ASU Football: After aha moment, George Lea is back with first team

TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 10: Quarterback Troy Williams
TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 10: Quarterback Troy Williams /

The ASU football starting defensive line is like a train — some get on, some get off and some keep riding. After Thursday’s practice, George Lea is back on.

One man’s demotion is another man’s opportunity.

For the Arizona State defensive line, that mantra shows itself often. Past stats or experience won’t help you run with the first-teamers in practice – instead, your previous day’s or even your performance in your previous rep dictates where you’ll stand on that day’s depth chart.

“Depth charts are on magnets, they change daily,” defensive line coach Michael Slater said. “So whoever performs best are going to be the guys on the field.”

Those guys on the field to start fall camp were Tashon Smallwood, JoJo Wicker and Lea. Then, during a practice at Camp Tontozona, freshman Shannon Forman got his opportunity — replacing Lea.

“One minute you’re with the fours,” Forman said. “The next minute you with the ones.”

With two years less of experience, the 6-foot-1, 299-pound Forman outplayed Lea. And in Slater’s day-to-day rotating depth chart, he was rewarded.

“Nobody’s spot is safe,” Slater said. “Take one lazy step and somebody is behind you chopping at the bit, trying to get your reps.”

In the dog days of summer it’s easy to go through the motions of those practice reps and take that “lazy step.” After all, it can get repetitive going through the same routine and the same drills day in and day out.

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And because of that, the fall positional competitions don’t always revolve around sheer talent. The personnel fluctuates and can be based upon effort — at times the move will stick, or often it will be a wake up call.

For Lea, the latter applies.

From the moment he started taking backup reps, he had to take a hard look at himself, not in the mirror, but on film. There, he noticed where his struggles and demotion stemmed from.

“Every day once we watch film, I see that I don’t do everything I was supposed to be doing,” Lea said. “People have been working harder then me and I’ve just been going through the motions.

“I just see it in my mind everyday, ‘ I gotta get better’, ‘gotta get better’, ‘gotta get better.’”

Lea got better throughout the Sun Devils week in Payson. Maybe it was the altitude, the lack of electronics or the team bonding, but before the Tontozona scrimmage, Lea had his aha moment.

“When we were at Camp T for our last day to scrimmage the aha moment just popped,” Lea said. “Just finishing plays, just effort.”

He was in a position he never wanted to be in, one that required him to scratch and claw his way back into becoming a first-teamer.

That effort started at the spring game where he racked up an unofficial four tackles, including two for a loss. It was a great production improvement from his 2016 campaign, one in which he appeared in 10 games, starting four while racking up just 12 total tackles with three for a loss.

Fast forward to Thursday’s practice, the fourth after the scrimmage, and as 11-on-11 drills were beginning, the first defensive player to run on the field was none other than No. 45 Lea.

“It felt great to be back with the ones because I’ve been slacking,” Lea said. “Then I stepped up and got back with the ones.”

The feat may seem insignificant given how often the depth chart changes, but in having to conquer that feat, he saw how important each day can be. And if he’s not bringing it, he has Forman right behind him ready to take his spot.

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“You just got to be competitive,” Forman said. “I know George is going to be competitive, I’m going to be competitive, nobody wants to lose their job.”