Hardison Building on Last Season’s Experience

When junior college transfer Marcus Hardison first arrived on campus last fall, he set the bar pretty high for himself. While the defensive end may have fallen short of achieving a few of his own lofty first year goals, he also gained some very valuable experience which he’s now using to better himself in 2014.

Through the season’s first three games, Hardison has already outperformed his results from a year ago and appears ready to take the next step as one of the leaders on this season’s young but talented Arizona State defense.

When Marcus Hardison reported for fall camp last year, he made it very clear that while Arizona State returned a number of highly-touted players on its defensive line, he was not fazed by the challenges ahead of him. In fact, he often said that he hoped push his teammates and match, or even surpass, their on-field contributions.

Unfortunately for Hardison, like it is for many junior college transfers, the learning curve was steep and required not only a great deal of time and effort, but attention to detail before he was able to make an impact on the field.

“Those guys last year were great,” said Hardison after practice on Wednesday. “Gannon (Conway) was a smart player. Will (Sutton) was a smart player. Davon (Coleman) was just real talented. I watched those guys and just learned how to do my thing. They’d do slants and I’d just watch their fundamentals because they were really good at that and that was something that I lacked last year.”

While he appeared in 13 games for the Sun Devils last season, it took a while before Hardison was able to find his footing. The defensive end didn’t record his first tackle until the fourth game of the season against USC and finished the year with just five total tackles (all solo) and one sack.

“For me, it was like starting football all over again,” he said. “Coming high school and JUCO, I had never really been coached. I used to just go out there and have free will and just did whatever I wanted to do. But coming here, there was structure and I had to do certain things to get better and make me a better player, so fundamentals and my technique are something that I focus on now every day.”

Hardison studied his veteran teammates and committed himself to mastering his own technique - which included improving foot work, hand work, and leverage to better position himself to attack opposing offensive linemen - as the season wore on and throughout the offseason in hopes of living up to his own expectations in 2014.

Through the team’s first three games of the 2014 season, Hardison has been able to bear the fruits of his labor having already surpassed his numbers from a year ago, registering 11 tackles (seven solo) while providing a steady edge presence for the Arizona State defense.

In Arizona State’s 38-24 win over Colorado last Saturday, the senior collected three tackles and sack, helping set the tone for the road victory early on.

“I feel like I did well. I caused a lot of disruption in the backfield,” he said. “I think I came out and did what I had to do and followed my assignments. I played pretty good and even got a lil’ sack.

“I feel good through the first three games but I can always get better. Every game that I get done with I feel like I could have done better. But I feel like me progressing every game is great, so sooner or later I’ll be making some good numbers.”

In an interesting twist, the Sun Devils actually started more true freshmen (three) than seniors (two) on defense for a second straight week when they took on the Colorado last Saturday in Boulder. Despite its inexperience on defense, Arizona State (3-0, 1-0) has managed to perform favorably through the first three weeks of the season.

The Sun Devils are allowing just 20.3 points per game, which ranks fifth in the Pac-12 and 42nd nationally. They’re also fourth in the conference against the pass, yielding just 199.7 yards per contest while being tied for fifth in sacks with six.

“These three games have definitely helped our confidence,” said Hardison. “A lot of these freshmen and new kids, these new starters, they’re gaining confidence because they’re out here playing and understanding what they’re doing. Just from these three games, we’re getting a lot better as a team and improving as a defense.

“We’ve got some great guys out there and they’re all working hard. We’re getting better every day. We’ve just got to eliminate the critical errors and missed assignments, but we’re getting better every game.”

Of course the true test for Hardison and the young Arizona State defense still awaits when Pac-12 South favorite UCLA (3-0, 0-0) visits Sun Devil Stadium next Thursday. While plenty of football remains to be played, the winner of next week’s contest between the Devils and Bruins will take the early lead in the race for the South division title, something ASU isn’t willing to give up just yet, according to Hardison.

“It’s very important because the last three years, whoever won this game has been the Pac-12 South champions,” he said. “This bye week is perfect. It comes in hand and gives us two weeks to prepare for UCLA. We’re going to be prepared and ready to go for that Thursday night game. It’s a primetime game. The intensity is going to be there. The crowd is going to be there. We’ve just got to be focused.”

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