Chip on the Shoulder Mentality Suits Verdon

Shuttling between defensive tackle and end is something that Jimmy Verdon feels comfortable with. On the other hand, he was anything but content with the gloom and doom pre-season pundits' projections of the Sun Devil defensive line. In this exclusive DevilsDigest interview, the fifth year senior talked about leading and motivating a unit that has surpassed expectations.

"Coming into the season I told the defensive line that we have to play with a chip on our shoulder," said Jimmy Verdon who hails from Pomona, Cailf. "I told them we can't get relaxed and we always have to play with a purpose." Case in point, Verdon and the other two returning linemen Kyle Caldwell and Ishmael Thrower combined for 9.5 sacks last year. Thus far in the 2004, they already have ten quarterback drops.

As luck would have it, this attitude was put to the test last Saturday against UCLA. After three quarters of below than average defensive performance, the defensive lineman and his teammates rose to the occasion and matched the remarkable offensive display of Andrew Walter and the ASU receivers. "I was telling everyone in the fourth quarter that the offense is gonna score and we have to go out and stop them (UCLA)," Verdon recalled. "I told everyone that we're not playing like we should play. We were making plays but also giving up plays. In the fourth quarter we made more plays than we gave up."

The exciting maroon and gold comeback was one that was missed by hundreds of fans who left early in what turned out to be pre-mature despair, and witnessed by tens of thousands anxious fans who stayed behind to watch the Devils claw their way to victory. Verdon wasn't one of those who was overly apprehensive during the waning moments of the game. "It was great," he exclaimed. "I love the way the game was because it wasn't boring. It was scary, and it was fun (smile). I'm just glad everyone kept their head in the game, and it worked out perfect."

Maybe one reason for the senior's calmness was the fact that he matched his career high of eight total tackles in a game, and his two pass deflections against UCLA matches last season's total. Does he consider this game to be his best ever as a Sun Devil? "Yes, I have to say it was," Verdon admitted. "I don't know why but it was (smile). Our coaches said that I put out more effort than other guys on Saturday. Everybody was in the right position, and they (the UCLA running backs) were always cutting my way. What can I say? (smile)."

One factor that may or may not have contributed to Verdon's individual success, but definitely impacted the defense as a whole, was the ASU's defenders plea to their coach, Brent Guy, to convert to a base defense in the fourth quarter. "We did play like that earlier in the game," he explained, "and we told coach ‘let's play it straight, because one-on-one we can get to these guys.' We did that and that's how we got it done." In light of that, does Verdon wish that plea came earlier in the contest? "No, because it was just one of those moments where everybody bought into it. Everybody was going to tough it up and do their job."

The reason for the defense's poor play is very simple according to Verdon. "Certain people didn't do their jobs," he explained, "and that's what our defense is built on. If one person doesn't do their job, other people have to make up and that's not what our defense is designed for." Verdon added that while in the past he was more of a leader by example, he has assumed more of a vocal role this year.

Being a leader also manifests itself away from the field, where Verdon is married and a proud father of two children. The biggest challenge in is his opinion is: "Lack of sleep (smile). But my family is my heart and soul. It's a bonus but it's hard too. I don't get to do a lot of things that the other players get to do. Even though I lose a lot of sleep, it's worth it."

Many seniors are hopeful to continue their football career beyond college. For a family man like Verdon, this becomes even a greater issue as he plans to support his family when his playing days in Tempe are over. "Everyone has a sense of urgency to make money after college," he said. "But that's great because I love pressure. It motivates me to play better and make that successful transition after college."

First things first, a pivotal game at Berkley awaits the senior and his teammates. "This game is the toughest game we'll play this season," claimed Verdon. "Maybe even tougher than USC. The way we approach it and how we start the game off will show if we're gonna make this game harder on ourselves or easier if we play well." According to Verdon Cal's offensive line is similar to Oregon's, and are one of the more physical lines they will face in 2004.

Much has been said about the manner ASU prepared for the USC game, which ultimately resulted in an awful performance. "It's a whole new approach now because CAL and USC run different things," Verdon remarked. "We're gonna come out more intense out of the gates, and not give up big plays. That's how they beat us last year; we gave up like eight big plays. People weren't doing their job and that's why it happened. We can't have that happen on Saturday."

If there's ever a silver lining in a failure, it's that the lessons learned can be beneficial in the future. However, the pragmatic Verdon disagreed with that theory. "I don't think there's really a silver lining from that game. We just need to come out there and play ball. That's all we need to do." Whether Verdon chooses to take anything away from the USC loss or not, you can count on him and his teammates to try and prove the doubters wrong once again. And with the odds makers putting ASU as two-touchdown underdog, you can bet on that chip is weighing heavier and heavier on collective shoulders of the Sun Devil defenders. They probably wouldn't want it any other way…

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