Rivalry Hits Home with Caldwell

Playing your in-state archrival is bound to raise the level of intensity and motivation across the board for the entire ASU squad. Nevertheless, there's no denying that for players that grew up in the Sun Devils' backyard, such as Kyle Caldwell, playing Arizona takes on even more special meaning.

"Being from the family that I'm from with two ASU athletes, I will definitely have the hatred for U of A," said Kyle Caldwell. "But it's also being an in-state product that you obviously have a lot more to show. You can feel the emotion all around the stadium and all across the state. So, guys like me and Zach (Miller) are even more excited for this game."

The sophomore defensive end will partake in his second duel in the desert, after not redshirting last season. Looking back to 2003, was the Arizona game everything he thought it was going to be? "Yes it was," Caldwell replied. "Last year, I always had my head on a swivel, and was ready for everything to come at you at any time. I think this year's game will be the same. Neither team has nothing to lose."

From an offensive perspective, Caldwell stated that the Wildcats are a mixed bag of goods. "Mike Bell is an amazing athlete," he said. "They have a decent offensive line. They have good receivers and an inexperienced quarterback. They have a good mix, and they'll probably use a lot of gadget plays. It's gonna be fun."

According to the defensive end, the bye week from a mental standpoint, helped in a significant way because of the extra amount of film he and his teammates got to watch. Needless to say, that the physical advantages are also a byproduct of the extra rest. However, from an overall injury standpoint, Caldwell doesn't see much difference personally between 2004 and last year's campaign. "Last season it was one big injury," he commented. "This season it was a lot of small injuries. I had a pulled hamstring earlier in the year (against Northwestern) and a hip pointer against USC. I guess that comes with being a starter (smile)."

With the seniors farewell and the Pat Tillman ceremony during the Washington State game, the notion of keeping emotions in check was a mantra that was heavily emphasized a couple of weeks ago. The circumstances may be different this week, but that concept is once again being preached. "It's definitely something the coaches talk about," Caldwell remarked. "The seniors are playing their last regular season game, and we're going to play our rival at their stadium down there. So we do have to keep our emotions in check this week too. We have to be thinking before each play and not committing penalties, like un-sportsman like conduct."

No one, including the ASU players, could escape the images of the nasty NBA brawl that took place last week. Thus, the natural questions of ‘could this happen in the ASU – U of A game?' have been asked repeatedly for the last few days. Caldwell offered his perspective on this topic. "Obviously people can be influenced by things like that," he explained, "but we're a mature football team. We're better than that and I think U of A is too. There's always hatred – that's part of the rivalry. But we don't have that mindset of fighting, and we don't condone it. They don't have a bowl game to go to, so this is it for their seniors. They're gonna be ready to go and prepared just like we are. It's gonna be an exciting and classy game."

Improvement between a player's first and second year is usually more dramatic than any other stage of one's career. Has Caldwell experienced the natural A year older, a year wiser pattern? "Oh yes. I think the years after will have the same trend too. It's like the older guys always say that the speed of the game slows down from freshman to sophomore year, and even more from sophomore to junior. I'm gonna work my butt off in the off-season to make sure it happens (smile)."

With seven sacks and counting, Caldwell has already more than doubled his output from last year. He talked about some of the reasons for his improvement. "My conditioning was better this year," he explained. "I ate right this past summer and lost some body fat, and that made me faster off the edge…on the field, having that nasty edge was part of my game this year. That comes from learning the defense, knowing what you're doing, and having a pre-snap read. It all comes from experience."

As the team leader in sacks, the defensive end looks to take it to the next level and become one of the leaders in the locker room next season. "I think I lead by example a lot," said Caldwell. "With my play, I know I can fire up the defense with a sack on third down. I'm not so much a vocal leader, but hopefully I can evolve into one. The senior class – that was their role. Next year will be a step ahead for that."

"We lose a ton of players on defense," Caldwell continued. "Us guys that are coming back like Jordan Hill and myself have to make sure that we're hitting it hard in the off-season. It's gonna be up to us to bring the defense together in the workouts. That's gonna be the key for a successful season." With a thriving 2004 campaign coming to a close, Sun Devil fans should be genuinely excited for the prospects of Caldwell and the rest of the ASU players for next year.

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