Q&A With Coach Grady Stretz

The 2008 recruiting class produced six new defensive linemen, which naturally excites not only the Sun Devil fans, but also ASU's Defensive Line Coach Grady Stretz. Coach Stretz was also instrumental in landing the services of players such as Gerrell Robinson, and last season helped build a formidable front four on defense. Devils Digest sat down with Stretz to discuss those matters and others.

DevilsDigest: Coach, let's start by talking about the six new defensive linemen added to the team in the 2008 class.

Grady Stretz: Spencer Gasu – "I'm excited about Spencer. He's a young guy which we watched a year ago this time on film. We were trying to evaluate as many junior college defensive tackles as we could, and we wanted to get someone here that could help us right away. Spencer was definitely in the top 2-3 junior college defensive tackles we evaluated. He's a big physical guy that has a great foundation technique wise, which you don't necessarily always find in a junior college. He's got a great motor and is athletic. He does a good job getting off blocks and being active. He's a fairly polished young man and I like his mentality."

Eugene Germany - "He obviously went through the whole process the hard way. He has a tremendous amount of athletic ability. He's one of those players where you start up the film, watch 15 plays, and you know he can come in and help your program. He's got a lot of upside to him and I'm not so sure that he ever got into great shape this past year at the junior college. He brings a lot of experience to the table and understands the expectations of the time commitment, weight room and practices. You combine all that with what he has learned through the years from past mistakes, and I think he's real focused to come out here and help us whether it's at defensive end or defensive tackle. That hasn't been determined. Right now the plan is to play him at defensive end, get him in the rotation and see where it goes from there."

Lawrence Guy – "We'll give him a shot at defensive end because he's a big kid that runs well, and I like I said before we're looking for a kid with speed and athleticism. So he's another young man in that same boat that can increase our talent level. He was highly recruited, he has some academic work he needs to get done, and we're looking forward to having him out here. We'd like to have some bigger defensive ends out there that can obviously be effective in the pass rush and help us in the run game. Whether he's able to do that at defensive end or defensive tackle will be determined in due time."

Ottis Jones – "He's a young man that wasn't highly recruited until we got on him, and next thing you know you got UCLA, Arizona and a bunch of other schools recruiting him. He runs very well and is explosive. Like a lot of high school kids he's got a lot of technical work to do, but that's our job as coaches. But you can't coach athleticism, and he runs all over the field and brings a good motor to the table. He has great get off and he's an active kid that can make plays. We'll get him in here, teach him the scheme, get him trained, get him technically sound…but he has all the attributes you can't coach. We're thrilled to get him and he can help us a lot at defensive tackle."

Jamaar Jarrett – "He's a late addition and I had a good feeling on him from the get go. I've been on him for almost a year and he was highly recruited early on, by schools like Michigan and Nebraska. But we got on him early and it was good to build a relationship with him, especially as his position coach. He had a real good senior year as well. We hung in there when he committed to Oregon, and he ended up joining us. He has a tremendous amount of upside to him. He's a defensive end that has long arms, runs well, throws his body around and plays with reckless abandon. You just have to love the young's man attitude. We were real happy that we were able to get him on signing day."

Zeb Togiai – "He's gonna continue to develop physically and end up playing at defensive tackle. Anytime you recruit a defensive end that runs well, you know that you got yourself an athletic defensive tackle. He understands that he has some weight (gain) and maturity to do, but he really has a lot of tools and we were excited about Zeb from day one. He's got a good work ethic and like every guy in this class he can really help us. I think he was a little bit overlooked for whatever reason – he's kind of a ‘tweener', but there's no doubt in our minds that he'll be big enough to play defensive tackle. I think we'll get a lot out of him in the long run."

DD: As far as Toa Tuitea goes, it's still more appropriate to talk about him in terms of a tight end, rather than a defensive end?

GS: "Coach Erickson will make that decision and part of that is where Toa plays better as we evaluate him. We're going to do what's in his best interest as well, and how he can benefit the team the most. It's hard to say with Toa. Prior to Jamarr Jarrett committing to us we liked him at defensive end. Coach Cozzetto and the offensive staff liked him at tight end, and on his recruiting trip we definitely talked to him more about being a tight end. But he's definitely open and is a great young man that is very talented. He'll have success on either side of the ball. He's a guy that just makes plays, runs well, has a great motor – just a natural football player and that's why he can play both sides. He's a tenacious player."

DD: With getting six defensive linemen, seven if Tuitea ends up playing there, you must be very pleased with what your position has been able to achieve in this recruiting class in terms of quality and quantity?

