Sophomore Secondary Expects Experience To Pay Off

Even through the most maroon and gold colored glasses, it was hard to overlook the struggles of the Sun Devils' defense. While it was one painful class after another in the school of hard knocks, last year's freshmen are ready to build on the past, and not relive it. Local high school stars Jason Shivers and Lamar Baker started last year as true freshmen. This year's sophomores to-be are eager to prove that last season's struggles will only benefit them and the secondary in 2002.

To say that safety Jason Shivers had a successful freshman year is like saying that Phoenix is a bit uncomfortable in the summer. The South Mountain high school standout, led the team in tackles with 89, three of them for a loss. This despite not starting the first couple games of the season. This spring the safety looks for him self and the defensive backfield to erase the memories of 2001. "Last year going into camp Tontozona, I didn't have a clue what the defense was." Says Shivers, "Now with a year under my belt, I have a lot more confidence in making my calls. I have more oomph in every play (smile). I'm a lot more fluent, and I'm thinking less. I think that will help all us young guys in the secondary." After the first few spring practices it looks like Joey Smith, Shivers' high school teammate, will once again play along side his good friend. Shivers would love nothing better than to see that happen: "Joey Smith is working hard. He's looking OK. I just want him to be on the field with me. Playing with him at ASU is kinda different than playing with him at high school. He's going through the same things I was going through last year…getting to know the system. But with experience, he'll give some guys a run for their money (smile)."

It's no secret that ASU's defense was coming under consistent criticism in the 2001 season. The safety sees spring 2002 marking a time of renewal for this much maligned unit: "We're turning last year's performance into a motivation. We're out here trying to prove everyone wrong, and prove we can play. We have a lot of guys returning from last year like Al Williams and Riccardo Stewart. We even played together as a unit when Willie Daniel was hurt. So, it does help that we're more experienced this year in the system. All of us should be playing better this year."

Cornerback Lamar Baker, much like Shivers, wasn't starter at the beginning of the year. His improvement early in the season, along with the constant injury to fellow cornerback Emmanuel Franklin, anointed the former Aqua Fria high school standout as a starter. Baker finished 11th on the team in tackles with 40, and tied for first in interceptions with two. So does he feel that his status as a starter is carved in stone? "I was fortunate to play as a freshman. This year there may be another freshman who will start. I'm just gonna go out there and play my best. Nobody is gonna give you a starting position. I earned it last year, and I have to do the same this year." Baker believes that the leadership in the defensive backfield won't come just from one individual: "I don't feel like the only leader out there. Even though we're young, we got a lot of leaders out there. Everyone has to step us as a leader for us to be successful"

The cornerback sees his personal goals and the secondary unit's goal as very simple: "I need to improve my mind set, and be more strong minded. Right now I'm working on my weaknesses. I have to make more tackles, and force more turnovers. If I do that, I'll be fine. I just want to contribute to the team. Whether it's being a starter or being a bench player. In the spring we're coming with a good attitude. We feel that now we're veterans and we have to take care of business. We know that we should have played better last year, so now we have to go out and show everyone that we can get the job done."

The learning curve that the 4-2-5 scheme presented, along with poor play at defensive line and linebacker, were only some of the contributors to the poor play in the secondary. Nevertheless, the emergence of young players such as Shivers and Baker do paint an optimistic picture for the future. The 2002 season presents more question marks on offense, which could give the defense an opportunity to shine. No one on the ASU secondary is generally proud about their play in 2001, but it will be pride and hunger to silence critics that will fuel the efforts to improve this year.

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