A compelling recruit two years ago due to his mammoth size, Jonathan English, a rare Sun Devil from the south, starred on the defensive line for John T. Curtis Christian School in River Ridge, La., one of the premier prep football programs in the nation.
With less than ideal height for a defensive lineman at barely 6-feet tall, Sun Belt Conference member Louisiana-Monroe ultimately was the only significant competitor for English's services despite a senior season in 2006 in which "Tank" ranked 11th in the nation with 20.0 sacks and 120 tackles, while netting high school All-America honors as a star for the state champion Patriots.
Potentially dominant despite his relatively light recruitment, English signed with ASU as a member of coach Dennis Erickson's first recruiting cycle at ASU and immediately earned playing time as a true freshman in 2007. However, despite seeing action in all 13 games as a freshman, English posted only two total tackles on the year. Additionally, in the early stages of his Sun Devil career, conditioning became a factor which had a stunting effect on English's development, as his weight maxed out in the vicinity of 330 pounds.
As a sophomore last season, English remained a reserve at defensive tackle but produced increases in the scorebooks, recording 12 tackles and 3.5 tackles-for-loss. Sadly, just as English's development and conditioning appeared to be hitting the necessary stride for "Tank" to become a prominent player for the quickly improving Sun Devil defense, English suffered a serious ACL injury in the next-to-last game of the 2008 season, against UCLA on Nov. 28. The injury forced English not only to miss ASU's rivalry matchup at Arizona, but forced him into rehabilitation for the vast majority of the offseason.
"The injury has been very difficult to work through," admits English. "It is something that has taken a great deal of hard work and focus, and although it has been very challenging it has given me a new outlook in many ways and has taught me to make the most out of the chances I have because nothing is guaranteed."
Roughly eight months have passed since the injury and time has seemingly fast-forwarded at hyper speed as English has gone from a spot reserve true freshman to the most experienced defensive tackle on the roster, having appeared in 24 career contests, more than any Sun Devil at the position. Additionally, English has taken significant control of his physical conditioning, reporting for fall camp at 282 pounds, nearly 50 pounds lighter than his initial days in maroon and gold, a process that has become a lifestyle approach rather than simply a coach's recommendation.
"During my first two years I've learned how important it is to always be aware of what I'm doing in terms of conditioning," says English. "I have learned to eat properly and how to train properly. It is something that I maintain in the offseason when I'm back home in Louisiana as well as during the time I'm in Arizona."
In addition to improved physical health – English has been active, although not yet full speed, in the first part of fall drills – English has embraced his upperclassman status and become a vocal leader among the defensive line, a role that on a team-wide scale was greatly missing in 2008.
"My freshman year, we had seniors like Mike Pollak on offense and Michael Marquardt on defense who were excellent leaders on the field and in the locker room," commends English. "Dexter Davis is a guy who is more of the quiet type, but he's such a great player that people can't help but want to do what he's doing. This year, the coaches have asked me to take on a leadership role and it's something I'm proud to do. I'm kind of mix between being vocal and quiet; I'm pretty laid back but I'm not afraid to speak up when we need to get down to business."
Despite the missed time, English's mentality has always been forward-thinking, with a steady focus on rehabilitation, improvement and preparation for the 2009 season. As physically fit as he as likely ever been as a competitive athlete, English has the mental and physical wear-with-all to emerge as a leading defensive presence for the Sun Devils.
At this point, "Tank's" work ethic is not only admirable, it's nearly essential as with the phenomenal potential of sophomore Lawrence Guy; sturdiness of Saia Falahola and the emergence of true freshmen Corey Adams and William Sutton; time is very much of the essence to the junior defensive tackle. However, the upgraded additions are only seen as overall advantages to English as he relishes the opportunity to be a potentially key figure among a possibly lethal defensive front.
"Man, our defense is fast," exclaims English. "It is fun just to watch everyone run around at practice. It doesn't matter if it's the first, second or third team, everyone can run and everyone is intense. I'm just happy to be getting back on the field and I'm excited and ready to help contribute once again."