Players Elated to Return to Practice

Excitement over the rivalry win and bowl game aside, one would think that the Sun Devils may be a little burned out after a long season. It would be natural for them not to have a bounce in their step as they go back to the practice field just one week after the end of the regular season. Nevertheless, nothing could be farther than the truth. The atmosphere among the maroon and gold these days is one of enthusiasm and not lethargy.

"These guys have been doing a lot with their academics right now," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter, "and I think that after you practice everyday for a few months in a row – practice can get boring. But then you take a week or so off, and you start saying ‘man, I miss football.' It is good to see the guys. We're not back in the saddle but we'll get there."

With almost a month before the Insight Bowl, the first few practices will have a different focal point. "Right now, these four, five practices we're looking at it more as keeping our timing," explained Koetter. "We just got in the Rutgers film yesterday, we've been on the road recruiting and we haven't had a chance to look at it. Eventually, we'll move into practices that will focus on Rutgers, but we'll take a portion of every practice and work our young guys and consider that portion of practice as a jump on next year."

Playing in a bowl game located less than 20 miles away from campus, obviously carries advantages. However, the bowl game feel will have an element of uniqueness. "I hope it's a home advantage," remarked Koetter. "Let's buy those tickets and sell the thing out. I hope there's a big ASU contingent there (at Chase Field). I've never been to a game there, and kind of anxious to see the layout on a baseball field. It will be a nice change of pace for our guys and a little away game feel." On a related note, One thing that did jump at Koetter when watching the replay of the Arizona game was how loud the crowd was. One player that may have played his last game for ASU is cornerback R.J. Oliver. He is doubtful for the bowl game, after he re-injured his foot that kept him out all of last season. It's unclear if he will need surgery or not."

The excitement during the punt return by Terry Richardson, was very noticeable on the ASU sidelines. However, what may have been transparent was Special Teams Coach Tom Osborne's confidence that Richardson was going to score, much before it actually happened. "Two seconds after T-Rich catches the football," Koetter recalled, "Oz goes flying by me yelling ‘he's gone! he's gone!' And I'm looking at him saying ‘he's gone? He hasn't even turn the corner yet (laughs).' Two great blocks on the corner from Alex King and Steve Bisnett, and you could see that it was coming down to Terry and the punter. We're always giving Terry such a hard time about how many times he has been tackled by the punter. This time the guy didn't even lay a glove on him. By the time he was at the 20-yard line, I turned around and starting grabbing guys saying that we were gonna go for two (point conversion)."

Richardson obviously won the special teams game ball for the Arizona game, while Rudy Burgess got the honors on offense. On defense it was Beau Manutai, a JC transfer who has really been coming into his own the last couple of weeks. "He's gotten better as the season has gone on, and he saved his best games to the last two," said Koetter of his linebacker who had a career high nine tackles last week. "He was in Coach Miller's ear and my ear that he needed to get in and give Jamar and Dale a break, and he was right. All JC guys seem to mature on different levels. If you see our three mid-year transfers –Zach Catanese, Will Kofe, and Beau…they all contributed to our team. Even though Beau is the latest one to start contributing, he's contributing in a big way."

"You have to look at him as the anchor in the middle of the defense," Koetter continued. "We're gonna be very though with our front four next year, and will have to fill around Beau at linebacker. We'll need to fill in with recruiting and I'm confident we will." Koetter added that Antone Saulsberry, who was moved last year from linebacker to running back, expressed a desire to move back to linebacker, and will probably do so in the spring. Due to the number of games Saulsberry missed because of his ankle injury, he's likely to earn a redshirt year. On the other hand, Mark Washington who was also once a linebacker, will stay on the defensive line.

Winning the rivalry game last week, has given the Sun Devils many advantages. One factor that may have been less documented, is the enormous publicity ASU has received. "The thing that is great about the rivalry game, is that it's a national game," explained Koetter. "Everybody sees it. The emails I've gotten, the telephone calls from high school coaches, JC coaches, players…it never seizes to amaze me how much exposure this game gets. It's hard to wait during traditional rivalry weekend, when we're the only ones not playing. But the next week, when you're the only one playing, and you win – that certainly has its pluses."

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