QB-WR Connection Brings Back Pleasant Memories

In 2002, the tandem of quarterback Andrew Walter and wide receiver Shaun McDonald was not only one of the best in the Pac-10, but also in all of college football. In the second half of last season, Walter seemed to find a new favorite target in Derek Hagan, and this year's spring practice greatly reinforced that combination. Could 2004 produce a new explosive offensive connection? Both Walter and Hagan agree that this notion could soon be reality.

"I hope so," said Andrew Walter in response to his feelings about the Derek Hagan connection living up to the one he had with McDonald. "I would love to be able to say that - absolutely. It looked like it was today (in scrimmage). Come fall is when it counts." Much like Shaun McDonald in 2002, throughout spring practice Walter has been able to hook up with Hagan almost at will. Case in point, in Saturday's spring ending scrimmage, Hagan was thrown to exclusively during two-minute drills. Everyone in the stadium knew it was coming, and there's nothing that could be done to prevent it. "It did feel real good," Walter commented. "He was on fire, so I was just gonna throw it up to him and let him make a play."

Walter believes that Hagan's consistency one of his biggest contributors to his success. "He's able to make the routine and the great plays," remarked Walter, "which is what you need. We need to see that from everybody. They need to catch Derek Hagan's fire, and start doing that. If everyone jumps on his bandwagon and figures it out, we'll be all right."

The senior quarterback stated that the changes for him in this spring practice were subtle, while the overall changes for the team were more significant. "Personally, it was lot fine tuning," said Walter. "There weren't any major changes I needed to make. As a team, we had long practices. A lot of hitting, a lot of competing. In the end it helped us tough up to a point where we feel good going into the summer."

Speaking of the summer, in order to reverse the squad's fortunes from last year, the Sun Devil signal caller said that the camaraderie between him and his arial targets has to be taken to a higher level. "We need to remember the good (that happened during spring), and continue to be on the field," said Walter. "That doesn't include workouts and lifting - that's (already) there. We need to do everything other than that. We need to hang out together, throw the ball, watch tape, and I guarantee you we will."

"In the past," continued Walter, "receivers I had a connection with are accountable and give you everything they got. They're good guys. You can ask them ‘what did you see?' and they're able to give you a good answer. So they're knowledgeable about the game." It's quite evident that Walter has that relationship with Hagan. Nevertheless, are they any other wideouts who the quarterback feels the same about? "Not at this time," stated Walter. "We need to get everyone up to that speed. I think I have a little of that with Terry Richardson, but I would like to get a lot more with him. Everybody else, we need to get them on those pages."

Walter had a multitude of injuries in 2003. He said that he believes that his health shouldn't be concern for the upcoming season, and is confident that all of his ailments will heal in time for fall camp. "I'm gonna take some time off now," remarked Walter, "and take the treatment very hard. I'm gonna get through the two final weeks of workout, get through finals, and try to do as little as possible for a little amount of time. Time will heal all this stuff…I'm to the point where I can be smart enough during workouts to know that if you run this last one you'll hurt something, where before you just run the last one and then start hurting. Now that I've done that, at least I know about it and I'll be smarter about it."

Rightfully or not, expectations from this Sun Devil team are bound to be much lower than they were in the 2003 pre-season. How does the team's leader on offense feel about his and his teammates' chances at greater than anticipated success? He said that the offense's performance in the second half of the last scrimmage is definitely one encouraging sign, but other manifestations will only take place some four months from now. "My real confidence in our offense and the team will come in the fall," he said, "after good summer workouts. After spring it's a big step, but we have to carry it over into the summer, and the season. Once we start clicking in camp, that's when I'll feel real good about our chances."

The positive outlook for the offense is something that wide receiver Derek Hagan also shares. For starters, he believes that the leadership and the passion to win on the team have noticeably increased. "Nobody on this team wants to go 5-7 again," said Hagan. "We're gonna finish strong and not quit. When the fourth quarter comes around we're not gonna give up, that was a problem last year. We're gonna make sure it doesn't happen this year." He added that the increased attendance and frequency in film sessions is another aspect that has improved from last year, and one that can propel the Devils to a successful 2004 season.

The junior was very pragmatic when he talked about the numerous big plays him and Andrew had on Saturday. "I just wanted to make sure that Andrew and I are on the same page," he said. "We've been on the same page since last year, and I wanted to make sure it stayed that way. We just came out doing the same things. We work hard and made it look easy – completing every pass and getting the ball into the end zone. Today we were just on point and crisp. We left (spring practice) on a good note."

Hagan has noticed that the biggest difference in his game from last year is not so much on the football side, as it is off the field. "I think it (the difference) is coming to work as a leader and making more plays. Skyler (Fulton) is gone, so I need to step up. I need to be not only a leader at wide receiver, but also a leader on the team." Even though his starting position is one of the most entrenched roles on the team, his hunger to succeed has remained just as strong. "I'm always motivated when I'm on the field," remarked Hagan. "I can't stand to be on the sidelines. When I'm on the field, if I'm not catching passes, I'm gonna block for the running backs can get into the end zone."

The wide receiver echoed Walter's words in regards to the importance of informal workouts during the summer. "We've have four months of the off-season where we just have to work," said Hagan. "We have to keep that mental game going because four months is a long time. We're not gonna be out there in pads, but in the summer we'll work out, throw the ball almost every day, just making sure everything is right."

With his motivation and anticipation for the long layoff running high, it would stand to reason that he's extremely antsy for Camp Tontozona. Or is he? "That's a place where nobody likes to go up there (smile). Nine days is a long time. But when Tontozona comes we just have to be prepared and get ready to execute." Based on the end of spring practice, ready would be an understatement describing the dynamic duo of Andrew Walter and Derek Hagan…

Sun Devil Source Top Stories