Head Coach Bruce Snyder|
(File photo by Scott Troyanos)
From his office, head coach Bruce Snyder dreamed about the possibility of the Sun Devil football program being ranked among the elite programs in the country. He gazed out the window, into Sun Devil Stadium, and envisioned sellout crowds. His eyes gleamed while describing the increased level of commitment that ASU football has received from its caretakers. Then, abruptly, Snyder muttered, "We have to forget about last year."
Onward, then, down the path of a Pac-10 title defense which will be ASU's first in 10 years and Snyder's first ever as a Pac-10 coach. However, now that the 1987 season seems practically revisited, a title-defense is clearly the objective this season. In 1987, ASU defended the Pac-10 title for the first time in school history and relinquished its reign to USC. That year, ASU finished 7-4-1 and defeated Air Force in the Freedom Bowl. That was ASU's last postseason appearance until last year's unimaginable performance that came within one minute of an undefeated season and a national title.
"I think consistency is a proven mark of success and we haven't proven that, yet," Snyder said. "We've just proven that we can win the Pac-10 Championship once every 10 years. But I also think that we are closer than we've been in recent history to being a consistent winner and, in November, still being in the Rose Bowl race and being a factor."
ASU enters the 1997 season with an opportunity to maintain its claim as one of the top 30 programs in the country. Snyder believes that the program has now matured to the point where it can make its move.
"I'm really encouraged by the momentum that we've begun and now it's time to finish the deal," he said.
For this year "Finish the deal" might be a suitable replacement for Snyder's motto, "One At A Time." However, Snyder has always used wisdom and patience since heading the program and his trademarked (literally) formula has worked well. Plus, there's no need for Snyder to rush things because he has signed with ASU through millenium-and-one. Ironically, ASU's previous Rose Bowl-winning coach, John Cooper, bolted to Ohio State prior to the '88 season and reappeared only to defeat the Sun Devils in last year's Rose Bowl. This time around, the commitment to Sun Devil football is the strongest it has ever been since Snyder's arrival.
"We're really a much different program today than we were five years ago," Snyder said. "So many things have changed and a lot of positions have changed. We have new leadership in the department. It also appears to me that we have a lot of people getting on board, conceptually and philosophically, to help us get where we want to be."
What the Sun Devils want is another Pac-10 title. Thirty-six lettermen return from last year's team. Each player remembers the feeling of the Rose Bowl turf beneath their feet on New Year's Day, and that is where they would like to be standing come January.
"I'm going to keep the underdog mentality, because I think that what's going to come out is that we're not going to be ranked No. 1 in the conference," Snyder said. "So I'm going to grab on to that and say, 'Look! They don't believe you can do it.' And then, take on the challenge."
One At A Time, to be sure.
Regardless of some gaping holes that need to be filled due to some major departures (Plummer and Co.), ASU's offensive package is still an arsenal that should be fast, strong, and capable of scoring lots of points.
The only marks of skepticism on offense is inexperience at three positions: quarterback, tight end, and right tackle. With Camp Tontozona remaining, these positions should be more stable by the beginning of the season.
Highlighting this year's offense will be a starting backfield that is one of the most physically intimidating in the country. Tailback Michael Martin (cleared medically from a neck injury) and flyback Jeff Paulk are both strong enough to carry the offense on their broad shoulders.
Clearing the lanes for the running game and protecting the quarterback is an offensive line that will be effective at containing defenses. Anchored by Kyle Murphy, whom offensive coordinator Dan Cozzetto refers to as "the best left guard in the Pac-10, if not the country", the front-five can be as strong as it was a year ago.
The passing game will receive a lot of attention at the quarterback and tight end positions, however the wideouts will be very proficient. Wide receiver Lenzie Jackson will replace Keith Poole as the target man in the passing attack.
Last season, ASU's offense was the most productive in the Pac-10 and third-most productive in school history. Although those are tough standards for this year's offense to be measured against, Snyder is focused on keeping a balanced attack to maintain a high level of productivity.
Quarterback Steve Campbell|
(File photo by Scott Troyanos)
Make no bones about it. Finding a quarterback that is the most capable of filling the magical shoes of Jake Plummer is the top priority for the offense during the spring and preseason. For 40 consecutive games, Plummer had been the starter which means that neither quarterback from this year's list of potential starters has much experience. Therefore, this position is left for whomever player can make the quickest and most meaningful impression on the coaches.
Although there isn't a clear frontrunner, Steve Campbell has the most experience, serving as Plummer's backup for the past two seasons.
