The signature moment for Arizona State redshirt senior quarterback Mike Bercovici is well known among Sun Devils fans.
In one of four games he played in relief of the injured Taylor Kelly last season, Bercovici’s game-winning Hail Mary pass to Jaelen Strong punctuated a performance at the Los Angeles Coliseum against USC that included five touchdown passes, zero interceptions and over 500 yards passing.
It was a moment when the California native was probably grateful to himself for sticking with the Sun Devils.
A little over one year ago there were rumors that Bercovici might decide to transfer from Arizona State in search of a place where he could be a starter. Now, after deciding to stay with the Sun Devils, he’s preparing for the biggest season opener in recent memory for ASU as the team’s No. 1 quarterback.
“I always say that’s a great teaching moment because everybody would have said, you know what, hey, that guy graduated. He can go somewhere else. But he would have missed out on a pretty special evening over at the Coliseum there in his hometown,” head coach Todd Graham said.
Preparing for a game as a backup, as Bercovici has done for season openers his whole career, is not the same as preparing as the starter. There may not be much of a change in Bercovici’s mind this week. As his coach has put it, he has worked every day of his Sun Devil career like this is his team.
“Not much has been different,” Bercovici said. “I think that obviously the team believes in this team. I think that’s what unique about this group.”
The work heading into the first weekend of college football is different this year from any other year under Graham. His team isn’t playing against NAU, Sacramento State or Weber State, the three FCS teams that ASU faced in Graham’s first three years in Tempe. Their first opponent this year, Texas A&M, is a team in a major conference with some of the most talented players in the country.
There have been no signs that Bercovici has been affected in any way by the extra pressure put on him this season; in fact, quite the opposite appears to be true. Graham credits his quarterback’s mental maturity and toughness for his ability to handle the high-pressure situation.
“I think the strength of Mike Bercovici is not his physical talent, it’s the intangibles,” Graham said on Monday. “It’s his character, it’s his ability to handle adversity, it’s how hard he studies the game and how smart he is. He walks the walk.”
In Graham’s first year as ASU’s head coach, he named Taylor Kelly the starter, over both Michael Eubank and Mike Bercovici. Graham said this week that the the race between Kelly
and Bercovici was neck and neck and the decision was originally just for the first game. Kelly simply never gave Bercovici any chance to win the job from him.
“You wouldn’t believe this guy. This guy would prepare every week like this was his team,” Graham said. “And that’s what we’re telling the guys now, that you have to prepare like this is your team.”
That kind of mindset and work ethic means that this week against Texas A&M really is no different to Bercovici than any other season opener since he has been a Sun Devil, except this really is his team now.
The team has put an emphasis on being 1-0 in everything they do this week, from the pregame preparation to the coin toss. Putting that kind of pressure on themselves could be daunting, but Bercovici thrives on it.
“It’s not a must win, it’s just another Saturday,” Bercovici said. “It’s another Saturday being in a Sun Devil uniform.”
This offseason has been an important one for the growth and maturity of Bercovici. Senior wide receiver D.J. Foster, another key leader in the Sun Devil locker room, sees the confidence in his quarterback and the positive effect that has on the whole team.
“He’s always been a leader since he stepped on this campus but now he’s feeling comfortable with his role,” Foster said. “It’s really unbelievable. I’m so proud of him.”
It has been a long and winding road for Bercovici that has led to Houston this weekend, with him as the starter for ASU against the Aggies. The redshirt senior has handled the ups and downs of his Sun Devils career remarkably well and now he finally has the chance to show what he can do for a full season.
“All the things that Taylor (Kelly) did, he’s at that level and expanded on that level,” Graham said. “I think Taylor’s the best I’ve ever coached and I think that Mike’s got a chance to be better.”
This article is courtesy of Cronkite News (Arizona State University).