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August 8, 2012

Veterans helping first-year players find their way

It is never easy being the new guy in an environment where cliques and friendships have already been established. However, as the ASU football team progresses through its first week of camp, deep bonds are starting to form between veterans and newcomers.

"I like where they are," defensive coordinator Paul Randolph said. "We want them to love each other and be able to lay it on the line for each other. I think we are accomplishing that and getting better and better at it each and every day."

Junior safety Alden Darby feels this year's crop of players is especially close knit and the remainder of camp, including the four days at Camp Tontozona, will only strengthen the bond.

"It's really a brotherhood," Darby said. "A team that stays together is going to win together and that's what we all want. We are rock solid and you can't break us … Every time I watch the movie 'Remember the Titans' I say 'that's us.'"

Actions such as junior defensive tackle Will Sutton reminding freshman long snapper Easton Wahlstrom to "run off the field" to do up-downs after a bounced snap may seem like something any veteran would do, but players have been going out of their way to help the newcomers, a sign of maturity and a willingness to sacrifice.

During the first two days of camp, the team practiced in two groups, one in the morning and one at night. Although senior punter Josh Hubner and sophomore kicker Alex Garoutte practiced in the morning session and did not need to attend the evening practice, they both arrived to practice early and worked with walk-on's Jon Mora and Dillon Jackson.

It would be natural to assume the majority of the leadership was coming from the team's 17 seniors, but that is not always the case as the Sun Devils are finding leadership from players with varying levels of experience such as sophomore Carl Bradford, whose work ethic is setting a strong example for the younger players according to Randolph.

It is always beneficial to receive leadership contributions from sophomores like Sutton and Bradford and juniors such as Darby, but leadership is typically thought of as a senior's job and the Sun Devil seniors, particularly linebacker Brandon Magee and running back James Morrison, are living up to the expectations.

"There's no doubt Brandon Magee is the most veteran player on the defensive side of the ball," Randolph said. "There's no doubt his leadership and his work ethic are things all other guys have to follow."

According to the stat sheet, Morrison's four years in Tempe only consist of 125 carries for 66 yards and one touchdown. However, Morrison's tireless work ethic and upbeat attitude have had a strong impact on freshman D.J. Foster, Morrison's roommate in camp.

"He's a leader on and off the field," Foster said. "He's a positive person. He works very hard. He's as strong as an ox. He's put up some of the biggest numbers I've seen from a running back in the weight room in a long time."

As for Morrison, teaching comes natural as he remembers the feelings of uncertainty that go hand-in-hand with being a freshman.

"I see a lot of talent and upside in him," Morrison said of Foster. "I just want to make sure he is prepared the best he can be because I was in his steps my freshman year. He is very talented and I'm just trying to get the best out of him."

Ultimately, Morrison may find himself lost in the shuffle in a deep and talented Sun Devil backfield, but his efforts and willingness to help the program in any way possible have not escaped the eyes of offensive coordinator Mike Norvell.

"He's a guy that is trying to help these young backs come in," Norvell said. "Really, all the backs we have understand that these guys coming in can really help our football team and it's going to take more than one. That is something we would expect from our players, but it's good to know that they really are helping and bringing those guys along."

It is no secret ASU does not have ideal depth at a variety of positions, which makes it even more important for those who know what it takes to succeed at the Division I level to mentor and guide the freshmen and transfers. Newcomers will be asked to play right away meaning the veterans need to do all they can to make sure everyone in their position group and on their team is ready to go on August 30.

"Up front we have three newcomers that have to help us and have to create depth for us," Randolph said, referring to juniors Jake Sheffield, Mike Pennel and freshman Jaxon Hood.

Not only will the newcomers be necessary to simply provide depth, but a good mix of young and old will help the defense this season.

"Everybody in the secondary is a returner so they are leaders on the defense," Pennel said. "If we can bring newcomers like me and Steffon Martin and Chris Young in the mix, then we will be a very good defense."


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