The 6'8" junior, the tallest signal caller in Sun Devil history, has progressed a great deal as Plummer's understudy. Campbell's mobility was a major concern when he joined the program three years ago, but has since been improved. Coaches like the fact that he can see over the line and he also possesses a strong arm. A high school all-America from Corona, Calif., who led Norco High School to back-to-back undefeated seasons, Campbell has improved his knowledge of the system as well as his fundamentals.
"I remember as a freshman Steve was so raw," says Snyder. "He had the talent and the skills, but they needed polish. Around week No. 5 of his first season you could see the fundamentals getting better and better. By the end of last year he was running the offense and we are very impressed with his progress. He has an absolute gun for an arm."
Last season, Campbell threw 17 passes, completing eight for a total of 76 yards. In 1995, Campbell threw only seven times, completing three for 37 yards. Although these numbers are not gaudy, they make him the most experienced candidate for the starting role.
"Steve will go in being the first guy on the depth chart and he will take the first snap, because that is where he finished in the spring," Cozzetto said.
The other candidates are redshirt freshman Ryan Kealy of St. Mary's High School in Phoenix and sophomores Chad Brown and Gus Farwell. Freshman recruit Chad Elliott arrives this fall with sparkling credentials.
Kealy enters spring drills healthy, after rehabilitating a knee that was surgically repaired last fall, causing him to miss most of the season. The injury was from a collision in last summer's Arizona High School All-Star game.
Kealy, a Parade Magazine all-America in 1995 who was rated as the 19th-best prospect in the nation by SuperPrep, had an amazing career at St. Mary's, passing for 6,351 yards while completing 64-percent of his passes. He also threw for a state-record 83 touchdowns, including 41 in his senior season. He threw just three interceptions. If his high school performance is at all indicative of his college career, then Kealy can definitely be a special player.
Brown, of Monterey, Calif., has very impressive mobility. He has been clocked at 4.6 seconds in the forty and primarily ran the option in high school. Since joining the program, Brown has been learning the fundamentals of being a prototype quarterback while practicing his drops, working on his footwork and perfecting his throwing motion.
Farwell, a walk-on two seasons ago, has impressed the coaches with his athletic ability and poise. He is still learning the system and will have every opportunity to win the position. His brother Joe, was a starting linebacker at Oregon from 1989 to 1992.
Elliott was selected by USA Today as an honorable mention all-America in California this spring. During his senior season at Grant High School, the Sacramento product threw for 3,150 yards, 47 touchdowns, with only three interceptions and completed 69-percent of his passes. He finished runner-up as California Player-of-the-Year and was named first-team all-California by Student Sports Magazine .
Tailback J.R. Redmond|
(File photo by Scott Troyanos)
ASU's running game has the potential to be just as effective, if not more effective, as it was last year. Last year, ASU generated almost 3,000 yards on the ground and averaged 5.0 yards per carry. This year, ASU certainly has enough depth and talent in the backfield to challenge that figure, even with the departure of senior-to-be Terry Battle to the NFL's Detroit Lions.
Michael Martin's return to the position this year is a welcome addition for the squad. His rare combination of size, strength, and speed make him one of the top runners in the Pac-10.
In the sixth week of last season, Martin suffered a neck injury against UCLA after making a tackle on an interception and was sidelined for the remainder of the year. He was cleared to participate in spring drills, but ended up having surgery and has spent the summer rehabilitating. Martin also underwent knee surgery during the 1994 campaign.
Prior to the injury, Martin was off to a phenomenal start. He had gained 475 yards running and 108 receiving in five outings. He was voted Pac-10 Player of the Week in the first game of the season in ASU's 45-42 overtime victory against Washington. In that game, Martin gained 166 all-purpose yards and scored two touchdowns; one receiving and one rushing. In the season's fourth game, Martin rushed for a career-high 161 yards against Oregon. His previous best was a 98-yard performance versus Stanford during the 1995 season.
This year, the Sun Devils have big plans for Martin and hope he can start where he left off last season.
"The first observation that has to be made is what he can do," Cozzetto said. "He has been injured and there is some concern as to how he's going to hold up."
Sophomore tailback J.R. Redmond and senior Michael Martin provide ASU with one of the finest one-two punches at tailback in the league.
Versatility is a key word in describing Redmond. Not only can the Carson, Calif., product return kicks as well as receive handoffs, but his athletic ability allows him to play most any offensive skill position. He tried his skill at quarterback, connecting with Plummer for a 16-yard touchdown against UCLA in what is now known in ASU legend as the "Snake Pass."
Last season, Redmond's coming out party was highlighted by his 857 yards of total offense. Redmond amassed his yardage by every way possible: rushing, receiving, kickoff and punting returning. He also scored four touchdowns; two receiving and two rushing.
"Redmond will play and have a vital role," Cozzetto said. "He can do a lot of things and we have to utilize him as much as we can in our offensive package. You don't see players like him all the time, players who can carry the ball and run out and catch passes as good as any wide receiver can."
