ASU football’s young players make their mark on defense

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ASU’s defense combines to bring down Weber State sophomore running back Zach Smith. Smith rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown in a 45-14 loss to the Sun Devils on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. (Photo by Andrew Ybanez)

Losing nine starting players is not an easy thing to recover from, but the ASU football team is confident that their group can recover.

In a game they were supposed to play well in, the Sun Devils did just that. The first-team defense allowed just 119 yards in the first half against Weber State and made a big goal line stop to preserve the shutout early in the second quarter.

Two true freshman, defensive lineman Tason Smallwood and linebacker DJ Calhoun, started for ASU. Calhoun made five tackles, including one in the backfield, and broke up a pass in the game.

Coach Todd Graham had very high praise for his two young starters.

“DJ Calhoun, I loved his game,” Graham said. “He made some mistakes, but man, let me tell you something, he is tough, he’s going to be a great player. He wants to learn. And Smallwood too. Two true freshmen starting. Man, they aren’t afraid at all. I love how they attack things, I love how they listen, they’re just like ‘Feed me, coach.’ They want to learn, they want to be great.”

Over the course of preseason practices, ASU football coach Todd Graham has had high praise for Calhoun. Thursday night after ASU’s 45-14 win over Weber State, Graham kept talking highly of Calhoun.

Graham recounted a play early on in the game that showed him a lot of what Calhoun can bring to the defense.

“I think it was maybe the first or second play of the game they ran a lead zone and DJ just smacked him,” Graham said. “He’s a guy that we need to blitz.”

“I played pretty good,” Calhoun said. “I was just kind of nervous being out there in front of everybody. I couldn’t really hear plays, but I had to listen to the best of my ability.”

One spot where Calhoun stepped up during the game was on a goal-line stand early in the second quarter. The Sun Devil defense held Weber State on four straight plays inside the five yard line to keep the Wildcats off the scoreboard. Calhoun said that, despite being inexperienced, he felt the need to step up and be a leader during the sequence.

“Being young, I have to step up,” Calhoun said. “I just told everybody, ‘Come on. We can stop them. We’ve been practicing our inside blitz. This is it right here.’ Then, the play just happened and we smashed them.”

Graham believes that stop will go a long way for his team.

“I loved that goal line stand,” Graham said. “That’s exactly what we needed tonight.”

Reach the reporter at mtonis@asu.edu or follow him @Tonis_The_Tiger