so excited and jumping up and down.”

Sanders has had a good spring, gearing up for a bigger role this fall while Bourguet battles for the starting quarterback spot after serving as understudy for Jayden Daniels last season.

Green and Hart learned that they were going to benefit from a scholarship this summer. Green was perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the defensive side of the ball last season.

The 6-foot-1, 275-pound was forced to play as a true freshman when injuries and other defections wore down the defensive front. Green was used primarily in pass rush situations and recorded a team five sacks, including two in the Las Vegas Bowl loss to Wisconsin.

Green, a Georgia native, could have gone to a smaller school on a scholarship, but took a leap of faith with ASU due to his sponsor’s close association with position coach Robert Rodriguez.

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“When you put in the work and do things when people aren’t watching, it’s going to pay off,” Green said. “You know it’s going to happen sooner or later. For me, I was lucky that it happened earlier, so I feel like it’s something I took and told you know what, I put in the good work and it showed. Now I put in more work so I’m showing even more.”

Hart had offers from a few FCS programs and the Louisiana native had an offer to come to LSU’s hometown as his favorite walk-on, but then he got the same offer from ASU and enjoyed the conversations that he had with running backs coach Shaun Aguano. So it was Tempe.

It hasn’t been easy getting playing time in the backfield with ASU loaded at that position for the past few years, but Hart is now being rewarded for his efforts.

“For anyone who’s been put on, trying to get put on, never let that title define you,” Hart said. “If you come with the mindset that you’re going to work and you know you can do it, the sky’s the limit. I’m happy for Alijhah and all the other guys in the country who got a scholarship. C It’s a good thing for him and for everyone else.”

Gammage says the thought of transferring to a smaller school where he could have gotten a scholarship or significant playing time sooner never seriously crossed his mind.

“I was born and raised here. I always wanted to be a sun devil,” he said. “I’ve had the same mindset since I was a freshman here, I feel like (the scholarship) is the icing on the cake, just for all the hard work.”

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Tips

  • Defensive ends Michael Matus and Gharin Stansbury, quarterback Trent Bourguet and defensive back Timarcus Davis did not participate in practice.
  • ASU will take a one-day trip to Camp Tontozona on Saturday for team building purposes. The Sun Devils did it last season as well. Last week trip there was in 2019 before COVID.
  • Junior defensive tackle Brandon McElroy, a recent junior college signing, participated for the first time. He was waiting for compliance clearance.
  • Ed Woods had the only interception of the day on a ball thrown by Paul Tyson.
  • Scouts were present among the Raiders, Buccaneers, Jaguars and Broncos.

Contact the reporter at [email protected] or 602 444-4783. Follow her on Twitter @MGardnerSports.

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