Larry Montgomery is another tailback who will be a player to watch this fall. Montgomery attended Mount San Antonio College last fall, but did not participate in athletics. He enrolled at ASU in January. At Troy High School in Fullerton, Calif., Montgomery excelled in both offense and defense. Montgomery earned all-Freeway League and all-C.I.F. first-team honors in 1996, in addition to receiving all-North Orange County kudos. As a junior, he rushed for 1,626 yards in 10 games and collected 388 yards in the first three games of his senior season before suffering a season-ending injury.
Coming in the fall will be two more players at the position. Davaren Hightower and Robert Thomas will all add more talent, depth and youth to this position.
Hightower hails from Richardson, Texas and was heavily recruited by Texas and Texas A&M. Hightower shares Redmond's athletic ability to play several different positions, including quarterback. He rushed for 2,202 yards, averaging 8.5 yards per carry, while passing for 318 yards. Hightower scored 33 touchdowns and also averaged 25 yards per kickoff return and 14 yards per punt return. He was named Metro Player-of-the-Year by The Dallas Morning News and earned honorable mention all-state.
Thomas rushed for 2,300 yards and 23 touchdowns at Bonanza High School (Las Vegas, Nev.). Thomas scored six more touchdowns on kickoff returns and once rushed for 409 yards with six touchdowns in a game against Silverado High School. He has earned all-America status by BlueChip Illustrated. In track, he has run 21.6 seconds in the 200-meters and 10.7 in the 100.
Last season, junior Jeff Paulk unveiled his talents and showed that he can be a major weapon in the Sun Devil offense. The 6-1, 240-pound wrecking ball out of Tempe loves contact about as much as he loves to win.
After rushing for only 24 yards on 10 carries during the first half of last season, Paulk exploded and gave ASU an extra dimension to its running game that will certainly be evident this season. Against Oregon State, Paulk carried 11 times for a career-high 114 yards, including a 52-yarder, the longest by a Sun Devil runner all year. In the game against Arizona, Paulk carried nine times for 82 yards and had a 42-yard run. Paulk ended the regular season with a 9.2 yards-per-carry average over three games and averaged 6.2 for the entire season.
Oh yes...and he relishes blocking, too.
"Our main concern is making him a better runner and getting him more involved in the offense," Cozzetto said. "He showed he could carry the ball well in key games and we want to utilize him more."
"Jeff is certainly one of the biggest flybacks I have ever coached," says Snyder. "He's an amazing athlete and he's such a load to bring down. Once he gets going, it's hard to stop his momentum. And he gets such a kick out of blocking."
Backing up Paulk will be sophomore Darrin Ransom, junior Kevin Tommasini (who plays ASU baseball), redshirt freshman Mark Polchow and senior walkon Zack Levenson.
"Ransom has showed that he can do a lot of things," said Snyder. He's a very athletic, very physical player. He had a great pre-Rose Bowl practice session."
Wide Receiver Kenny Mitchell|
(File photo by Scott Troyanos)
Junior Lenzie Jackson will be a go-to receiver this season, but not the only option. His role last year was limited due to the presence of Biletnikoff Award semifinalist Keith Poole, but still performed brilliantly as he snared 36 catches for 505 yards and three touchdowns during the regular season. Against Nebraska, Jackson beat the 'Husker secondary and set career standards, catching eight passes for 105 yards in ASU's 19-0 upset of the nation's No. 1 team. He caught four passes for 91 yards and a touchdown against Boise State and caught five passes for 83 yards against UCLA.
"Lenzie is probably our best receiver," Cozzetto said. "He can do it all as far as running routes, getting open and catching the ball. He's a great player."
Lining up beside Jackson will be junior Kenny Mitchell. The 6'3" wideout from Peoria uses his large frame and outstanding leaping ability to beat defenders to the ball. Against UCLA, Mitchell used his height to pull down a crucial fourth-quarter, 23-yard touchdown pass in the Sun Devils defeat of the Bruins. In 1995, Mitchell had a career game in his first start at Oregon, where he caught five passes for 106 yards and a touchdown in the Sun Devils surprising win over the 10th-ranked Ducks.
"(Kenny) is going to be our big receiver that can go downfield and outjump people for the ball," Cozzetto said. "He's got to be our big-play guy. We've got to be able to throw the ball up and let him go get it, because of his leaping ability."
"The fastest of all of them," according to Cozzetto, is Creig Spann from Phoenix. Last season, Spann had a knee-injury that limited him to only two games played. In those two games, Spann caught three passes for 13 yards and had a key 32-yard reverse carry in the Washington win. In his last full season of play, Spann caught 40 passes for 850 yards and 10 touchdowns at Phoenix College. The 1995 graduate of Phoenix College runs a 4.4 40-yard dash. He also set the South Mountain High School record and placed first in the state's 4 x 100 relay.
