Antonio Longino, who starred at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, tallied 56 tackles, 6 tackles for a loss, and 1.5 sacks as a freshman in 2012 despite only playing in seven games due to an injury. The three-star prospect was rated as one of the nation's top junior college linebacker prospects last year with scholarship offers from seven schools, including Arkansas and Texas A&M. But after a January visit to Tempe, he knew he had found his home.
"Coach Graham, he's got a way with words," said Longino after Saturday's practice. "He kept it real with me from the jump. Everything he said I bought into it. Like, I never got worked before. It was always, 'do what you wanna do'. But I felt like I wanted some discipline and I feel like I'm in a way better program now and it's going to show.
"The coaches, they all know me. I committed to Coach (Dan) Lanning and he just stayed on me until I got down here and every day since then he's been trying to get me better."
At 6-3 and 225 pounds, Longino possesses ideal size and tangibles for a linebacker in Graham's new defensive scheme, with the quickness to rush off the edge and the toughness to fill holes along the line of scrimmage. He joins a veteran group of linebackers already loaded with talent, and even though the learning curve has been steep, Longino feels as though he's beginning to develop into his role.
"I fit in real nice with this squad," Longino stated. "Everybody is working together and nobody's not trying to help each other out. And everybody's physical. I'm physical, they're fast, so we're all on the same page, or at least I'm getting on the same page. I'm picking things up.
"We're all getting there, you know, at the same time. Because come game time, we got to be ready to take off."
Longino, who has three years of eligibility after redshirting as a freshman at Hutchinson, was originally considered to be a replacement for departed senior Brandon Magee. He spent the first three weeks of fall camp at Magee's former WILL linebacker position but following the team's return from Camp Tontozona last weekend, has shifted to the linebacker/safety hybrid Spur role, a position he admittedly feels more comfortable in and is better suited for his skill set.
"It's been crazy just figuring out where I'm going to be at," Longino admitted. "The coaches, they went back and looked at my old highlights and saw that I'm good off the edge. I played Spur in JUCO, so the change has been good and I feel like I'm learning more. Coach Graham and Coach Randolph, they're on me every day, so I feel like I'm getting better.
"Already, I feel like I've learned way more here than at JUCO because the game's faster and there's just more stuff that I've got to learn. But overall, it's been good."
While the learning curve has been steep for the newcomer, Longino says he continues to focus on the things that Graham and the coaching staff have challenged him to work on as he continues to fight for his position on the two-deep.
"My mindset is like Coach told me, 'Just play. Don't be out there thinking because it's going to come to you, so just play,' and that's what I've been doing," Longino described. "I've just been playing, following their instruction, and being disciplined and that's really what it is.
"At first, I was thinking too much, that was my problem. I was trying to do everybody else's job because back in the day, I used to have to do everybody's job. That's just how I played. But now, there are ten other guys on the field and they're all doing their job, so I just do mine and just try to play good defense."
One of the challenges Graham has made to the Arizona State defense throughout the offseason has been to be tougher against the run. Last season, opponents averaged nearly 183 rushing yards per game against Sun Devils, which ranked 10th in the conference.
With teams such as Wisconsin, Stanford and Notre Dame on its schedule, ASU will undoubtedly be tested early and often against the run 2013, thus Longino understands the importance of rising to his coaches' challenge.
"We're gonna eliminate the run. That's our key," Longino noted. "Linebackers, we run first, so we're really gonna get out there. We know how bad the seniors want it, and just me, coming from a junior college; I know how much I want it. It's a struggle being out there, so we all want it the same. Basically, it feels like I'm a senior and we all want it and we're gonna go get it."
Longino, who's currently studying Sports Management in his first semester at ASU, has also developed a reputation amongst his teammates as a being a student, both on and off the field. Throughout camp, he was the only newcomer who brought a notebook to the practice field in the returning players' sessions in an effort to learn as much as possible from his new coaching staff and teammates alike as he continues to acclimate to the Divisions I level of play.
"Yeah, I have my notepad and my iPad, just taking notes and trying to learn from everybody," Longino said with a laugh. "I do a lot of studying and take down a lot of notes. I like to record our meetings with my iPad and go home and watch them. I also get a lot of film and watch it all just to try to get better."
Next week as the college football season gets started all across the country, the Sun Devils will already have a bye week as they await their match versus Sacramento State on Thursday September 5th.
For Longino though, it's the perfect start date. Not only is it his birthday, but it also gives him one more week to develop into his new role and his team some extra time to prepare for the grind that lies ahead.
"We're still gonna be working. There are no days off," Longino said. "That first game, I that's my birthday, so I got to go all out. We're gonna do what we got to do to get these wins. I'm gonna work and keep listening to the coaches, because they motivate you to do everything right.
"I'm just trying to get better and be solid. And then just go out there, ball out, and get a win."