ASU football players have revitalized the sideline atmosphere

Frank Darby and Tashon Smallwood have helped change the culture of the Sun Devils' sideline

During the course of an ASU football game, you will usually find redshirt freshman wide receiver Frank Darby pacing the sidelines, doing whatever he can to fire up his teammates. 

Darby has a commanding presence everywhere he is. It would become pretty obvious to anybody that paid close attention to the team, and its indicative of ASU football's enthusiastic sideline.  

"When I bring energy, I always like to have the sideline up," Darby said. "Players shouldn't be out there feeling like they are alone. We (are) all a team, even when we are not playing."

Whether he is on the sideline, in the interview room, on the practice field or in the locker room, Darby’s competitive spirit and infectious smile have kept senior defensive lineman Tashon Smallwood and the rest of Darby’s teammates coming back for more. 

“Darby’s just a fired-up dude. He’s probably in the locker room dancing right now," Smallwood said. "He is always fired up – (he has) got a good energy about him. He is always excited to get better and he brings that to the team. He is contagious.” 

Not only has Darby been a leader off the field, but he has made some big catches on the field. Thanks to an athletic frame and strength, Darby has an ability to make tough catches in tight coverage look easy. 

In the second week of the season, Darby only had three receptions, but totaled 111 yards against San Diego State. His performance against the Aztecs included a career-high 63-yard touchdown catch. 

This season, head coach Todd Graham entered his sixth year at ASU. Even though the 2015 and 2016 seasons did not go the way Graham would have wanted, that did not prevent the program from recruiting a lot of players. 

ASU hasover 40 newcomers this season including redshirt sophomore quarterback Blake Barnett, who transferred from the University of Alabama. 

Graham said he loves the way the team has come together and it has translated into great sideline energy. 

“Our sideline has been impressive and Frank (Darby) has helped cheerlead that,” Graham said.

Noah Lau
Graphic published on Thursday Oct. 5, 2017.

Regardless of what the score is, the players seem to have been engaged in the game, cheering on whomever is out on the field. When the clock hit zero and ASU upset Oregon, Graham said the energy from the sideline spilled over into the locker room.

“I wish you guys could have been in the locker room,” Graham said after the Sun Devils beat the Ducks.

First-year defensive coordinator Phil Bennett arrived in Tempe last January on a mission to fix the Sun Devils secondary. Bennett, who was the head coach at Southern Methodist University for six seasons, brought a wealth of coaching experience to ASU.

Bennett has spent many Saturday nights pacing up and down the white line that divides the field of play from the team’s bench. He knows the importance of a positive, engaged sideline. 

“It is funny that you should ask about the sideline,” Bennett said. “Since our (Texas) Tech game, our sideline has been maybe one of the best I’ve been around. Your sideline is your energy source and a lot times, guys that don’t play are distractions.”

Bennett gave a shout out to the defense’s drive to get better and how that translates into great communication on the sideline when the offense is on the field.

“The thing I’ve enjoyed about our kids the last two weeks on the sidelines ... (is) just their discipline and their attention to get better, and Tashon (Smallwood) is a big leader in that,” Bennett said. 

Reach the reporter at or follow @joejacquezaz on Twitter.

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