Caldwell, Manutai Look to Bounce Back

Talent can easily be neutralized by injuries. No one knows that better on ASU's squad than defensive end Kyle Caldwell and linebacker Beau Manutai. Both seniors saw limited duty in the spring, but are now ready to once again join the fray and hopefully conclude their Sun Devil career in impressive fashion.

Ever since his freshman year, former Scottsdale Saguaro star Kyle Caldwell, has been hampered by one injury or another. He still managed to play 33 games in three seasons, many of them much less than 100% healthy. One would think that following a season where he recorded no sacks, his psyche going into 2006 would be considerably fragile. Not a chance, says the defensive end. "I climbed every mountain there is to climb," he commented. "You fight through so much adversity; you just have a mindset of a warrior. I've done nothing but that, trying to play when I was hurt. Too bad things happened the way they did, but now I'm healthy going into my senior year and it's gonna be fun. I obviously have a lot to prove, and I need to work my way up the depth chart."

Along with his team's conditioning program, the senior went through some special training program with his uncle Andy Bowman, who is a personal trainer for some of the pro athletes, who call Phoenix their home. "I've been training with him ever since the season ended," said Caldwell. "I was doing marshal arts training, doing some sauna sparing, all kinds of crazy stuff. It was 190 degrees in that sauna, so when you come out on the practice field and it's a 105 – it's nothing. The training helped my hips, my flexibility…just taking a lot of impact away from my knees. I was working out with a different mindset and that really got me ready for the season."

Granted, Arizona State's defensive line should be much improved over last season's unit. The catalyst to any success this group will enjoy is not only the health of Caldwell but also of his defensive line mates. "That's the whole key, getting guys healthy so you have fresh players out three in a rotation," he explained. "The more dinged up players you have, the more snaps the other players take and that's not a good deal. It's good that we have the depth that we didn't have last year. That's very exciting."

Another factor that makes Caldwell giddy these days is teaming up once again after five years with fellow former Saguaro defensive lineman Loren Howard, who transferred to the Devils from Northwestern. "We kept in contact and kept tabs on each other's college career," remarked Caldwell. "Now we get to go out there and put on the same color jersey and get after it. I hope we're both out there on the field during game time and it should be a fun deal."

Caldwell not only foresees good fortune for himself in 2006, but also for the rest of the defensive line group. "The leadership, the skill level, and the body types we have on the line, it's gonna be the best defensive line we had here in the last few years," he said, "and some players from that line will play in the NFL. We have the weapons and we have the experience and we should have a great season."

A senior season usually brings a strong sense of urgency. Whatever is still left to prove and/or accomplish now has a very small window of opportunity to do so, and the defensive end accepts that notion. "This whole summer has been about that (sense of urgency)," he claimed. "This whole summer has gone by so fast, and that's how it should going into your senior year. If don't have that sense of urgency, then something is wrong with you."

Beau Manutai (pictured)has been with the Sun Devils only one season, but just like Caldwell hasn't been totally healthy during his tenure in Tempe. The linebacker had an ankle injury in Dixie junior college, and caused him to miss four games his sophomore year there and start last year's campaign hobbled. He had the misfortune of backing up co-Pac-10 defensive player of the year Dale Robinson, which naturally translated into sparse playing time. "I started off slow in 2005," recalled Manutai. "I was injured in camp and that put me behind. But I did feel that I had a strong finish (averaged over seven tackles the last three games of the season) and finished on a good note at the Insight Bowl. I do have a bitter feeling about that game, because I feel our defense should have done much better. So now we have something to prove coming into this year."

Manutai was counted on in the spring to be the starting at the MIKE linebacker (i.e. middle linebacker) spot. His ankle injury betrayed him once again, as he missed most of that 15-practice session. "It was frustrating because you want to be out there getting better," he admitted. "But you have to do what's right, and that meant taking care of my ankle."

After three surgeries, the linebacker is ready to go full speed in practice and know that he will have a battle on his hands to secure that starting MIKE position. "I'm cleared to practice with an orange jersey, but when I go up to Camp T the orange jersey comes off and the pads come on," said Manutai. "Right now I'm progressively adding more and more in practice. I know everybody has to earn their spot, and I plan on being the starting middle linebacker when the season starts. Having a year under my belt will definitely help me. I'm real pumped to go out there and play well."

Proving oneself is not only Beau Manutai's mantra, but also the general battle cry for a linebacker group lacking experience. "I do feel we have a great group," he said. "The incoming freshmen are way more advanced than I anticipated. They're smart, athletic and already ahead of the game. Especially Mike Nixon, who's a more mature freshman and a great player. He's gonna play well for us. We're unproven, but when we start playing out there people we'll see that we can do."

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