Caldwell Deja Vu

All right Sun Devil fans stop me when this sounds familiar. A fiery young defensive lineman was at the forefront of the nation's top defense on the way to a rousing bowl victory over then, and still, dominant Oklahoma.

Caught on yet? Well if you're new to the valley (who isn't? 900,000 new residents since 1990) it might not ring a bell. But for die-hard ASU faithful, they can't help but think of the 1982 Sun Devil squad that finished 10-2 with a victory in the Fiesta Bowl.

Fast forward to 2004: The Devils are 5-0 for the first time since their march to the Rose Bowl in 1996, and proving to the rest of the country that the Pac-10 is a lot more than a two horse race.

So what do the two squads have in common? A Caldwell stands front in center of a defensive revival that has gone from the Sun Devils biggest question mark before the season, to perhaps their most formidable asset. In 1982 it was Bryan Caldwell. In 2004, it's Bryan's son, Kyle, lighting a fire in Sparky's den.

At 6-3, 256 pounds, Kyle has been labeled a future star for ASU since being a top 50 national recruit out of Scottsdale's Saguaro High. After a freshman year in which he was pegged as an all Pac-10 Freshman selection, the coaching staff saw enough to move last year's starter at end, Jimmy Verdon, inside to tackle, opening up a starting spot for the one-time prep All-American.

Thus far, Caldwell hasn't disappointed.

After 5 games, his 3.5 sacks are tied for the team lead. The defense as a whole, is allowing less than 13 points per game compared to last year's 27.3. The change, according to Caldwell, has as much to do with a new attitude as it does the new 4-3 scheme.

"Last year it seemed sometimes we played on our heels a little bit waiting to read the play. This year everyone is full tilt going all out and full steam ahead."

This past Saturday in the team's 28-13 triumph over Oregon, Caldwell had his breakout performance that even he conceded was his best game in the maroon and gold.

"Every game this year has been a huge progression for me… but this was definitely my best game so far [against Oregon] Hopefully there will be many more to come that will make this one look like nothing."

Scary thought for the rest of the Pac-10 considering Caldwell registered 2 sacks; several quarterback hurries, and disrupted a running attack that came into the game averaging more than 180 yards on the ground per contest. Oregon finished with 56 below their season average at 134.

Even scarier when taking into account Caldwell was playing with a sore hamstring, an injury that has bothered him since first being sustained against Northwestern. (Note to self: tough guys play all but 3 defensive snaps against the mean green on a "sore" hamstring)

While fans most recent memories of a dominant defensive end are of former Devil Terrell Suggs chasing down quarterbacks and causing opposing coaches headaches, Caldwell hones his skills by modeling them closer to the family tree.

"I like to model myself after my father more than anyone else in terms of having that nasty attitude. I know when he played here on that Fiesta Bowl team [in 1983] their defense was crazy and wild…. looking at our defense, I'd have to say we have a lot in common."

As Kyle becomes more of a force on the football field, he has been making an impact in the valley off of it for quite some time. Donating his time to charity work since the age of 13, his resume includes building houses for the renowned group Habitat for Humanity, as well as volunteering for local environmental groups. Caldwell has also dabbed in art, having his work displayed in several valley galleries.

Although friends and family enjoy seeing him off the field, few opposing players want to see him between the hash marks, when he transforms from Renaissance man, to caveman.

"He (father Bryan) just told me that between those white lines you've got to be a different person. Unleash and be an animal, go up to (Camp) Tontozona and yell at Mount Kush to hear the echo and get the blood flowing."

With six games to go on the schedule, this year's team has yet to make its mark on the ASU season record books. But with a looming contest against top-ranked USC on October 16th, that could well decide the Pac-10 champ, ASU could be well on its way to rewriting the record books altogether on the defensive side of the ball.

And who knows after that? Caldwell is only a sophomore and NFL rules stipulate that player must be 3 years removed from high school before the draft, meaning Caldwell will be on campus at least another season.

If things go according to plan, we could be talking 20 years down the road about an ASU team that had a fiery defensive lineman, who helped lead a defense that made its mark in Pasadena.

If that script doesn't sound familiar, maybe the ring of the victory bell will.

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