Freshmen Corners Have It Covered

"Talented but inexperienced". That seems to be the mantra when describing the ASU cornerbacks. In the pass-happy Pac-10, these words are hardly any comfort for the Sun Devil faithful. But make no mistake about it, starting cornerbacks and redshirt freshmen R.J. Oliver and Emmanuel Franklin, are not conceding anything going into their first ever-collegiate game against San Diego State.

R.J. Oliver has strong ties to both ASU and SDSU, and ironically enough those two teams will meet in his debut as a Sun Devil. His father Roye is an ASU hall of famer wrestler, and his mother Toni Griffin was on the ASU track team. Oliver went to high school in the San Diego suburb of Escondido, and his father (who is currently the wrestling coach at Nebraska-Omaha) was SDSU's wrestling coach. Due to title IX gender equity requirements, SDSU had to drop its wrestling program in 1992, and Roye Oliver was out of a job. That did make an impact in R.J.'s mind, who would have liked to play Football close to home. But he has no regrets playing for ASU these days. He said he didn't choose the Sun Devils because of his dad, but it the fact that ASU is his father's alma mater, was mentioned to him frequently.

Oliver is anxious and ready to display his talents in his first ever-official game. As far as the inexperience factor that is mentioned repeatedly, he replies: "A lot of people may doubt how well we're going to do, but we don't feel that we have to prove ourselves. We just have to go out there and do our jobs. We know the Pac-10 loves to pass, and it's the best conference in the country. We just have to take care of business."

Lining opposite Oliver will be fellow redshirt freshmen Emmanuel Franklin. The cornerback doesn't equate not being battle tested with failure to play well: "I feel pretty good about starting. I like that people don't give us a chance because we're young and inexperienced. It gives them a false sense of confidence. They think we'll play scared and tentative. But we know if we play our technique like the coaches taught us, we'll be fine." Whenever the cornerbacks look for veteran advice, they don't have to look beyond the secondary: "With us being young, we do long to the veterans like (safeties) Al Williams and Willie Daniel. If blow a coverage, they'll tell us what we did wrong. It's good to have those guys back there with us."

The mindset going into the season knowing you will redshirt, is quite different than this year when Franklin was named a starter: "Last year redshirting and playing on the scout team, I was playing a little undisciplined. Sometimes I did what I wanted to do, and I actually fell asleep in some of the meetings (smile). But this year, it's A LOT different. You have to pay attention to formations and receivers tendencies. It's harder this year." As far as his feelings going into his first game as a Sun Devil he says: "I couldn't be any more psyched up than I am. I'm a little bit nervous, but it's more like anxiety. I'm just ready to get it on!"

It would be fair to say that the cornerback position will be closely scrutinized throughout the season, by coaches and fans alike. With the other units on defense led by capable veterans, the cornerbacks are, even if by default, the weakest link on defense. If ASU's corners can squelch all its detractors and doubters, they will complete a well-rounded Sun Devil defense that is vital for a successful 2001 season.

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