Shortened Season Cannot Hold Back Munns

Granted, there were bigger defensive contributors than Gerald Munns during the entire 2007 campaign. Yet, few ended that season with a bigger impact than the junior linebacker. Munns missed six weeks due to a knee injury, however his late season performance awarded him a starting position in spring practice and going into fall camp which begins today.

Gerald Munns is excited not only for a new season that brings much promise for Arizona State, but also one that serves as a great redemption for the rough period he endured last year.

The linebacker's Injury occurred during the third game of the season, when a San Diego State running back undercut Munns and tore the junior's MCL. "It happened out of the (tackle) box but it wasn't like an illegal play or anything like that," said Munns. "It was a real quick play."

During his time on the sidelines a career move was being contemplated. "I had the decision to make if I wanted to redshirt or not," Munns recalled, "but I wanted to come back and make an impact the final three, four games of the season. I think it worked fine for me."

After feeling his way back from injury with games against Cal and Oregon, Munns acknowledged that he felt like he was a freshman in training camp. "I had to prove myself all over again," he said. "Getting playing time was difficult because Morris (Wooten) and (Mike) Nixon have done so well and we were on a seven-game winning streak."

"It was hard to get up the depth chart, but I felt as the weeks went on my knee started to feel better and I started playing better."

Case in point, Munns had 17 (out of his season total of 24) tackles in the last five games of the year, as well as a crucial fourth quarter fumble recovery in a narrow road win at UCLA. Furthermore, his knee was feeling 100% at season's end and his improved health plus his fine late season play earned him the starting MIKE (middle) linebacker position when the team began spring practice in March.

For a player who missed nearly half the season, on a team that was in the midst of a seven-game winning streak, and who had to fight and claw for playing time, being named a starter was the ultimate vote of confidence. Consequently, Munns was able to successfully hold off his position competitors and never relinquish his spot.

"I wanted to make sure that my impact was gonna be felt in the spring," Munns noted. "I worked my butt off in the three months before spring practice and I didn't want anybody to have any questions whether I can make plays. It doesn't matter where you put me on the field – this guy is gonna make plays. This guy is gonna be accountable. I felt that this is the statement I had to make in the spring."

Even though Robert James played the WILL (weak side) linebacker position, once he exhausted his eligibility Munns felt that the time was ripe for him to make a claim to the MIKE position while a player like Nixon could possibly slide over and play the vacated WILL role.

"We have a lot of depth at linebacker," Munns noted, "and it's good to have a rotation and keep guys fresh. Morris and Mike are talented players and I know they will see the field. That's only gonna help the team."

The junior didn't try to hide the fact that the competition that Wooten and Nixon will stage on the starting MIKE linebacker, is something that is always on his mind. Nonetheless, Munns claimed that worrying first and foremost about his own play, will take care of everything else.

"The coaches are gonna put the players on the field that will help them out the most," said Munns, "and I'm a team player that won't put his head down if I'm not getting reps. I know both of those guys can play well, but at the same time I'm confident about my play."

Munns saw action in 23 games in his first two seasons at ASU, which is sizeable accomplishment compared to other third-year players on the team. The linebacker acknowledged that this fact helped him bounce back physically and mentally from his knee injury, and aided to place himself as a starter going into the 2008 campaign.

"It definitely helps to be playing that much and having the confidence knowing I can play," Munns explained. "I know I can play and when you get injured you just have to know that if you take care of the injury and play well the coaches will take care of you."

When he first arrived in Tempe in 2006, Munns recalled that he felt that he had to put on weight to play linebacker in college. "It was ten pounds of bad weight," he said, "and it slowed me down as a freshman. So I worked hard on my lean body mass and that made me a lot stronger and a lot faster. It has helped me make plays both in the passing and running game, moving sideline to sideline."

One can argue that the 6-4 238 frame Munns has may be more suitable (with some weight gain) to play the defensive end position. Sans the Chicago Bears' Brian Urlacher, the typical starting middle linebacker in the pros, let alone in college, is usually a good 2-3 inches shorter.

Munns prides himself on being a versatile player, and claimed that he would have played any position the coaches would ask him to assume. "But I also felt the whole time that my greatest ability to help this team would be to play linebacker," he claimed. "I know people say ‘you're not 6-1' and stuff like that, but how many linebackers are actually 6-4? I've seen a lot of good linebackers that are 6-4, so I was never worried about it."

In the last few months, it seems that every pre-season article written about the Sun Devil defense, highlights the fact that the linebackers are the deepest unit on this side of the ball. Munns agrees with that assessment and states that the wealth of talent can only help the group to further improve.

"The constant competition at every position is forcing you to get better," said Munns. "You always have to perform at a top level. If you don't have a guy pushing you, you're gonna get complacent. If you're not going all out every single practice and every single game, you can get pulled just like that."

The ASU defense may have had the appearance of playing a non-complex system, but prided itself on playing a highly effective base scheme that allowed its players to think less and play fast. All indications are that this group, now having a year of Coach Craig Bray's system under their belt, will be a unit that will be more aggressive than they were in 2007.

"I know that ever since we had this year of experience (under Bray) everybody is playing with a lot more confidence and allowing to follow their instincts a little bit more," Munns noted. "You can't worry about messing up. Football is game where its three seconds a play. So you have to react, go quick, and trust that your fundamentals are going along with it. I hope that we do put more pressure on the offense, and with our type of defense we can dictate games."

With experience comes increased responsibility, and being a leader is big part of the job description of playing at MIKE. Munns is cognizant of that fact and is already in the process of immersing himself in that important role.

"It's definitely an adjustment, because in the past I just let my play do the talking," Munns stated. "I let the upperclassmen guys, the veterans, do the vocal (leadership). Now that I'm a junior it's time for me to step up. I don't need to be over vocal and I know I'm respected by my teammates. But when it's time to be vocal then I will."

Munns had an illustrious prep career at local Chandler Hamilton. He won a state title with the Huskies as a junior, and was instrumental that year tallying 122 tackles and three sacks. As a senior was selected to the Class 5-A All-State First Team by the Arizona Republic, as well as to the All-State 5A first-team by the Arizona High School Coaches Association. He ended his senior season registering 146 tackles, seven quarterback sacks, two interceptions, four fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.

Like many local high school standouts in the past few years, Munns settled on his hometown college. He acknowledged it's a decision that has greatly benefited him thus far in his maroon and gold tenure.

"My support group has been amazing with having my family here," said Munns. "Honestly, I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them and I could have given up a long time ago. They always believed in me, and they were always there for me. A lot of (out of state) guys can fall into traps here and there and those are things that I'm able to avoid because of the extra support here. I definitely feel that being the hometown boy is an advantage."

Despite being ranked 16th in the college coaches' preseason poll, as well as no. 2 in the preseason Pac-10 media poll, Munns claims that the team's expectations are higher than any other pundit out there. Feeling contentment doesn't describe the psyche of the 2008 Sun Devil squad.

"We are happy with the ten wins we got last year, but that's not what we want (this year)," said Munns. "We want to play in the national championship game. We want to play in the Rose Bowl. We feel confident, but definitely not complacent."

"We're not too focused on the schedule. We're gonna take it one game at a time. We don't care where we're gonna play, whether it's in Tempe or L.A. The first game we're worried about is NAU."

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