Alani Latu is making the most of his senior season with ASU football

The fifth-year senior has become one of ASU's best defenders

It turns out there is a reason ASU head coach Todd Graham said redshirt senior linebacker Alani Latu was the team's most valuable player: It's because he's really good. 

Latu, who goes by "AJ" for short, has been sidelined for the last two games with an injury, and his presence at devilbacker was missed in the Sun Devils' 48-17 blowout loss to USC.  

“I think one of the things that was tough last week was still not having AJ. I think that was a major factor in the game," Graham said after the loss. 

Latu has been an important piece of the ASU defense all year. In the six games he's played so far, Latu has 4.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. His 4.5 sacks led the team until junior defensive lineman JoJo Wicker tied that mark in his absence. 

Latu has arguably been the best defender on the team, but it did not happen overnight. 

Latu joined the team in 2013 as a three-star recruit from Rancho Cucamonga High School in Southern California. He medically redshirted his freshman season, and he slowly but surely saw his playing time increase. 

But he was not one of the main members of the defense until this year. In fact, his 2017 season was the first in which he recorded a sack. 

“(It's) pretty crazy – I got it from my older brother when he graduated and he just told me, ‘It’s your time to step up,’ and take on a big role for the team and I felt like that just pushed me a little bit more, trying to fill his shoes,” Latu said. “Just putting in extra work in the film room, training, and it paid off.”

Latu's twin brother, Viliami, was part of the 2013 signing class with Alani and has since joined the coaching staff after his four-year career ended last season. 

“It gets tough at times because he’s the hardest one on me,” Latu said with a grin. “On the field he’s not yelling at me that much, but right when we get home after practice, he’s on me 24/7 – ‘You could do this better, you could do this better,’ and it helps me a lot. He knows me the most out of everybody here.”

Apparently the twins are not too different, because when Latu knew he would miss the Utah game with an injury, he pushed junior linebacker Jay Jay Wilson at practice.

“It’s always the next man up. When I went down, I kind of already knew I wasn’t going to play (the practice) for Utah week – (the) next man up was Jay Jay and I was pretty much on his ass the whole week,” Latu said.

It would have been easy for Latu not to help Wilson. After all, Wilson was playing in his place, and ultimately trying to take his starting job at devilbacker. 

But Latu took the high road, and now Wilson has blossomed into another reliable defender in the rotation.

“Instead of being selfish, he’s been very selfless in teaching me, and showing me all the things that he knows and all the things that I’m good at and putting them together, so he’s very selfless,” Wilson said.

Perhaps his selflessness and team-oriented attitude are why Latu's head coach has so much respect for him.

It looks like Latu will be back in action when ASU takes on Colorado Saturday night at 6:00 p.m. MST.

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