GS: "I'm happy with our recruiting. You look at the success we had with coach Erickson and the impact it has already had with recruiting. We are real excited with this group of young men. Strength obviously comes with numbers, but individually we got a lot of talent here, which is very exciting to the future of this program. You're busy now thinking about spring practice, but in the back of your mind you can't help but be excited for all this talent that's coming here in the summer. To be successful in the Pac-10, you have to be able to dominate up front and coach Erickson said from day one that you win championships on defense. The defensive line in an area that we put a premium on in this recruiting class and we're very excited about this group."

DD: At the time you were one of two coaches that were held over from the old coaching staff to coach Erickson's. From a recruiting stand point, as someone who recruits locally the east valley, do you think that you staying on board helped the recruiting efforts?

GS: "I sure hope so. I take a lot of pride in recruiting over here and I'd like to think I got some great relationships with the high school coaches, and they have been wonderful helping out this program. They have a tremendous amount of respect for coach Erickson and where the Arizona State program is headed to. We were able to keep the core guys in state here and get the ones we really needed to have, so that's been exciting and I've been blessed to have coach Erickson keep me around on the staff. It's been a great learning experience and as the recruiting classes continue to unfold during the years we'll see the impact that coach Erickson has."

DD: Overall the defense in the 2007 season was vastly improved. I'm sure that you're pleased with the progress that the defensive line made last season…

GS: "I think individually the players are taking pride in what we're doing defensively, what we're coaching them, demanding of them and seeing themselves improving. It's a lot of fun for them and they go onto the field with a swagger and carrying that confidence knowing that you'll be successful. When you work hard and get the job done – that's half the battle. It's been a lot of fun, we have a lot of work ahead of us. We have a great group of young men and I feel that chemistry wise with these guys that are joining us we're gonna continue to head in the right direction."

DD: In terms of your defensive ends, Dexter Davis continued to build on a successful freshman year and had an outstanding season. Luis Vasquez came on strong the second half of the season. How would you assess that tandem?

GS: "Luis coming from a junior college, being here in the spring and having the season that he had…I look at the big picture and I'm very pleased with him. He's very active and makes a lot of plays for us. He came in and learned the scheme and started a whole new foundation technique wise, and just to see his development throughout the season has been a lot of fun for both him and I."

"Dexter continues to improve and has a great work ethic. He sees things on film and he's able to apply it on the field. He's working extremely hard in the weight room right now and has put on 15-20 pounds since the season has been over. I'll continue to demand more from him and broaden his horizons technique wise and I know he'll continue to improve. That's how he's wired and it's a great thing."

DD: At defensive tackle last season David Smith really came into his own as a starter…

GS: "David does a great job against the run. We have some things we need to work on pass rush wise and I want him walking out there being the best he can be. That's my challenge to all these young men when we recruit them and when they come here and play for us. I challenge them on a daily basis and they have to come in here and continue to compete. I'm realistic and know that they're some days you do better than others, but David is a warrior and he battles through all that stuff. He's tremendously tough and plays with good pad leverage. We're looking forward getting him ready for his senior year and get the most out of him. I know he'll bring everything that he has to the table."

DD: While Jon Hargis will move to the offensive line, and Dane Guthrie will be moving back to tight end, the plan is to still keep the former offensive lineman, Saia Falahola on the defensive line?

GS: "Our tentative plan is to get Saia through spring ball and see how that tendon holds up. It was torn twice which was extremely unfortunate, because he certainly had an opportunity to start for us last year. The other young men stepped up for us, he came back, played well and got hurt again after a couple of weeks. But he's done a nice job rehabbing to the point that he will get cleared for spring ball. I just hope he stays healthy, continues to progress technique wise and keeps on heading in the same direction he was showing at camp before he initially got hurt."

DD: Speaking of players that were injured, what are you expecting from guys like Eric Tanner, Zach Niusulu and Alex Asi who were hurt for portions of last season?

GS: "Eric is coming off micro facture surgery and is rehabbing, but is extremely limited in what he can do and won't be able to go through spring ball. It's gonna be tough – we obviously have a lot of guys coming from the high school level and I perceive some of them to help us this season, as well as the core we have here. There's certainly added depth when you bring in this many young men and it's great when you can build a competitive atmosphere. Alex Asi is working extremely hard in the weight room on his agility and Zach Niusulu still has a lot of work to do. We'll just see how things unfold with the addition of these young men."

DD: Going into spring practice it appears that you have lot of experienced players on the defensive line. What are your expectations from this group?

GS: "We have to continue to build and develop from last year, keep striving to overcome any deficiencies we have. Obviously we don't dwell on our deficiencies, just find out what our strengths are individually and tailor things to each of these young men. We need to keep on building the foundation, getting these guys technically sound where they can play to the best of their ability. These other young men are gonna come in (the summer) and they're gonna get a bunch of reps early on and see what they can do to help us in this upcoming season"

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