Stabilizing Force at Linebacker

Whether it be the personal circumstances that have sidelined Gerald Munns for the year or just the overall struggles on defense, the ASU linebacker corps is undoubtedly going through a rough patch these days. This is when the unit will look at 24-year old Mike Nixon and seek advice and guidance from the wily veteran, as the Sun Devils prepare for their first road test of 2008.

Mike Nixon was in a somewhat somber mood when talking about his friend and fellow linebacker Gerald Munns who will miss the rest of the 2008 campaign due to personal reasons.

"It's one of those things," said Nixon, "…for Gerald we just wish him the best. He's going through some stuff and being his teammate on the field and friend off the field, we're always gonna be there for him. I don't have any question that he'll be back in the future for this program. But right now he has to take care of some things."

"From a linebacker point of view, we have to treat it like an injury. A linebacker goes down – someone has to step up. Luckily this week we got Morris (Wooten) back again and have a little more depth than let's say the UNLV game."

Nixon started four games in 2007 and with this week's contest at Cal, the junior is already about to match that feat. This is after there was some question early in the season and during fall camp whether he could fend off challengers at the WILL position. Nonetheless, he doesn't take his first team role for granted and in fact sees a benefit in being a reserve.

"Whether you're a starter or a backup you just need to get quickly into the flow once you're on the field," he explained. "Sometimes I like to come off the bench after you get a feel for the game from the sidelines, and get to execute some things that you've seen guys make mistakes on."

His versatility in being able to play all three linebacker positions has obviously helped him land a starting role and last year he enjoyed increased playing time. These factors have helped him while he serves as a leader and mentor to newcomers such as Shelly Lyons and Brandon Magee.

"My freshman year I was where they were and a senior like Beau Manutai really helped me," recalled Nixon. "So if they look over sometimes with that lost look, I can help them especially with playing at all three positions."

Having his position coach, Craig Bray, also serve as the team's Defensive Coordinator, naturally increases Nixon's and the rest of the Sun Devil linebackers knowledge of the schemes. "You learn what the whole defense does around of us," commented Nixon. "If we have a feel of what all 11 guys should do, you can read stuff a lot quicker and trust that the guys will help you out in certain areas."

With Major League Baseball playoffs kicking off this week, this one time member of the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system admitted that he's "pretty much 100% removed" from the game due to the great time demands college football presents.

As an Arizona Diamondbacks fan, Nixon who was born and raised in Phoenix admitted that he felt torn between rooting for his hometown team and certain individuals he considers friends on the Dodgers. A heated pennant race surely didn't make matters easier for him.

One thing Nixon is at peace with himself at is his decision to sign an MLB contract out of high school, in which he gave up any chance to play college baseball at a national powerhouse such as ASU or any other team. "It's all hindsight and I don't regret making the decision to get drafted out of high school," remarked Nixon.

"Maybe with all the guys Coach Murphy lost from last year we can find a loophole," he quipped.

When watching film on the Golden Bears, Nixon feels that Cal's strength is clearly the ground game and he fully expects the hosts to try and establish the ground attack early on Saturday. Ironically, he thinks that the key for a Sun Devil win is to follow the same formula.

"Last year we were able to get the lead in the second half and run the ball," he said, "and if we can do the same thing on offense and shut their run down we should have a good shot."

This week's contest will mark ASU's first road game of the year; a task that Nixon believes does require a stronger mental preparation. "We have to treat it like a business trip," stated Nixon. "We have to study a little harder so things are second nature when you're on the field. When you get the crowd yelling it's obviously different than your own home crowd, but if we play a good mental game we should be fine."

"On defense we have to be more consistent, get more turnovers. We feel that we have a pretty good game plan, and we just need to come ready on Saturday and execute it."

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