By Jourdan Rodrigue, SDA Digital Communications Intern
As the 2013 Sun Devil Football season came to a close in San Diego on Dec. 30, the focus shifted from recognizing the accomplishments of the team’s 26 seniors to looking toward year three under head coach Todd Graham.
A program is only as strong as the depth of its players, and thus Sun Devil Football fans can rest easy in the offseason knowing that athletes such as redshirt freshman linebacker Salamo Fiso and junior tight end De’Marieya Nelson will be ready to step into the spotlight.
Fiso, a native of popular ASU recruiting state California, saw his first start against USC during ASU’s 62-41 trouncing of the Trojans. He had previously shown his potential by coming into the last minutes of the Stanford game with fiery intensity, as he accumulated four tackles—three of which occurred on a single drive.
And after USC, Fiso became a regular at the top of the depth chart. He went from averaging 2.50 tackles per game in August/September to 6.1 over the final 10 games of the season, including a career-high nine in the Holiday Bowl and six in a road upset over No. 17 UCLA.
This growth netted him Freshman All-America honors from College Football News as he finished the season third on the team in tackles with 71, including 48 solo, 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.
“I feel like I’ve improved a lot, though I know there’s more to do,” said Fiso. “I’ve come a long way since redshirting though.”
He says his physicality during the game has gotten better, as well as his strength and speed from time spent in the weight room and “giving it my all when I run.” He also says he’s ready to step into a leadership role next season.
“I’m not very vocal, but I really want to lead by example the way I’ve seen others do on this team,” he said.
And the moment Sun Devil fans knew Fiso would be a defensive threat and fan favorite for the next few years came during his impressive, seven-tackle performance in ASU’s 58-21 victory over Arizona.
“Stopping (Arizona’s All-America running back) Ka’Deem Carey on fourth-and-one…that’s been my favorite play so far,” he said with a grin.
Nelson, a junior and another California native, powered into notoriety during the final few games of ASU’s season and earned All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention recognition in the process.
He had an especially strong showing in the Territorial Cup game after he was rotated into the H-back role, and consequently ran over and through the bewildered Wildcat defense with a powerful rushing attack. He accumulated 35 yards on eight carries, two of which were touchdowns, and also forced a fumble and recovery that led to another ASU touchdown.
“I love running the ball,” Nelson said. “It’s a great feeling to get a couple carries.”
A wildcat-style quarterback in junior college, the 6-foot-3 tight end proved he could step into a variety of roles on the team through his special teams and offensive progress. Yet another role is quickly approaching Nelson, and it’s one he firmly welcomes: that of a leader.
“The coaches ask me to step up in certain aspects, and if that’s what the team needs, I do,” he said. “I’m a team guy.”