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October 15, 2010

Walk-on Callaghan special teams mainstay

As the calendar turns and the season progresses, it will likely become a forgotten play, a late-game highlight buried in the waste basket of an early-season loss.

For Mike Callaghan, it will mean more.

With Arizona State on the road trailing Oregon State by 10 late in the fourth quarter on Oct. 2, Callaghan, the senior special teams captain, broke through the Beavers' protection and blocked a punt.

One play later, Cameron Marshall scampered in ran into the end zone from 21 yards out to pull ASU to within three, though there were unable to make up the remaining ground in a 31-28 defeat.

The block for Callaghan was the return on a five-year investment of hard work, a gallon of sweat, and a heap of patience.

"It felt really good," Callaghan said of the blocked punt. "It mean a lot to finally break through and make a big time play."

Callaghan came to ASU in 2006 out of Phoenix Brophy Prep -- winning the 2005 state title with the Broncos still ranks as his most memorable sports moment -- as a preferred walk-on. He made the team and redshirted during his first season. The following year, as ASU went 10-3 and earned a share of the Pac-10 title, Callaghan was once again on the sidelines, working exclusively with the scout team.

But even though he wasn't earning playing time, he was gaining the respect of a coaching staff and teammates, who couldn't help but notice the dedication being poured in by a player who wasn't even on scholarship.

"It's unbelievable for a walk-on," coach Dennis Erickson said of Callaghan's contributions. "He's a guy that is playing football because he loves the game; he's not on scholarship. To me he epitomizes what football should be about. He's somebody I think is pretty special."

Callaghan got his first taste game action in 2008 and played in all 12 games last season, carving out a role as the team's special team's ace.

"I think there is a lot of fun to be had on special teams," said Callaghan who also serves as a backup linebacker. "I just try to help out wherever I can and if [special teams] is what it's going to be then that's what it's going to be."

On a team with only a handful of seniors, Callaghan's leadership, albeit the quiet, lead-by-example kind, is inspiring to teammates who appreciate his work ethic.

"You just know that he is going to give 100 percent on everything," fellow senior Kerry Taylor said. "He's not on scholarship, so he's paying his way to go through all this. He helps the team out in a big way and he's definitely a big part of what we do."

Callaghan, who is a regular Hard Hat recipient for his work in the strength and conditioning program, said he hasn't let limited playing time sour his experience at ASU, where he will soon graduate with a Interdisciplinary Studies degree in business and education.

Football has been part of his life since he was 8, and he plans to cherish the remaining moments he has left in the game loves.

"With football, I've just always been playing and I've always like it," Callaghan said. "I would never want to quit anything."

Midseason evaluation

Erickson was asked following Thursday's practice -- a session in which ASU's scout team players had the chance to scrimmage -- to provide his thoughts on the team's offense and defense at the midway point of the season.

On the defense: "I would say it's above average, but there's a lot of work to do. My expectations are not like we've played and I think we're better than how we've played. Defensively I thought against Washington and against Oregon in the second half and against Oregon State in the second half we played like we're capable of.

The difference is we didn't give up the big plays like we did in those games that we lost. That will be a real key for us."

While he expects the offense to put up more points in the second half of the season, Erickson called the improvement of the offense "pretty amazing" from where he sat a year ago as one of the Pac-10's worst units.

"We've been able to move the ball with a lot of consistency," Erickson said. "Obviously the turnovers that we've had have really hurt us. And we've left points out on the field, which I hope we don't do in the second half of the season."


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