"Creig gives us that extra gear, that deep threat" Cozzetto said. "We haven't had a guy with his type of speed here in a long time. He does a nice job of catching the football, also."
Junior Ricky Boyer gave the college football world an appetizer of his athletic talents with his remarkable, half-helicopter touchdown grab in the Rose Bowl game versus Ohio State. Cozzetto labels the 5'8" wideout from Compton, Calif., a "dynamic" player and will use him in the slot position in the three wide-receiver set. Ricky "The Rocket" caught 18 receptions for 187 yards during the regular season last year and had 17 catches for 198 yards and two touchdowns in 1995. He is a legitimate deep threat whose longest reception is a 53-yard touchdown catch against UTEP in 1995. He has also been used in eight reverses during his career, totaling 71 yards.
As Ryan Kealy's favorite target at St. Mary's High School in Phoenix, freshman Tariq McDonald was named to the BlueChip Illustrated All-American team. He also earned all-Arizona first-team accolades by the Arizona Republic and the Phoenix Gazette . He set a St. Mary's record with 75 receptions for 1,192 yards and 22 touchdowns. McDonald, whose father was a semifinalist at the 1980 and 1984 Olympic trials in the 400-meter and 200-meter dashes, was redshirted last year.
"He's got a lot of ability and potential to be a great wide receiver," Cozzetto said. "He's real fluid. He catches the ball well and makes the run after the catch. Between Lenzie, Ricky, and Tariq, they're all "make-you-miss" guys."
In backup roles will be senior walkon Jeff Hoffman and redshirted freshman Brian Forth. Forth is a walkon and is expected to backup Boyer's position.
Arriving this fall will be the two best receivers in the state of Arizona in Justin Taplin of Tempe High School and Clifton Jones of Florence High School.
In 1996, Taplin was The Arizona Republic and The Phoenix Gazette 4A Player-of-the-Year. He also earned USA Today Player-of-the-year honors in the state of Arizona. Taplin caught 75 passes for 1,298 yards and 16 touchdowns in leading Tempe High to the state championship. Taplin holds 19 Tempe High records for both offense and defense superlatives. Offensively, Taplin's records include 166 career receptions for 2,724 yards and 47 touchdowns. As a safety, Taplin's 17 interceptions are a school best.
Clifton Jones verbally committed to ASU after its shutout of Nebraska. Jones was nominated for the 1996 Parade Magazine all-American team and was a first-team all-state selection in both 1995 and 1996. Jones holds seven Florence High receiving records, including 2,560 career yards, 1,601 single-season yards, 163 career receptions and 19 catches in one game. Jones chose ASU over Arizona, Washington, Colorado, Nebraska, UCLA and USC.
Last season, senior tight ends Steve Bush and Devin Kendall combined for 36 receptions for 456 yards and three touchdowns. Now that both have graduated, this position is up for grabs by several candidates.
"The big question mark will be replacing the tight ends, Steve Bush and Devin Kendall," Cozzetto said. "We can't overlook that. They were key players for us."
Sophomore Kendrick Bates, a former basketball star, might be the starter this season. He performed in 10 games last season and started one of them. His seven catches for 82 yards head ASU's returners at the position. He also caught a key touchdown pass against Oregon.
"Kendrick came up with some big catches last season," Cozzetto said. "He's getting stronger and he catches the ball as well as any tight end that I've been around."
Battling Bates for the starting spot will be senior Zack Romero. Romero played in nine games last season, but did not start. He had one five-yard catch and played a lot on special teams.
"He's our veteran-type guy," Cozzetto said. "Zack will do everything that we ask him to do. He also knows the system, so having him will be a big plus."
Sophomore Brian Jennings, redshirt freshman Jason Moore and recruit Matt Cercone will also compete at tight end.
"Jason is tall. He's big. He's strong. He's that small tackle that you look for at this position," Cozzetto. "He can catch the football, plus he's a real physical player."
Jennings had an excellent spring and made great progress.
Cercone hails from Bakersfield Community College, as did placekicker Robert Nycz and former ASU placekicker Jon Baker. Cercone, who was named a J.C. Gridwire All-American in 1996, has great size and will provide ASU with much needed experience at this position.
Left Tackle Grey Reugamer|
(File photo by Scott Troyanos)
To replace Juan Roque at the left tackle position, junior Grey Ruegamer has been switched from right tackle. Ruegamer, a passionate competitor, was named honorable mention in the Pac-10 last year and should climb the ranks to become one of the best left tackles in the conference this season. His quickness, strength, and intensity make him a rare commodity at this position. Last year, he played solidly against Nebraska and shut down All-America defensive end Jared Tomich.
