On the official 2013 ASU football roster, there are 97 players.
Only two of them, senior defensive backs Osahon Irabor and Alden Darby, have graced the coveted PT42 camouflage jersey this fall.
Ask anyone, including defensive backs coach Chris Ball, about the two and what they mean to the ASU football team’s defense.
The response will be the same.
“We look to them for leadership, and they are the leaders,” Ball said.
Leadership is a good place to start when describing the relationship of the two, who have locked down the strong side of the secondary with Irabor as boundary corner and Darby as bandit safety.
“Darby’s like one of my brothers,” Irabor said. “We are so close on and off the field. We really have a great partnership. Sometimes we can go a whole game without talking to each other and know what the other guy is thinking and know how to execute the defense. We have an unbelievable connection.”
The connection has been there ever since the two arrived in Tempe in 2010 and has really blossomed in the past year, Darby said.
2012 was the first year the two started together and the Sun Devils’ eight wins was the team’s most successful since 2007.
Their rapport on and off the field was just one the reasons the 2012 season was such a success.
“We know we got each other’s back through thick and thin,” Irabor said. “We are there for each other and can always count on each other, and that’s huge for a defense.”
Ball, in his second year with the team, knows he can rely on the two at this point, something rare and highly sought after in college football.
“They’ve played a lot of football together, they know each other really well and they communicate together really well,” Ball said.
The two communicate in very different ways, though, and that balance has only strengthened their bond.
“His passion is like no other,” Darby said of Irabor. “He’s not loud like me, but when you see him on game day, he’s just a totally different person, and I love looking into his eyes and seeing that fire and fight. He’s out there with a purpose, and when he’s making plays, it inspires me to keep my level up.”
That kind of attitude is just what second-year head coach Todd Graham and the Sun Devils, looking to get back to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1996 season, need out of their senior leaders.
“We are trained that way,” Irabor said. “Coach Graham has a specific way of getting us prepared for any challenge. We are prepared for the good things that are going to happen in any game and the bad things.”
“Any Challenge” is one of Graham’s mottos for the season. Darby knows if the Sun Devils are to make a New Year’s Day trip to Pasadena, Calif., it’s on him and Irabor to lead the way.
“We’ve been here for four years, and we know we have to fight every single day, and we have to push ourselves harder than ever,” Darby said. “We’ve all been here and seen unsuccessful seasons, so we know what not to do.”
The two have taken over the “No-Fly Zone” made famous by their predecessors, which include NFL players Omar Bolden, Keelan Johnson and Deveron Carr.
Irabor has no doubts he and “The Juice Man” are ready to take their connection to the next level both professionally and as friends.
“That’s our little swagger we have,” Irabor said. “You have to be confident to play in the secondary, and we like to remind people we are the third best pass defense in the country and it is a ‘No-Fly Zone.’ Me and Darby are here to lock it down.”
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