Latu tries to overcome rough offseason

Ever since he first arrived in 2010, it's been a constant case of musical chairs for Mo Latu. The Gilbert Perry standout was rated as one of state's top overall recruits and a stout offensive lineman, but at the time started his Sun Devil journey on the defensive line. After a stint on the front five, it has come full circle for Latu who hopes get back in shape and be an impact defensive lineman.

Former Arizona State Head Coach Dennis Erickson envisioned Latu as the anchor to his Sun Devil defensive line. Thus, Latu redshirted his first year and used the year off to learn the fundamentals of his new position.

However, when Todd Graham arrived in Tempe he immediately moved the lineman back to his natural offensive line position. Latu began the 2012 season backing up starting center Kody Koebensky before eventually shifting to guard. He played in 12 games for the Sun Devils last season and appeared to have found a home along the offensive line.

Late in spring practice earlier this year with the increased depth along the Arizona State offensive line, current Head Coach Todd Graham decided to move Latu back to defense in an effort to provide the Sun Devils with some additional help defending the run, an area they struggled against in 2012.

Latu had a respectable showing in his new position during the handful or so spring sessions, but suffered a setback when he sprained his knee heading into the summer. Once officially listed at 319 pounds, he reported to camp 60 lbs. heavier as a result of being physically limited and behind with his conditioning.

"It was the knee and I had a little sickness, but it was mostly the knee," Latu recalled. "It was a big setback for me with everything; lifting, cardio, everything. It set me back pretty big but I'm making a comeback from it."

Despite his limited mobility, ASU Strength and Conditioning Coach Shawn Griswold kept Latu busy over the summer in the weight room, making sure the redshirt sophomore didn't lose any of his upper body strength while he nursed his knee back to full health.

Consequently, during the team's final lift of the summer, Latu posted a personal and team best 40 reps on the bench press (225 pounds).

"Coach Gris, is a great strength and conditioning coach," said Latu. "Because of my knee, over the summer I worked on my upper body and my hip strength, so the only thing I had to do when I came back was work on my legs. So thanks to Coach Gris for keeping me on track with that."

Latu spent the first couple of weeks of fall camp confined to the stationary bike and participated in additional conditioning drills after practice with defensive line coach Jackie Shipp and defensive coordinator Paul Randolph as he worked himself back into playing shape. The man affectionately known as "Big Mo" says he's now down to 373 pounds with his goal being able to reach 350 now that he is fully recovered from the knee injury.

"The recovery has been great," Latu remarked. "It's going great. I went from not being able to get off the ball at the beginning of the summer to now just exploding on it."

As a result, Latu has been able to (once again) re-join his defensive teammates back on the field, backing up 2012 Freshman All-American Jaxon Hood at the tackle position. While he admits the constant position shuffling has made it difficult to settle into one particular role, he's excited for his return to the defensive line and feels like his previous experience at center and guard only serves to benefit him on the attack.

"It's been great," he said on the transition to defensive tackle. "Just taking the stuff I learned my freshman year when I was on the defensive line, and then picking up on some offensive line techniques and stuff, it gave me a better understanding of an o-lineman and being able to read their steps and know what they're going do or how they're going to take a certain hitch. So, it's really worked to my advantage."

These days, instead of learning read assignments and countering a defensive lineman's technique, Latu says Shipp has given him one responsibility each time out.

"He just wants me to blow up that line," he said with a laugh. "It's fun. It's real fun."

During last Thursday's 55-0 season opening win over Sacramento State at Sun Devil Stadium, Latu finally made his first appearance as a member of the Arizona State defense and wasted very little time executing his coach's demands.

Though he only played 12 snaps in the contest, he forced his first career fumble in the fourth quarter when he stormed into the Sacramento State backfield tackling running back Jihad Vercher. The fumble was recovered by senior linebacker Grandville Taylor and led to a 29-yard Zane Gonzalez field goal.

"It felt great, that being my first college football game on defense," Latu described. "Just being able to get in there, have an effect, and strip that ball, it was the best feeling ever."

Needless to say that the competition becomes significantly more challenging this week for Latu and his ASU teammates when No. 20 Wisconsin pays Tempe a visit Saturday night. Through their first two games, in which they outscored their opponents 93-0, the Badgers are averaging 390 yards rushing and features an offensive line that many expect to be the biggest and most physical unit Arizona State will face the entire 2013 season.

Latu, who says his goal is to play 20-25 snaps a game, figures to be one of the players the Sun Devils will look upon to help control the line of scrimmage against a deft rushing attack.

"I believe our d-line is well prepared for this game," Latu commented. "We've been studying film and just can't wait to attack and everybody is just getting off that ball and trying to blow up that line.

"It gets me mad, just people thinking that they're going to come in and try to take our house. But that's what gets the fire going in, not just me, but all my teammates."

Regardless of how much Latu plays this season, he's just happy to finally have a position he can settle into having a chance of making impactful plays. The support Latu received from his local fans through his physical struggles has been significant in keeping him on the right path.

"I feel every bit of it," Latu admitted. "I've got a lot of support from everybody; family, friends, and even strangers that will just come up and support me. It's a great feeling."

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