"I look for Grey to make the transition and have an outstanding year," Cozzetto said. "I think Grey is one of the best tackles in the country. You don't find many offensive lineman like him that are running downfield and making the extra block. He plays tenacious football. Plus, he's athletic and he can run."
Redshirt freshman Marvel Smith will back up Ruegamer. He had a good pre-Rose Bowl practice session.
"Marvel needs to learn from Grey," Cozzetto said. "Marvel needs to fit in the scheme next as being a player that can contribute."
Inheriting Ruegamer's old position will be either junior Troy Davis or sophomore Thomas Schmidt. Both will head into the spring competing to start at right tackle.
"It will be a good battle between (Schmidt) and Davis for the right tackle position," Cozzetto said. "That will be our biggest concern on the offensive line right now, the right tackle spot."
Davis lacks the size of most offensive lineman, but his athleticism and intensity makes up for it. His experience and knowledge with the team's system gives him an edge.
"Troy needs to concentrate the majority of his effort on putting on weight," Cozzetto said. "However, he's as strong as anybody on the club, if not stronger. For Thomas, it's just a matter of playing more."
Redshirt freshman Dane Beem, a 6-6, 262-pounder from Atascadero, Calif., is another candidate at this position.
Senior lineman Anthony Jones might also find his way into the competition for right tackle, depending on how he can recover from surgery. At 6-6, 320 pounds, Jones is bigger than either Davis or Schmidt.
All-America tackle Ralph Zarate of Tucson arrives this fall.
Zarate was selected to the Parade Magazine all-American team and made The Arizona Republic's Class 5A All-State team. On top of that, he was listed as the "consensus top pick out of Arizona" by Student Sports Magazine . An accomplished basketball player, Zarate averaged 18 points and 14 rebounds per game at Tucson High.
Left Guard Kyle Murphy|
(File photo by Scott Troyanos)
"The best left guard in the Pac-10, if not the country," according to Snyder, is senior Kyle Murphy. Last season, Murphy started 10 of 11 games at left guard en route to a second-team all-Pac-10 selection. A strong student in the classroom, Murphy also earns A's on the playing field. In the season opener against Washington, Murphy graded at 94-percent, which was highest out of all ASU lineman for that game. He scored a 93-percent in the ASU's upset win against top-ranked Nebraska with only one assignment error. He also played all 103 snaps, graded out at 94-percent and registered 85 finishes in the 48-35 double-overtime win over USC.
Murphy did not play spring football because he underwent knee surgery, but he is expected to return to drills at Camp Tontozona later this fall.
Junior guard Mike Barnes is expected to play behind Murphy during the season, but replaced Murphy during spring practice. Barnes, who was a teammate of Davis and Campbell at Norco High, started at left guard in place of Murphy in ASU's 29-14 win at Oregon State last year. He also started in Murphy's spot in three 1995 contests against USC, Stanford and Brigham Young.
"Mike is very quick," Cozzetto said. "He is probably the best pulling guard that we have up front. I like his desire to play the game. He loves to compete. He just needs to get bigger so that he can be able to knock people off the ball."
Kaleb and Korey Ramsey, along with Ken Westerhaus and Jeff Johannesen, will line up behind Barnes.
Both Ramseys have been switched from offensive tackle to compete for the guard position. Korey suffered a dislocated knee cap and missed spring practice. Both are healthy now.
Westerhaus was switched from defensive tackle to the offensive line during the spring of 1996. According to Cozzetto, the sophomore from Phoenix has considerable size to compete for a starting position in the future.
Johannesen is a sophomore from Scottsdale and will fit in well on the offensive line. A thumb injury has hindered his upper-body development. However, he has improved his quickness by losing thirty pounds.
Senior Glen Gable began last season as the the starting right guard, but lost his starting role after three weeks when he suffered an ankle injury against Nebraska. Pat Thompson inherited the starting role for the remainder of the season.
Once again this season, Gable will have a chance to reclaim the starting role. He is the most experienced player at the position after playing a full season in 1995 and is determined to have a big year in '97.
Redshirt freshman Victor Leyva has moved from rush tackle to back up Gable at right guard. Leyva, a BlueChip Illustrated All-America who was also one of the top heavy-weight wrestlers in California coming out of high school, possesses both a considerable amount of size, strength and athleticsm to become an outstanding lineman in the near future.
Leyva was moved prior to the end of the season and shined during pre-Rose Bowl workouts.
"Victor has all the strength that any man could ever want," Cozzetto said. "He's probably the strongest freshman ever to come here. He has a chance to become a great, great offensive lineman.
