- Associated Press - Thursday, September 11, 2014

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) - D.J. Foster had offers from some of the biggest programs in the country, more than 20 in all.

When it came time to make a decision, he chose Arizona State so he could stay close to home.

After his sister died of an accidental overdose a few years earlier, he just wasn’t ready to be on his own.

“My family’s been through a lot and I really wasn’t ready to leave them,” Foster said. “I wanted to be there for them, have them be able to come to my games whenever they want, just be able to have them share this experience with me.”

Foster’s decision couldn’t have worked out much better for him or the 16th-ranked Sun Devils.

Versatile and hard-running, he’s one of the nation’s most explosive running backs, a threat to score every time he touches the ball.

Charismatic, hard-working and humble, he’s become a fan favorite for Sun Devils fans, the hometown star who didn’t leave to play somewhere else.

“He’s a rock star,” Arizona State coach Todd Graham said recently.

A top recruit out of Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, Foster was the centerpiece of Graham’s first recruiting class in 2012.

The Sun Devils had Cameron Marshall in place as their featured back and Marion Grice behind him, but Foster was so talented the coaches had to find ways to get him on the field.

So instead of just setting up behind the quarterback as he always had, Foster found himself lining up all over the field, mostly catching passes, not taking handoffs.

It wasn’t an easy adjustment, but Foster thrived in his multidimensional role through his athleticism and his work ethic in practice and the film room.

“It was definitely a struggle and it took me a while to get the offense down,” Foster said. “I still can’t say I’ve mastered it. I still have to work on it every day. Knowing both receiver positions and running back, knowing different protections is definitely a lot, but the coaches helped prepare me enough so I can rise to the occasion.”

He’s certainly done it since becoming Arizona State’s featured back.

Foster got a head start on being the go-to guy last season, taking over the starting job after Marion Grice went down with a leg injury.

He ran for 124 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a win over rival Arizona, then accounted for 142 total yards and two touchdowns in the Pac-12 Championship game against Stanford. Foster closed out the season by running for a career-high 132 yards and a score against Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl.

Foster finished with 1,170 combined yards and led the nation for yards receiving by a running back with 653.

The confidence he gained from that taste of the spotlight has carried over at the start of his junior season.

Foster opened the season by running for 147 yards and three touchdowns in a little over a half in a blowout of Weber State. He topped that last week by rushing for a career-high 216 yards, most by an Arizona State running back since Delvon Flowers rushed for 226 yards against Oregon State in 2001.

Foster enters Saturday’s game at Colorado third nationally with 363 yards rushing and tied for fifth with four touchdowns.

“We feel that D.J. is one of the most explosive players in the country and because he can do so many different things, it’s hard for a team to take him away,” Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said. “We can create so many different matchups to get the ball in his hands, it really helps us and gives him opportunities to have an impact.”

Foster has made such a big mark, in part, because of his sister.

Foster was 15 when Jennifer accidentally overdosed two weeks before his first varsity game at Saguaro. The siblings were close, often staying up well past midnight to talk about life, sports, whatever.

Sports were a huge part of D.J.’s life when he was growing up and Jennifer often told him there was more to life than playing games - words that have stuck with him since her death.

“Family is such a big deal to me and that’s why it was so hard for me to leave,” Foster said. “That (her death) really made me take a step back and look at life, let me realize what’s important in life, little things that people take for granted. I get to come out here every day and go to work with my brothers and I love every second of it.”

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