Koniseti looks to firm up grasp on position

Spring practice will often provide a preview of fall camp, but one can argue that the LB group may be the exception. With Brandon Magee not cleared yet for full contact, along with the arrival of a few talented players in the summer, this position's depth chart is prime for an August makeover. Kipeli Koniseti knows that a solid spring could help winning a stiff competition battle in the future.

Through the first week of spring practice the 6-3 243-pound Kipeli Koniseti has been taking first team reps at the MIKE linebacker. It's naturally a source of pride for him, but he is anything but complacent with his depth chart status.

"I'm taking the opportunity they are giving to me," Koniseti stated. "I'm taking it and I'm not looking back. I'm going to make the best of it, play well and help my team win. I know I need to get better with my feet, my read keys…just do everything I can to stay at (first team) MIKE.

"I'm confident I can stay there and contribute to the team."

If Koniseti does manage to hold down his starting spot for the season opener, there is a chance that he would unseat Brandon Magee (if the coaches deemed the senior more suitable to play inside). That scenario would prove ironic since Koniseti has the utmost respect for Magee and is grateful for all the guidance he has provided him so far.

"Brandon is the heart of this defense," Koniseti admitted. "Even though he's not there with us in all the drills he's still the leader. He motivates us everyday to keep it going and not slack off.

"Myself being the MIKE ‘backer, Brandon tells me that I'm a leader on this team too and I have to act like one. He always keeps my head straight when I get down or angry and tells me that I can't do that because I have to be a leader and show good body language."

Koniseti feels that the new defensive scheme, as it relates to his position group is simpler than last season. The junior believes that the downhill mentality of this system and its aggressive nature could provide a smooth transition for him and his teammates.

On the other hand, the overall pace has been a little more difficult to acclimate to.

"At the beginning we didn't understand why these coaches were yelling at us? But as time goes on we understand why," Koniseti stated. "Our bodies are getting used to the strain and the fast pace. So it's becoming second nature. We just went through the first week of practice and we have a long ways to go. Once we all gel together we will be a dangerous team."

Following the first day of full pads practice, as well as the aforementioned high pace sessions, the linebacker thought the team would come out of the gates sluggish which ultimately proved wrong. Having said that, he did acknowledge that at times the running backs have their way with the defense during that session.

"I thought we did pretty well, but we could have done a better job with the inside run and can we probably step up the intensity a little more," Koniseti explained. "We are trying to figure out where we all fit and we need to be more assignment sound. We're doing a good job hitting and tackling, but sometimes we are lining up in the wrong gaps.

"Our running backs did a great job running the ball, and if they get into a gap they will run loose. But it's early in the spring and we will do a better job stopping them."

Buried in a deep 2011 linebacker group, Koniseti saw very limited action in nine games as he tallied six total tackles. Nonetheless, he considers his first campaign in Tempe as invaluable.

"Being behind Vontaze (Burfict) was good for me because this was my first whole season of playing middle linebacker and I learned a lot from him," Koniseti said. "The more reps you get the more you can improve. I didn't get that many reps, but was able to learn the position by watching film and practicing.

"This year I know I will be getting a lot more reps. So I know the position will feel even more natural to me this year."

Suffice to say that no one on this year's Sun Devil squad has taken a longer and winder journey than Koniseti did. The Sacramento Grant High School, who quarterbacked his school to a California state championship in 2008, was a member of ASU's 2009 class who didn't qualify in time to join ASU. He enrolled at the College of the Sequoias in Visalia, Calif. while Arizona State kept tabs on him there, eventually landing him.

"I always wanted to go to ASU ever since I was in high school, and I felt so bad when I didn't come here in 2009," Koniseti said. "I disappointed my family. But my wife told me the whole time to stick to it and keep pushing towards that goal of making it to ASU. So we both moved to the Junior College and now that I made it here I'm not taking it for granted.

"I'm going to take this opportunity and run with it."

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