"Gable is looking forward to a big year and it's good for Victor to play behind him, because Victor will push him."
Scott Peters, of Pleasanton, Calif., earned honorable mention all-America honors in the state of California by USA Today and was Top 100 by USA Today . Peters was all-East Bay Athletic League in 1994, 1995 and 1996 and made the "Cream of the Crop" top-five listing.
Junior Randy Leaphart spent last season as Kirk Robertson's backup at center. He also gained quality experience in 1995, playing in nine games while showing remarkable improvement during that season. Leaphart has recovered from a hernia that disabled him for six weeks last season and will be ready to assume the starting role once the season begins.
"I don't think we'll miss a beat with Leaphart in there," Cozzetto said. "He just needs to play and get as many reps as he can. He's a very athletic person and he's the type of guy you like at center. He's quick and he can get off the ball."
Junior Brian Williams and redshirt freshman Craig Sweasy will vie for the backup role at center.
"Craig learns fast. He's an aggressive player who is going to try to beat you on every play," Cozzetto said. "The things that he brings makes him a lot like Grey Ruegamer. He's an in-your-face type of guy."
ASU's defensive performance last year was stellar. The Sun Devils handcuffed opposing offenses, yielding only 17.6 points per game and 4.3 yards per play. Opposing runners were held to an average of 2.7 yards per carry while quarterbacks were sacked 44 times. ASU returned an experienced group of nine starters last season and rebounded from a last-place (Pac-10) performance in 1995.
This season, ASU returns five regular starters -- three in the secondary, one at linebacker, and one on the defensive line. An experienced, fast and aggressive secondary will lead the defensive efforts heading into the campaign.
"I like our experienced secondary," said Defensive Coordinator Phil Snow. "We've got some linebackers that can run and I really like the fact that we've got some tackles who have played quite a bit. If you are solid up the middle on defense then you're going to be pretty good as a team. Our biggest priority for this year will be to find a rush end to give us what Derrick Rodgers did."
Linebacker Pat Tillman|
(File photo by Scott Troyanos)
When Pat Tillman gets a haircut, you know he means business. Last season, the senior linebacker resembled legendary Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker Jack Lambert with his long, golden locks, undersized physique and all-out style of play. However, during the offseason, Tillman cut his hair, but has maintained his other trademark -- intensity.
Playing at only 5-11, 202 pounds, Tillman performed surprisingly big last season, earning second-team all-Pac-10 honors and the Defensive Player of the Week award (Sept. 28). During the season, Tillman was everywhere. He registered 91 tackles, had four interceptions, led the team with 11 pass deflections, recovered three fumbles and added 11 tackles for loss, including two quarterback sacks.
"Pat can do a lot of different things for you," Snow said. "If you're going to do a lot of different things on defense, then you really need a guy like him."
Playing behind Tillman is walkon Adam Archuleta a 6-0, 202-pound redshirt freshman from Chandler. Snyder is very high on this player.
"Adam reminds us more and more of Pat Tillman," said Snyder. "He'll stick you and he's a tough football player."
Senior Paul Reynolds returns and may lay claim to a starting linebacking spot. The former professional baseball player appeared in 10 games last year, collecting 15 tackles, 11 of which were solos. He accumulated three tackles for seven yards in losses and deflected one pass. He is big and fast and could push for postseason honors in the Pac-10.
Joe Cesta, a transfer from Saddleback Community College in Mission Viejo, Calif. (the same school that produced former ASU standout linebacker Scott Von der Ahe), is expected to have a considerable impact on the defense as he replaces Von der Ahe, who has graduated.
Cesta enrolled at ASU last spring. Cesta brings with him the type of credentials that make him quite comparable to Von der Ahe at the same stage. Last season, he won first-team all-state as the state's Defensive Player-of-the-Year and helped lead Saddleback to the national junior college championship. He was also named the Mission Conference Central Division Player-of-the-Year.
"He moves around well. Joe's a hard-working guy who's going to do what you want him to do," Snow said. He reminds me of Derek Smith in his attitude. He'll be a very fine player. He just needs to learn our defense."
Junior Larry Johnson was a solid performer last season, playing in all 11 games without a start. Despite his limited role, Johnson was a big-time contributor when he played as he collected 12 tackles and had two sacks for losses of 19 yards. In 1995 he had 31 tackles (22 unassisted). He has enough speed to invade the backfield and reach the quarterback.
Redshirt freshman Stephen Trejo, who was listed by SuperPrep in 1996 as the seventh-best prospect in the country among "jumbo athletes," i.e. fullbacks, tight ends, linebackers, and defensive ends, will be competing for a spot and will probably lots of playing time this season.
