ASU Football: Who are the leaders of the Sun Devils’ defense?


With year one of the Herm Edwards era in Tempe in the books, ASU football is in search for leaders on the defensive side of the football.

There were times last season when ASU defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales was forced to deploy six freshmen onto the field.

Merlin Robertson, Darien Butler, Jermayne Lole, Aashari Crosswell, Cam Phillips and Tyler Johnson played important roles as either freshmen or redshirt freshmen for the Sun Devils’ defense.

The youth that Gonzales’ team was forced to deal with a season ago was challenging, but now those young players have a year of experience to work with. How will that experience translate into leadership for next season?

George Lea has been the most dominant voice, which is good,” Gonzales said. “Aashari (Crosswell) has probably been the most vocal in the secondary.”

Lea is a redshirt senior, but Crosswell will be a true sophomore in 2019. Along with Robertson, who won Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year last season, and Butler, his partner in crime in the linebacking core, ASU’s young players are already developing into young leaders.

These young players are in a position to lead because they are in a culture, set by Gonzales and coach Herm Edwards, that puts the the best players on the field regardless of age or name recognition.

“We have a standard around here that they’re starting to figure out,” Gonzales said. “It does not matter who you are. If you don’t do things right, you don’t get to play.

“That is the standard.”

Take cornerback Chase Lucas as an example. As a redshirt freshman under former head coach Todd Graham, Lucas made the All-Pac-12 Second Team Defense and was the only freshman that season to earn such an honor.

At practice just over a year later, Lucas is working with the second string defense. But despite his previous accomplishments, he is still up for the new challenge.

“It’s dope man,” said Lucas when asked about the amount of competition in the secondary. “Right now, I’m on the second team. I 110 percent feel it. I have to earn my spot back.”

Nobody’s spot is truly safe on this Sun Devil defense. And because of that, a greater variety of leaders have arisen.

“When you’ve got the players handling guys that are running behind and they get on each other, that’s when you have a chance to be successful,” Gonzales said.

The more players that are potentially in the fold, the greater chance that a player feels like he has the right to speak up and keep others accountable. And although the only true freshmen for next season that are currently on campus play offense, expect true freshmen like defensive backs Keon and Kejuan Markham to be leaders themselves in a year from now.

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And if the Markham twins, or Jordan Clark, or Stephon Wright, or Amiri Johnson become leaders next spring, nobody should be surprised. Remember that just last August, Butler was only a three-star recruit. Robertson and Crosswell were talented but unproven, and Phillips was never projected to have much of a role with ASU as a freshman at all.

All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand by Devils in Detail unless otherwise noted.