Will Sutton gave Sun Devil fans plenty to cheer for in 2012, totaling 63 tackles, 23.5 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks on the year. The defensive lineman became just the sixth player in the school's history to win the Morris trophy and its 18 consensus All-American. Following Arizona State's 62-28 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl victory over Navy, Sutton explored the possibility of foregoing his final year of eligibility before announcing in January his plans to return.
"Just the grade that came back from the NFL committee and everything that I needed to do here," said Sutton about why he decided to return to Tempe for one final season. "I mean, I'm almost done with school and will graduate in December."
Part of that report from the NFL committee said that Sutton was undersized, something he took to heart. Officially listed at 6-1 and 267 pounds in the ASU media guide, Sutton told reporters on Friday that he had bulked up to a robust 305 pounds, demonstrating his ability to put on the necessary weight while still remaining football-fit.
"I just took it upon myself. Everybody says I'm undersized but everyone thought I played last season at 265 when I was really at 280-285," he said. "I knew I had to get out there and gain weight because NFL guys are much bigger so I got on a summer program and got up to 300 pounds."
That summer program included a lot of extra eating and additional time in the weight room with Sun Devil strength and conditioning coach, Shawn Griswold.
"Just eating and lifting a lot," remarked the lineman. "I've been cooking a lot more and eating three meals a day. And lifting a lot more. Just going in there each day and attacking it."
The additional weight isn't something that Sutton worries about affecting his on the field performance though. The defensive playmaker insists he has maintained the speed which made him such a handful for opposing offensive linemen to cover while he's actually increased his strength.
"I actually gained weight during the season," he stated. "By the bowl game, I was at 295 and I had three sacks against Navy, so it didn't affect me that much."
The biggest challenge for Sutton now will be trying not to gain any more weight once the season begins. The Sun Devils cut back on their strength and conditioning during the fall as opposed to the summer, while keeping the players well fed, which means he'll have to keep a watchful on those second servings if he plans to stay at his desired 295 pound level once the season gets underway.
"During the season, our lifting is a little different and we eat a lot more," he said. "We're traveling and have training table or eating out at Don & Charlie's, so we eat a lot. I'm pretty good at keeping the weight on because during the season I actually gain weight, so it'll be more like not trying to get heavier because we eat so much."
With Sutton back in the fold for another year, Arizona State will feature one of the more dynamic defensive front sevens in the conference in 2013. Not only do the Sun Devils return six starters up front, but figure to add junior college transfers Marcus Hardison and Demetrius Cherry to an already stacked line-up.
"Our experience and our athletic ability. We may not be the biggest front seven out there but I feel like our speed and knowledge of the game set us apart," said Sutton on what sets the ASU defense apart. "Carl Bradford is so explosive and fast. Steffon Martin and our whole linebacking core is just ridiculously fast. They shock a lot of people and how well they can attack the offensive line."
With Bradford and Sutton, ASU will feature two players of the 10 players in all of college football who return in 2013 after recording 10 or more sacks the previous year. Both players are on the preseason watch list for the Nagurski and Bednarik awards, presented to the nation's top defensive player, amongst other lists.
"It's fun. Carl feeds off of me and feed off of him," Sutton said. "When one of us is off, the other has to pick him up. But when we're both on our game, it's kind of hard to stop us."
Together, he and Bradford combined for 24.5 sacks and 44 tackles for a loss. But they've both got their eyes on bigger individual goals for the upcoming season. After a visit from former Sun Devil, and the current recorder holder for sacks in a college football season with 24, Terrell Suggs this summer, Sutton and Bradford decided they wanted to re-write the record books.
"No, we didn't tell him," said Sutton sheepishly. "We just shook his hand and when he walked away we said 'We're gonna beat his record.'"
Kelly Prepares to Lead Offense
Nearly equally as effective on the field in 2012 as Will Sutton was first year starting quarterback Taylor Kelly. After securing the starting position late in fall camp, the Sun Devil signal caller submit his own record-breaking type season, passing for 3,039 yards, 29 touchdowns and just nine interceptions while also rushing for 56 yards and one touchdown.
His 67.1% completion rate was the highest in the program's history, breaking the previous record of 61% set the previous year by Brock Osweiler. Still, Kelly spent the summer working on his game in hopes of guiding the Sun Devil offense to new heights in 2013.
"I've mostly just been working on my core and feet, and keeping my eyes down the field," he said. "I've just been coming to work every day, and getting it done in the weight room. I put on a little bit of weight, probably like five pound because I'm trying to be lean."
The junior relied heavily on tight end Chris Coyle, who set the school's single-season reception record for a tight with 57 catches, last year, along with his running backs. In fact, the leading wide receiver from last season, Kevin Ozier, only hauled in 21 receptions on the year, something Kelly hopes to change this fall.
"They're looking great," he said of the wide receivers. "Kevin Ozier has been great this summer and Richard Smith has been working hard. And Rick's knowledge of the game has grown too. But the guy I've most been impressed with is Cameron Smith. He's fast and for a guy coming out of high school, he's really focused. I think it's going to be a good year for him."
Still, with ASU's tough early season schedule, in which they'll face Wisconsin, Stanford, USC, and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks, Kelly expects he'll need to lean on his talented running duo of senior Marion Grice and sophomore D.J. Foster.
"D.J.'s looking good, explosive," he commented. "He put on some weight too. He lost some weight with all the running but he's back now and stronger. And Marion is too. I think he's put on like 10 pounds and is running great, probably a little faster. They've both been good."
With a full and healthy stable of running backs and wide receivers at his disposal, Kelly anticipates he'll have a powerful arsenal of offensive threats to work with this upcoming season. The key for him, his coach has been telling him, and for the overall success of the Sun Devil offense in 2013, will cow down to protecting the ball and not over-thinking the moment.
"We've just got to protect the football," he concluded. "We were 14th in the nation scoring points last season, so if we protect the football and limit the sacks, we should have a great offense. I just have to make sure I get the ball to the playmakers and let them go to work."