Walkons Shane Shafer, Jeff Boyer and Seanan Kelly will also be competing for backup roles at linebacker.
Three more high school recruits will added to the linebacker group this fall in Arizona product Cody Price and Kyle Kosier and Nevada's Eric Fields.
Price won the Larry Gordon Award, presented to the top linebacker in the state of Arizona, while collecting 114 tackles and 27 quarterback sacks as a senior and 48 tackles with 12 sacks as a junior. Price was rated as the No. 12 linebacker in the West by PrepStar Magazine and is a first-team all-America.
Fields is an outside linebacker from Las Vegas, Nev. Fields is a member of the USA Today all-state team as well as being runner-up for the state's Most Valuable Player award. Fields holds Western High School's record for most tackles in a game (18) and had two interceptions, seven solo tackles and eight assisted in the zone championship game.
(File photo by Scott Troyanos)
Senior Damien Richardson has started 22 of ASU's last 23 games at the strong safety position during the previous two seasons. In 1995, the GTE All-American, who played as a true freshman, placed third on the squad in tackles with 74. Last season, he collected 55 tackles (three for a loss) and had one interception with three pass deflections. His experience and leadership in the secondary will be a big plus for ASU to have a successful season.
Moving from cornerback to free safety last spring was junior Lamont Morgan, who played in 10 games at cornerback last season. He collected 15 tackles with one pass deflection and a 92-yard fumble return for a touchdown in ASU's win against North Texas. In 1995, Morgan played in all 11 games and started against California and Arizona. That year, he had 22 tackles, including a safety off punt coverage against UCLA.
Senior Thomas Simmons, senior B.J. Alford and sophomore Phillip Brown (also a cornerback) will also compete at free safety. Alford recently was awarded a rare sixth season of competition by the NCAA because he missed last season with a leg injury. He has been a stalwart on ASU's special teams in the past.
Last season, Simmons started at free safety in wins against North Texas and USC and saw time in all 11 games. He also collected five tackles and one assist in ASU's rout of Stanford. In 1995, Simmons played in all 11 games and finished the season with 26 tackles.
Both Simmons and Alford will provide depth and experience at safety, where it should be quite a battle. Last year's starter, Mitchell Freedman, was dismissed from the squad in March by Snyder.
Freshman Courtney Palmore of Oxnard, Calif., a highly regarded athlete, will arrive in the fall.
Cornerback Jason Simmons|
(File photo by Scott Troyanos)
Simmons is considered ASU's best cover corner and is very experienced, missing only one game in the past three seasons while starting in every game last season. Simmons plays very aggressively to compensate for his lack of size. Last season, Simmons made honorable mention All-Pac-10 while collecting 43 tackles and deflecting nine passes. He also had a fourth quarter interception against UCLA, which ended any hope of a Bruin comeback.
Jackson played in all 11 games last season, including ASU's 48-35 overtime win against Southern California where Jackson clinched the victory with a dramatic 85-yard fumble return for touchdown. He posted 20 tackles and had one interception against Stanford. Jackson started two games at cornerback last season.
Also competing for a spot at cornerback will be sophomores Kareem Clark, Andre Smith and Jamel Ready.
Snow commended Clark's progress during last season after he redshirted his freshman year. Brown played in six games last season and had one assist. Rance was an honorable mention USA Today All-America and the Northern California 200-meter champion at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory in San Francisco.
J'Juan Cherry, a transfer, could provide ASU with a top-flight athlete in the secondary.He was highly regarded out of high school.
Kyion Grayes, James Dunn and Courtney Hysaw will arrive in the fall.
Grayes grabbed three interceptions for Troy High School last season. He was also very productive at running back, rushing for 1,729 yards on 255 carries and scored 21 touchdowns. He was the 100-meter, 4 x 100-meter relay and long jump champion.
Hysaw is a SuperPrep All-America who also earned second-team all-state honors and first-team all-city accolades while playing at Montbello High School in Denver. As a junior, Hysaw was the state champion in the 100-meters and was a member of the state record-setting 4 x 100-meter relay team.
Dunn earned first-team all-Western region accolades by PrepStar Magazine while playing at Centennial High School in Corona, Calif.
Rush Tackle Albrey Battle|
(File photo by Scott Troyanos)
Last season's defensive line set the tone for every football game and got better as the season progressed. It stopped the run, rushed the passer and blocked passes and kicks with impeccable consistency. Most of that production from the line came from Shawn Swayda, Derrick Rodgers and Brent Burnstein, and all have departed. Thus, heading into fall drills, Jeremy Staat and Albrey Battle will be asked to step in and perform.
