Hardison settling on defensive line

It's not often that a defensive line can tout two All-Americans and then add one of the nation's premiere junior college defensive ends to it, but that's exactly what Arizona State did when Marcus Hardison signed his National Letter of Intent with the maroon and gold last February. After spending all of his summer in Tempe, the defensive playmaker is ready to hit the ground running this fall.

Coming out of Dodge City (Kan.) Community College, Marcus Hardison was rated as one of the nation's top junior college defensive lineman. After recording 50 tackles and four sacks his sophomore year, the 6'5" 290 pound defensive end was one of the most sought after recruits in the country, with offers from Washington, South Florida, Kansas State, and West Virginia, among others.

Yet, after an early recruiting trip to Tempe to visit Sun Devil Head Coach Todd Graham, fresh off the team's bowl victory and its first winning season since 2007, he knew he had found a home.

"The coaches, they really made a relationship with me and my family," he recalled. "I could tell they wanted me and needed me at the same time. Compared to some of the other schools, when it came down to it, I just believed the coaches and the opportunities I have here at ASU.

"And when I came here to visit, it just felt like home. Even though it's all the way out here on the west coast, it still felt like home. I loved it, my parents loved it, and we all believe in the coaches."

Aside from the instant bond he felt with Graham and his staff on his visit, Hardison, who hails from Punta Gorda, Fla., admitted he felt an instant connection with the tough-minded and aggressive Sun Devil defense, which transformed itself into one of the most improved units in the country in 2012. The Sun Devils finished second in the nation in sacks last year, first in tackles for loss, and fourth in interceptions, under the guidance of Graham and Defensive Coordinator Paul Randolph.

"It's a multiple look defense and it's attack, attack, attack," Hardison described. "I'm not the type of person that just likes to sit back and read - I like to hit and get up field and make plays. I'm always on the stunt, I'm always everywhere, and I love that because that's the type of player I am."

After finishing the spring semester in Kansas, Hardison, a Psychology major, arrived on campus in late May for summer school and voluntary workouts with his new teammates. Despite having to get adjusted his new surroundings, he admitted to feeling like a kid again, happy to have a new place to call home and new goals to achieve.

"When I got here, you know, everybody's excited for their first day at school," he said. "The coaches were really happy that I was here but it was time to get to work. I got all my physical stuff done, my paperwork, and worked out my first day here. It's nice, you know, coming from a JUCO where you don't have much, it's awesome. I love the coaches, I love the attitude, it's great.

"Coach Graham has all these pictures everywhere of things like the Rose Bowl and the National Championship, and that's great because that's what we all want to do. We all have that goal and it's even better that we all have that visually as a goal too. I love it around here."

Of course, arriving in May also gave Hardison the chance to get a first-hand experience of the rigors Strength and Conditioning Coach Shawn Griswold designed for the team's summer workouts, something he admits was unlike anything else he's ever experienced.

"Coach Gris, he's in his own world," Hardison exclaimed. "The weight room, it's like a different world down there. It's a different planet. He pushes us to our maximum potential, so that's great. Between the running and the weights, we come out here and we work hard."

On Tuesday, Hardison and the rest of the newcomers hit the practice field for the first time this fall and were introduced to Coach Graham's high-octane style of play. Despite a summer of conditioning and advice from his new teammates, Hardison admitted that he struggled with the tempo his first time out.

"I got Will Sutton as my roommate and he tells me a lot of things. A lot of players in locker room tell me things," Hardison stated. "They gave me a heads up, saying there'd be a lot of tempo going on but I didn't think it'd be as fast as they were talking about though. It's just something that I've got to get used, but everything the players told me has been true. I'll just keep working hard.

"Just flying around, compared to JUCO, this is like awhile different level. That's like really the only thing I have to get used to. I'm getting the plays down, I'm studying every day - it's just the tempo. But I'll get it. One day at a time."

Helping him develop will be new Sun Devil Defensive Line Coach Jackie Shipp, who spent the last 14 years as a member of Bob Stoops' coaching staff at Oklahoma. Shipp joined the Sun Devils in February and despite only being on campus a short amount of time, has already made a significant impact on one of the newest Sun Devil defensive linemen.

"Coach Shipp is a great coach. He works me hard and sometimes I don't like it, but it only makes me better," said Hardison. "As you saw, I just got done doing 300 yards, but he's a great coach. I've learned more in these last 2-3 days than I learned the last two years. I feel like I'm starting over and only getting better each day."

Hardison says he looks forward to playing alongside his roommate and the All-American, Sutton, while also challenging his favorite Sun Devi of all-time, Terrell Suggs, for the NCAA single season sack leader in his two years at Arizona State. And while he knows he comes into the season with high expectations from himself and Arizona State fans to help elevate a defense that took great strides last season, the big man says he's ready for the challenge.

"I kind of get nervous. I think about that a little," he said. "Some people have really high expectations but you know just working hard I can fulfill those expectations. So just keep working hard and I can definitely do those things."

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