A Long and Twisty Road Brings Szczesny to ASU

Arizona State has been pursuing Paul Szczesny for several years now. On the same token, the Niles, Ill. linebacker has wanted to be a Sun Devil for quite a while. Various circumstances have prevented this union, but in the next couple of weeks or so it should finally materialize. Szczesny talked to Devils Digest about his meandering and eventful journey.

Originally from the Chicago area, Paul Szczesny was a coveted recruit from Niles Notre Dame high school. He verbaled to one of the nation's elite programs at the time, but his grades dictated a different career path. "I played at Niles as a fullback and a linebacker," said the 6-0 255 Szczesny. "I originally committed to Nebraska (who recruited him as both positions). Because I didn't qualify, I thought I was gonna go to a junior college here in Chicago. But then I thought it was best to get away. There was too much pressure here, because people were excepting me to go to Nebraska. I wanted to get away and take care of business. One of my buddies was going to the University of Arizona, and I found out that there was junior college right there near his school."

The linebacker didn't waste any time contacting Pima Community College and its coaching staff, nor did it take him a long time to get into the swing of things. "I contacted the coach there, and I flew out two days later," Szczesny recalled. "As soon as I got off the plane I went to practice, and ended up playing four days after that."

Szczesny earned his AA degree in a year and a half. During his sophomore season at Pima he collected 89 tackles, three interceptions, and scored two defensive touchdowns. He was a jcfootball.com All-American, and was regarded by many recruiting services as one of the top junior college linebackers in the nation. ASU did recruit him out of high school when former coach Bruce Snyder was at the helm, and now that he was closer to Sun Devil country, coach Koetter and his staff continued the pursuit.

"In high school, I didn't know much about ASU, and Nebraska was as far as I wanted to go away from home," Szczesny commented. "When I was down at Pima, (ASU's safeties) coach Fidler was there all the time. My top five then was ASU, USC, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Iowa. After I visited USC, I visited ASU (unofficially) on the way back. I really liked it there."

Family reasons prevented Szczesny from attending a Pac-10 school, but the Big Ten program he eventually chose offered him peace of mind on several levels. "I had schools from the east coast and the west coast recruiting me," he explained. "The Indiana coach that recruited me also coached at Illinois. He and I knew each other for a while and we kept in contact the whole time. My mom is a single parent, and she was sick at that time. So, she wanted me to stay close to home. I wanted to stay out west, but I obviously felt obligated to stay close to her."

The linebacker played nine games at Indiana in 2004, and was third on the team in total tackles with 71. He also had five pass breakups and three tackles for loss. Everything seemingly was going right for him, until irony dealt him a tough card. "People say that you shouldn't make decisions because of the coaching staff, but the main reason I came to Indiana was because I knew the whole staff there," said Szczesny. "I felt very comfortable and it was the right fit for me. So, when they ended up getting fired it felt like a part of me left too, and I didn't want to be there anymore. I don't have anything against the new coaches, and I love the school - but it didn't feel right staying there."

His mind wasn't only made up as far as leaving the Hoosiers, but he was also certain of his new destination. "When I thought about leaving Indiana I thought about ASU right away," stated Szczesny. "I talked to my old junior college coach, and he's friends with coach Fidler and coach Koetter. My heart was with ASU, and I did everything I can to get there and make it happen."

Szczesny stated that back in February he made his decision known to ASU, and began the process of applying to the school, with the hopes of being in Tempe on June 1st to enroll in summer school and participate in the off-season conditioning program. Alas, there was another curveball thrown at the linebacker. "There was a hold up in the transcripts coming over from Pima Community College," he explained. "My grades are fine, but it took six weeks for the transcripts to get to Arizona State (they've arrived at ASU just a week and half ago). I can't do anything here in Chicago, and before the transcripts got to ASU I was planning to go there (to Tucson) this week to pick up the transcripts myself." Szczesny added that once his enrollment is completed, he will know whether he will receive a scholarship in the fall or spring.

So where does that leave the linebacker now in regards to his chances of becoming a Sun Devil? "ASU is gonna look at my paperwork this week, and I should know in the next two weeks if I'm in," said Szczesny. "I left Indiana in good standing. I talked to my academic advisor and everything looks fine. I'm still in Chicago, so now I'm just gonna come in August for the camp."

One may wonder if Szczesny considered ASU's in-state rival, since he did play in their backyard. The linebacker offers a very pointed reply. "Arizona was recruiting me, and even though I played down the street from them they didn't cross my mind once," he said. "I think ASU and U of A are night and day when you look at the campus and everything else. I was in Tucson for a year and half, and maybe it was too long to be there (smile)."

"Coming from a big city like Chicago, Tucson was a culture shock," Szczesny continued. "When my family and I went to Phoenix we really liked the city, and I thought ‘maybe I should come out to junior college over here?' When I came to Tucson, I was thinking it was gonna be like Tempe or Scottsdale, and when I flew over it I was saying to myself ‘what did I get myself into?' Being in junior college there was good to me, but I knew I was gonna get out there after I was done."

Szczesny was clocked running a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash, he benches 395 pounds and has a 38-inch vertical leap. "My speed and aggressiveness are my strong points," he said as he self-assessed his skills. "I'm a hard working player. When my team is done with conditioning, you'll still see me there out at night working. I have a strong work ethic and I get that from my mom. I never quit because I have goals I want to reach." He added that the Sun Devils project him at middle linebacker.

As a transfer, Szczesny will obviously have to sit out the upcoming season. Even though his college career has had more than a fair share of ups and downs, he's ready to take a step back and look at the benefit of the bigger picture.

"Ever since I left Indiana, I've been thinking about the whole sitting out a year thing," he admitted. "At times, I was uncertain if I could do that or not. But I know that in practice I'll be going against the first team. So, they'll give me a good look and I'll give them a good look. The biggest thing I need is experience, and that's why it's beneficial that I go to ASU and have that year to sit out and learn."

"Being coached by someone like coach (Bill) Miller is gonna help me a lot," Szczesny continued. "That would really be the best thing for me as a player. It will definitely not hurt me to sit out, get good coaching, and go against good players. In January, I'll have a chance to compete for a starting position. It's gonna be though on gameday, but otherwise I'll get by."

Judging by how he has handled all the events in his football career, Paul Szczesny will do more than just get by. He'll grab opportunity by the horns and probably make his mark in the school he dreamed of playing for…

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