"Really, the front seven are going to be inexperienced, so that's the area that we are going to have to concentrate on this fall," Snow said. "Most of our pass rush came from Shawn Swayda and Derrick Rodgers and both of those guys are gone. Another question comes in replacing Brent Burnstein."
Staat was a junior college transfer last season from Bakersfield (Calif.) College and immediately played a solid role in the defensive line, performing in all 11 games and collecting 22 tackles. Staat, whose enormous size (6'6", almost 300 pounds) is a welcoming factor for the defensive line, forced a key fumble late in the fourth quarter in the UCLA game. He also recovered a fumble caused by Ron McCook in a win against North Texas.
"I think the guy who is going to make quantum leaps is Jeremy Staat," Snow said. "I think he is going to be as good as any defensive tackle in the country."
Playing for Amey will be junior Albrey Battle, a super-sub at tackle last season.
Battle was awesome last season in limited playing time. He collected six sacks for losses of 45 yards and three of those sacks came in the victory at Stanford. He also forced two fumbles and batted down two passes.
"Albrey Battle has played quite a bit and he's got to come on and grow with a year's experience," Snow said. "We should be fine at tackle."
Sophomore Ryan Reilly will also compete at defensive tackle. In 1995, he won the McBurney Scout Team Award for being the brightest star on the defensive scout team. He reminds some of Shawn Swayda. Last season he played in three games and collected one tackle.
Rush End Vince Amey|
(File photo by Scott Troyanos)
Vince Amey started the first four games of the season last year, but then had to sit out the next four due to a knee injury. Last season, he nearly turned the world upside down with a 24-yard interception return for a touchdown against North Texas. His athletic ability is remarkable for a man his size, and he is also quick off the ball. In seven games last season, five of his 20 tackles were for losses. He also notched his first career sack in ASU's Rose Bowl clinching victory against California.
Derrick Ford, Hamilton Mee, Quincy Yancy and Seanan Kelly all head into fall drills competing for a rush spot, while senior Malchi Crawford rehabilitates a knee injury that forced him to miss most of each of the past two seasons.
Ford, a junior from Villa Park, Calif., came off a dislocated shoulder that he suffered late in 1995 to perform effectively last season. He showed big-time potential as a pass-rusher, collecting three sacks for losses of 16 yards. His sacks came in a limited role as he only played enough to register seven tackles. Against Boise State, Ford caused a fumbled, picked up the ball and took it 55 yards for a touchdown.
Playing in 10 games last season, Mee collected five tackles and notched his first career sack. Mee is a transfer from Phoenix College and is a senior.
Yancy was redshirted last year and could emerge to become a contributor as early as this season. At 6'8", he is the tallest defensive lineman on the team. He made The Arizona Republic/Phoenix Gazette all-Arizona team at Ironwood High School in Glendale and was also an accomplished basketball player there.
Crawford has 31 tackles, three quarterback sacks and six tackles for loss in 17 games in 1994 and 1995, but each season was cut short due to injuries. It was a shoulder in 1994 and a knee in 1995. A healthy Crawford would give ASU additional depth along the front.
A player to keep an eye on this fall is junior college transfer Leroy Hawkins of San Francisco City College. Hawkins led San Francisco City to an 11-1 record and the conference championship. At 6-4, 263 pounds, Hawkins is a candidate to push for playing time along the defensive front. He was limited in the spring due to a shoulder injury.
Welton Kage and Dayroni Harris have been recruited to add depth at this position. Harris will be looked at to provide a possible starter along the front.
Kicker Marcus Williams|
(File photo by Scott Troyanos)
Marcus Williams inherited the punting duties from Lance Anderson last spring. Williams also has experience as the Sun Devil starting kickoff specialist. The senior from Tempe was effective in kicking off last season, booting seven of eight kickoffs into the end zone in ASU's win over Oregon and nailed six kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks against North Texas. In 1995, opponents returned only 33 kickoffs for an average return of 19.6 yards.
Following in his brother Jon's footsteps, Stephen Baker was recruited to ASU out of Foothill High School in Bakersfield, Calif. Baker was named second-team all-state as a punter and is rated as the No. 2 punter/kicker in the West by PrepStar Magazine. Baker booted 92-percent of his kickoffs into the end zone and holds Foothill records for most field goals, longest field goal (55 yards) and best punting average.
Returning as one of the top placekickers in the country, Robert Nycz will kick field goals and extra points for the Sun Devils for the third consecutive season. Nails were chewed and palms were clammy in last year's season-opener when Nycz booted a 38-yard field goal with two seconds remaining in ASU's 45-42 win against Washington. He was named special teams player of the week twice last season and was named honorable mention All-Pac-10. In two seasons, Nycz has hit 22 of 32 field goals and 91 of 92 extra points. He was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, presented annually to the nation's outstanding placekicker.