Longino enjoys breakout game

It hasn’t been an easy road for redshirt junior linebacker Antonio Longino. After transferring from Hutchinson (Kan.) Junior College a season ago to play for the Sun Devils, Longino struggled to grasp Todd Graham’s defensive schemes.

The trials and tribulations weren’t without effort – for the couple weeks or so of fall camp in 2013, Longino could be seen with a notebook at practice and was the only newcomer at that time to do so.

It was never a question of athletic ability; he just couldn’t wrap his head around the defense. Often times coaches would say he thought too much, and didn’t rely on his instincts enough.

“My thing last year was that I had a hard time getting with everything,” Longino said. “I have never really had a coach like Todd Graham – he’s a real coach. I have never been coached so hard, so I wasn’t used to that and my confidence would get taken away.

“As it went on, it wasn’t him not liking me; he just wanted me to know what I’m supposed to do. Now I can take that, all the negative bounces off my head and I can take the coaching.”

What a difference a year makes.

Through three weeks of the 2014 season, Longino has been one of the defensive standouts, finding a home at the Devil backer position in Graham’s defense – one that requires tremendous athleticism and strength.

“I’m up on the line and I’m not really thinking as much, so I like it like that,” Longino said. “I’m more comfortable being coachable for two snaps, and then being an athlete on the third.”

In his first game as a starter a week ago in Boulder, Longino finished with 10 total tackles, a sack, and was wreaking havoc in Colorado’s backfield seemingly all night. He was instinctive, flew to the ball and pressured the quarterback, something the Devils will need more of going forward.

“I felt like I had great hustle and was being very coachable,” Longino said of his performance against the Buffalos. “I still made mistakes, but it was my effort that pushed me forward. That was a big game, but coach Graham and I feel like I can do better. Even though I am at that starting spot right now, I still feel like I need to work hard every day. I don’t want to feel too comfortable.”

Similar to others on the ASU defense that are trying to improve their pass rushing skills, Longino watched film on former Sun Devil Carl Bradford, who excelled the last two seasons at the Devil backer position.

Longino studied how Bradford was able to manipulate the offensive tackles that he’d go up against, and he’s started to implement some of those techniques into his own game.

With the Sun Devils’ biggest test to date this season in No. 12 UCLA looming large, there will be a huge emphasis on Longino and the rest of the defensive line to force pressure up front and create an uncomfortable pocket for Bruin star quarterback Brett Hundley.

Longino said that he’s been studying the Bruins’ two offensive tackles, their footwork and how he can beat them to get to Hundley. Through three games this year, UCLA has already given up 12 sacks. The offensive line is extremely young, with three sophomore starters on the unit.

It’s early for a single game to have such season-dependent implications, but with starting quarterback Taylor Kelly out and the youth along Arizona State’s defense, a win over the Bruins in front of a raucous home crowd could do wonders for the team’s confidence moving forward into the rest of Pac-12 league play.

“I’m excited for this game; I’m war ready,” Longino said.

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