Fiso embraces leadership responsibilities

To put things into perspective with regards to the inexperience Arizona State defense is in, a redshirt sophomore is in a leadership role. Salamo Fiso, one only two returning starters on the Sun Devil season from a year ago, knew coming into the 2014 season that his role was going to change drastically, and that has hardly affected his production, as evident in ASU’s season opener.

“It’s definitely a bigger role; I have to be more of a leader,” Fiso said. “I’m becoming better vocally, but I just like leading by example and just doing my job and staying focused.

“I have a bigger presence on the field now since all of the big names left. And now I’m just leading the younger guys making sure they are not too high and not too low.”

In Arizona State’s season opener against Weber State last Thursday, a total of five true freshmen played on defense, and that’s not accounting for the rest of the players who had never seen a snap in a Sun Devil uniform.

Right beside Fiso at the WILL linebacker spot, true freshman D.J. Calhoun received praise from head coach Todd Graham for his play on Thursday, enough so that he was one of the players at the end of the game press conference alongside D.J. Foster and Taylor Kelly.

Fiso was in a position similar to Calhoun’s a year ago; a young linebacker with raw talent, wide eyes and a desire to just hit somebody. It’s easy to get antsy in that position.

“I’m keeping DJ calm and not letting him get too big, not winning the pregame,” Fiso said. “I’ve been telling him to stay calm and just do his job. He was hyped, and had a whole bunch of energy. But he’s just a baller.”

Despite the fresh faces, Arizona State performed well on defense in the first two quarters, playing a key role in the 31-0 score heading into halftime.

Weber State took advantage of Graham calling the dogs off in the second half, putting up 14 points against the Devils’ third string players. Even so, one could argue that the third stringers for Arizona State should be able to thwart a Weber State team that went 2-10 in 2013.

The points left a bad taste in the players’ mouths.

“It could have been better,” Fiso said of the defense’s performance. “We could have dominated. We wanted to keep that donut on the scoreboard.”

Fiso’s own execution of the defense wasn’t something to be disappointed in. The 6’1” 235 lbs. strong side linebacker finished the game with five tackles, two assists and a sack.

That sack, the first of the year for the Sun Devils, was the result of a new little wrinkle in Todd Graham’s nickel defense where Fiso has his hand in the dirt outside the offensive tackle.

“(Graham) said he just wants speed off the edge to get pressure on the quarterback,” Fiso said. “I like it a lot, I just want to rake the ball and force a fumble and pick it up to score.”

In order to prepare for his new third down role, Fiso watched film of one of the best pass rushers in recent Sun Devil history, Carl Bradford.

“I studied Carl from the year past,” Fiso said. “And I also looked at Clay (Matthews) in his rookie year. All of that inspired me.”

Fiso was impressive coming off the edge, albeit against FCS caliber tackles. The Devils’ next matchup will be a bit tougher. On Saturday, they travel to New Mexico to take on the Lobos.

While New Mexico went 3-9 in 2013, and is already 0-1 to start this season, they’ll certainly be more of a challenge than Weber State.

“They’re pretty fast,” Fiso said. “You just have to do your assignment. With a triple option team like that, if one person doesn’t have their gap, that ball is gone. They do a lot of movement and motioning with three backs. Also a whole bunch of quarterback option plays; you just have to use your eyes.”

That game, combined with Colorado in week three, will be a great tune up for a young defense to get better before the week five matchup against UCLA.

“We are still growing,” Fiso said. “We are just going week to week and now we just have to focus on New Mexico.”

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