TEMPE - Coming into the season, Arizona State junior tight end Chris Coyle had a lot of questions but few answers.
He wondered if ASU's new coaching staff would see his potential as a receiver and utilize him more in the passing game, after he had just six receptions combined in his first two seasons.
He wondered if a shoulder injury, which required surgery shortly after the new coaches arrived, would hamper his development and leave him buried on the depth chart.
He wondered if he should transfer.
But after sticking it out and rehabilitating his shoulder, Coyle has turned into the Sun Devils' most reliable receiver and has put all doubts behind him.
"He was kind of disenchanted with how things were going for him," tight ends coach Chip Long said Friday.
"But when we came in, it was like a new era for him. From that moment on, he worked just about as hard as anybody on this team out here.
"He's reaping the benefits of all that hard work, in a position that's really featured in this offense, and he's done a great, great job."
Coyle leads the team with 53 catches for 659 yards, and with the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 29 against Navy remaining, he needs four receptions to break the program's single-season record for tight ends.
Perhaps more important, Coyle has established a blueprint for the Sun Devils' unique H-back position, which moves him all over the field depending on matchups.
Long, who is also the team's recruiting coordinator, said word is starting to spread among young tight ends looking to make an impact in college and beyond.
"Every tight end wants to come in and get their hands on the ball," he said. "The good thing about this position is that it features everything a tight end is asked to do at the next level in the NFL.
"If you're a tight end out there who's explosive and likes making plays, this is the place for you. And it's kind of getting out there."
Freshman linebacker Carlos Mendoza has practiced with the team recently, three months after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury against Illinois.
Mendoza, who is using a medical redshirt, has not been cleared for contact.
He had been starting to impress on defense, recording two interceptions in the game against Illinois before the injury, and coach Todd Graham said the team is expecting great things out of him starting next season.
"Smart, sharp, great character … he's obviously got a lot of promise and a bright future here, no doubt," Graham said. "He had a great start to the season, and then it was cut short by the injury, but he's going to be a heck of a player for us."
With the long layoff between the end of the regular season and ASU's bowl game, Graham said the team is treating the matchup against Navy as an all-or-nothing, one-game season.
"It's a championship game, the way we approach it," he said. "Our one mission is to go win this game. That's what a positive bowl experience is.
"Without that, there is no positive bowl experience."
• What: Fight Hunger Bowl, Arizona State vs. Navy
• Where: San Francisco
• When: 2 p.m. next Saturday
• TV: ESPN2