In order to sack opposing quarterbacks, Edmond Boateng learned he has to be willing to not look at them.
As a first-year college player for Arizona State a season ago, the 6-foot-4, 265 pound junior defensive end wanted so desperately to make plays he'd skip over steps one and two on his checklist in order to get to three.
It often left him back at zero.
"Let's say I'm looking at your shoulder right now (as an offensive tackle)," Boateng said. "Your shoulder has the possibility of doing a few things. Going down (to block), reaching out (to block) or pass setting. When I first came here I was very undisciplined with that. I was always looking in the backfield, just looking in the quarterback or the (running) back when I really should have just been looking at that shoulder. It's really clicking now, making me work a lot faster. Shoulder point discipline and all that is very vital."
A white board posted mere feet from the team's locker room in the bowels of Sun Devil Stadium will eventually tell the full story, and it doesn't lie. Defensive coaches make sure of it.
ASU coaches meticulously chart every play of every game. When a defensive lineman jumps off-sides because he doesn't key the snap of the football properly, it shows up on the white board. Aligned improperly before the snap? White board. Missed assignment? White board.
Every time they arrive and get ready for the next day's challenges ASU players have to walk past the board, which says nothing but plainly declares everything.
Boateng made a lot of good plays last season that were documented, but also had a lot of miscues.
"He was probably trying to hard and a little bit too headstrong," defensive line coach Jackie Shipp said. "He's a smart guy, a guy who wants to be good, and can be good, but you have to do it the right way. I think he's learning that. Now did I have to talk to him about that a few times, maybe even a few too many times? Of course, but that's part of it."
In the same mode of thinking, Boateng isn't worried about the big picture going into this season. There's no lofty goals or big picture plans from an individual standpoint. He just wants to focus on doing the next thing right and let the rest fall into place. Watch the snap, see the shoulder, make the right play.
"I'm just trying to be the best I can be," Boateng said. "Sometimes when you set things too high you kind of overwhelm yourselves. I've done that a few times so it's a matter of balancing out my highs and my lows and having a steady rhythm.
'I would like to say that I've improved tremendously. My footwork, my stamina. Just a lot of things. came in here out of shape. I've been up and down with that. But coming into our first game I feel prepared to take a lot of snaps and keep going."
Through essentially all of August, Boateng was working with the second-team at the 5-technique end spot. It's where the 6-foot-4, 265-pounder played last season for the Sun Devils in his first season out of New Mexico Military Institute. He collected 22 tackles with 2.5 sacks, four tackles for loss and a lot of loud corrections from coaches, all of which has helped prepare Boateng for the 2015 season.
A week out from the team's season opener against Texas A&M in Houston, Boateng is trying to secure a starting spot over talented true freshman Joseph Wicker, who had taken most of the recent first-team reps at the end position until Boateng assumed the role in Friday's practice. ASU head coach Todd Graham said it's too close to call as of Saturday, and he's challenging both to rise to the challenge.
"I think it's more just, they're trying to get [Wicker] familiar with everything," Boateng said. "As of right now we only have two solid d-ends. Sometimes there's more comfort at other places on the d-line. They're really just trying to break him in, get me on my heels, (make me) work as hard as possible."They key thing is just not to get ahead of himself according to Boateng; except when it comes to team goals, then he's willing to make an exception. "I've very excited," he said. "I've been thinking about it before, during spring, [summer]. Coach [Keith Patterson] always talks about, 'think of confetti, think of confetti.' Every time I close my eyes I think of confetti falling down. That's what I"m thinking of now.
"Pac-12 (champs), national champs. We're going to do it."