Freshman LB D.J. Calhoun standing out throughout ASU’s spring football camp

Redshirt junior Taylor Kelly passed the ball to redshirt senior Kevin Ozier during the game against Washington. The Sun Devils are ranked No. 22 in the BCS Standings and go on to play Utah this weekend. (Photo by Diana Lustig)

Redshirt junior Taylor Kelly passed the ball to redshirt senior Kevin Ozier during the game against Washington. (Photo by Diana Lustig)

Spring camp is a period for football players to slowly learn and grasp concepts as the regular season is still months away, especially for incoming freshmen and transfers.

But “slow” doesn’t seem to apply to ASU freshman linebacker D.J. Calhoun.

As ASU heads into its fifth and final week of spring camp, Calhoun has already made his mark on the team with his hustle and big hits.

 

 

It didn’t take long before coach Todd Graham declared Calhoun as the favorite to start at will linebacker as of the second week of spring practice. Although the team only has two of its 11 defensive starters returning, it’s still remarkable considering Calhoun only arrived on campus in January.

“Most of the time, when you get a freshman in and you’re coaching him, he’s like, ‘What do I do on this?’ ” Graham said. “(Calhoun) doesn’t do that. He just plays.”

Calhoun was rated as a four-star outside linebacker prospect out of El Cerritos High School in California. He signed an Institution Financial Aid Agreement in November, allowing him to enroll to ASU early and get a head start over most incoming freshmen by taking part in spring camp. He originally committed to USC as a senior, but Calhoun switched his pledge last October when he saw how ASU’s defense runs.

“I just love the defense,” Calhoun said. “I love how they all come together and play.”

Calhoun joins the team in new co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Keith Patterson’s first year on staff. The team had already signed Calhoun by the time Patterson arrived in February, but Calhoun’s pure athleticism and relentless work ethic gave Patterson a noteworthy first impression.

“The beautiful thing about him is he just cuts loose every play,” Patterson said. “He doesn’t worry about making mistakes and when he does, he just plays the next play. That’s what I’ve been challenging him to do.”

Calhoun has impressed his coaches and teammates by working tirelessly, but that’s what Calhoun said he must do in order to be on the team and improve every day.

“Biggest thing I’ve learned is never quit,” Calhoun said. “There are no days off. Even when you come here (to the practice fields), you got to go 100 percent.”

Patterson said he has a lot of raw potential and must learn to understand how to adapt to the team’s defensive scheme, but he believes Calhoun can fulfill that once he starts getting actual playing time. Calhoun also understands he must improve on his pass protection and grasp the tempo at the collegiate level.

That means he doesn’t plan on slowing down in practice anytime soon.

“It’s not over yet,” Calhoun said. “Every day, you still have to fight for it.”

Graham expecting ‘fun’ spring game

All throughout spring camp, Graham has expected his players to train hard and remain competitive over the offseason.

Saturday’s Spring Game and Fan Fest will mark the end of the long, grueling camp, so Graham is willing to make an exception when the team scrimmages in front of fans.

“You got to play this game with passion, so we’re going to make this fun,” Graham said. “Also for the fans, we’re going to make this fun. We’re going to have some breaks. We’re going to see if we could get some students come down and see if they can maybe pass-rush (redshirt senior offensive lineman) Jamil Douglas or maybe catch a punt from (sophomore punter Matt) Haack.”

Graham will sit back during the spring game and let his assistants compete against each other. He said the Gold and Maroon teams will even separate and run their own sessions in Thursday’s practice leading up to the Spring Game.

Offensive line coach Chris Thomsen will call plays for the Maroon team, while Patterson will lead Maroon’s defense, with running backs coach Bo Graham, receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander and defensive line coach Jackie Shipp assisting them.

Co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chris Ball will lead the Gold team’s defense with deputy head coach Mike Norvell leading the offense.

“Hopefully we won’t get anyone hurt and we’re going to have a great time Saturday,” Graham said.

Reach the reporter at jnacion@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @Josh_Nacion