ASU’s defensive dominance over then 15th ranked California last week was a big reason the Sun Devils were able to leave Berkeley with a win and reenter the AP Top 25.
ASU was able to keep Cal in check for the entirety of the contest, holding the potent Golden Bear offense to a season low in points, total yards and first downs.
Much of the Sun Devils' defensive success can be attributed to sophomore safety Aashari Crosswell, who capped off one of his finest performances in an ASU uniform with his first interception of the season in the waning seconds of the first half.
“I thought it was a big play by Aashari there at the end of the half in cover two,” defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales said. “That’s the kind of plays we expect that young man to make. And then he made two outstanding plays on the fourth down series at the end of the game. Our better players made more plays tonight.”
Crosswell made his presence felt throughout the game, racking up three tackles to go along with two pass breakups and his timely end zone interception. However, his impact was not fully captured through statistics.
With two starting members of the secondary sidelined, senior cornerback Kobe Williams with a broken finger and redshirt freshman safety Cam Phillips with a dislocated elbow, Crosswell knew the team needed his presence more than ever.
“I knew this day was coming, I’ve just been patient. I knew once Kobe went down, the leadership goes to me,” Crosswell said Wednesday. “We all got to be on that leadership, not just me being a leader the whole team has to be on that leadership. If we want to go to the Rose Bowl, we all got to be some dogs. We all got to be some leaders.”
Coming into last week's matchup with Cal, Crosswell knew the game would be different. On top of his added on-field responsibilities, Crosswell had decided to dedicate the game to his fallen friend Elijah Galbreath, who had died four years earlier to the day.
Galbreath, who Crosswell cites as one of the primary reasons he wears number 16, was a childhood friend who had been shot and killed at 16 while walking near his home in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Unfortunately, tragedy has been all too prevalent in the Long Beach Poly High School grad's early life. His brother Ashton Crosswell was killed outside their home when Aashari Crosswell was only 12 years old.
He said his brother was “basically dad,” and inspired the young player to stick with football at a time in his life when he was questioning his love for the sport.
“Every day I play for my loved ones that’s not here for me no more. I play for them. I feel like they’re protecting me, they’re here with me. They’re like my guardian angels,” Crosswell said. “The list goes on and on of how many losses I’ve took. Honestly, I just try and talk to everybody, get a little prayer in, tell them I love them, watch over me and keep me protected. That’s why I always point to the sky.”
Crosswell has talked at length about the second family he has built at ASU, citing the tight bond he has forged with all of his teammates, but especially his fellow Long Beach Poly grads.
In an emotional day punctuated by his game changing turnover, Crosswell received overwhelming support from his teammates and coaches alike.
“After I got the pick, (head coach Herm Edwards) congratulated me,” Crosswell said. “He always tells me he loves me as a son, so that was just big for me. It was a proud moment.”
Going forward, Crosswell will look to replicate a week of practice both he and Gonzales called his strongest of the season.
Gonzales was far from surprised that Crosswell’s first interception of the season came following such an impressive week of practice, drawing the correlation immediately following the victory.
Gonzales has shown consistent faith in Crosswell, as the sophomore has worked tirelessly with Gonzales to transform himself into the versatile safety Gonzales’ system requires.
As Crosswell marches toward his goal of leading the Pac-12 in interceptions, he knows he was the unwavering support of his coach.
“I feel like Coach G has put his trust in me,” Crosswell said. “He told me himself, 'You’re my best cover guy.' So once he told me that it gave me the confidence to just do me and ball out. I thank him for giving me an opportunity at an early age because I was young when I first got that opportunity to start, but now I’m more into it, I’m more mature and I’m more comfortable.”