Sutton defies the critics, wins Pac-12 award

From his added weight, to his decreased productivity from a year ago, Will Sutton saw the negative publicity pile up as the 2013 season progressed. Ultimately, the senior defensive tackle's performance was recognized by the coaches around the Pac-12 conference and his defensive prowess netted him the Pat Tillman Defensive Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award for the second year in a row.

"It's crazy," Sutton remarked on Monday. "Coach Graham called me last night, and I thought I was in trouble. I didn't think I would get the defensive player of the year again because my numbers were down."

Sutton's numbers do indeed pale in comparison to his Consensus All-American 2012 season when he posted 63 tackles, 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss. This year, Sutton has tallied just 42 tackles, 3 sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss and one interception.

"I think I'm going to make 20 tackles, but we go into game and they change their whole offensive scheme to where their shifting their protection to me," Sutton explained, "or I'm getting doubled on the run. It's just learning to adapt to those things, how to defeat the cut block from your outside and inside, and how to stay low and get leverage against the double team.

"Those are the things that I've improved over the season."

But what about the "bad weight" story line that the national media continued to harp on? Sutton added a noticeable 20 pounds in the offseason, and many thought that might be the cause of the decreased production in 2013.

"I never thought I put on bad weight from the start," Sutton claimed. "I didn't know why bad weight would even be talked about because if you watch film you would see that teams are doing everything in their power to slow me down.

"Look at the Stanford game at the beginning of the season; I got high-lowed four or five times and no penalty was called. People still talk about how my weight is bad when they're not watching the film and seeing that. It doesn't affect me to tell you the truth, I just brush it off and laugh and just move on to the next week."

It takes a mature player to hear all of the criticism, brush it off, and keep grinding. One of the things that Todd Graham has mentioned as the season has progressed is the growth of Sutton's maturity and leadership.

Graham has given Sutton free reign in the locker room during halftime to talk to the rest of the team and explain what they need to work on to finish the game strong. With that said, Sutton will be the first to tell you that he wasn't always the type of player that would do that.

"I just had to get comfortable with it," Sutton recalled. "At first it was kind of like, they wanted me to do it, but I wasn't comfortable with it. So I had to gradually just learn to let it come to me as time comes. As the season started to get closer to the end, and we started winning, it just came upon me to do what they wanted me to do from the beginning. It just had to come to me on my own. I'm not really the type to go out there and jump in people's faces but since we are trying to accomplish our goals, I needed to step up. I had to mature.

"Sometimes it just has to get to a point where you tell another man, ‘come on man, you're not playing right, you're not playing good right now.' Sometimes the other person doesn't want to hear that and you bump heads. But we all know it's all for the good of the team so in the next days it's squashed, everybody knows what happened, and it doesn't need to be talked about again because we are on our way to our goal."

Arizona State is just 60 minutes away from playing in their first Rose Bowl since 1997. The Sun Devils take on a No. 7 Stanford team that humbled them early on in the season 42-28.

Sutton mentioned that he thought the defense just came out flat in that game back in September against the Cardinal. But now with the championship game being held in Sun Devil Stadium, Sutton knows that the home crowd will provide energy and give the Devils a much needed advantage against a veteran Stanford team.

"It's real special (to play the conference championship at home)," Sutton said. "Stanford knows what it takes to win; they've won a Rose Bowl. They're going to play with unbelievable discipline. They are a well-coached bunch and I have much respect for those guys.

"We just have to go out there and play like we have never played before."

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