TEMPE, Ariz. -- Rashad Wadood and his fellow Sun Devil defenders had just finished dominating the offense during Arizona State's scrimmage this past Saturday.
For many, the one-sided showing came as a bit of a surprise. The ASU offense returns many key pieces and figures to be one of the Pac-12's most explosive units while the defense is being rebuilt after losing nine starters from a year ago.
But to Wadood, the group's performance went according to plan.
“We played well as a D in everything we expected to do; come out and compete, go hard from start to finish," said Wadood. "Everybody did their assignment. A couple of mistakes here and there, things we have to clean up. We have to watch the film and break it down.”
Saturday represented the latest in a string of strong spring showings by Wadood, now a redshirt junior. Wadood has been running with the starting defense throughout the spring's first three weeks, often locking up with standout receiver Jaelen Strong.
“I feel like I’ve done alright,” Wadood said of spring ball. “I have a lot of room to grow, a lot of things I need to improve on, a lot of things I need to work on technique-wise. I just have to stay in the film room and get better.”
This season marks another chance for Wadood to make good on his potential during a career that has been beset by injuries and challenges.
Wadood came to ASU in 2011 and immediately earned playing time as a true freshman. He saw action in the season's first 10 games, making six tackles, before he tore his ACL late in the year in the loss to Washington State. His injury luck was no better the following year, as he suffered a torn labrum in early September that sidelined him for the year.
Last season, Wadood struggled during fall camp and ultimately saw inconsistent playing time. He appeared in 10 games, setting a career-high with seven tackles against Colorado. However, those were his only tackles of the season.
With a new year and a new opportunity, Wadood is using the adversity he has faced over the past three years as motivation.
“Every setback is for a major comeback,” Wadood said. “Everything that I’ve been through has molded me for where I’m at right now. The past is the past. I’m here and I am who I am today because of that. I just want to keep growing and keep getting better.”
With both of last year's starters gone, Wadood and Lloyd Carrington have stepped into the starting lineup for the ASU defense during the spring, with Solomon Means and Will Early pushing at their heels. The competition has been tough, and will only get tougher in the fall with the arrival of several newcomers, including highly-touted junior college transfer Kweishi Brown. The players know that now is the time to make an impression.
“Everybody’s working hard and everybody’s competing," said Wadood about the cornerbacks. "We’re a family in the meeting room. We compete on the field. Everybody is working hard to get each other better. We are competing against the offense and competing against each other. It’s all around competition on the field. It’ll definitely improve us.”
To prepare for the year and his latest run at a key role, Wadood not only focused on his physical conditioning, but he also spent time honing his leadership abilities, as he is looking to fill the void left by the departed seniors.
“I watched a lot of film during the offseason," Wadood said. "Worked hard in the weight room, got well conditioned. It was nothing specific during the work, because I had to lead more, filling in to the role that I will be put in during the fall.”
Wadood has flashed top corner potential during his time at ASU. At 5-foot-11 and 181 pounds, he has good size, and speed has never been an issue for him. Along with a knack for making plays on the ball, he feels that his package of skills is a perfect fit for the team's defensive scheme.
“I’m physical. I’m athletic. I can do what is asked of me," said Wadood. "I’m willing to be coached. It all comes down to Coach Graham at the end of the day. He has a scheme in place. He knows the game so well, that if we listen to him and do what he coaches us to do, we’ll be alright. I just listen.”
But raw talent only gets a player so far.
The coaching staff had been hoping that his mental game would catch up to his physical skills, and in that aspect, Wadood has had some excellent role models. During his career, he had the chance to learn from accomplished teammates such as Deveron Carr and Osahon Irabor. One lesson quickly became apparent.
“How to be a student of the game," said Wadood. "Everybody I’ve played under was a hard worker. Deveron was a hard worker, great guy, always focused, watched a lot of film, studied and practiced hard. Osahon was the same way. Both were really good leaders. Although they were playing, they were always helping and coaching. When they weren’t in, they were coaching us up, giving me advice and telling me I was up next. They guided me a lot and I owe them the world.”
His start has been hot this spring, but there is a long road ahead until ASU opens up the season on Aug. 28 against Weber State. Will Wadood finally make good and open that game as a starter? He hopes so, but ultimately he just wants to do whatever he can to contribute towards a Sun Devil victory.
“My primary goal is to help my team in any way I can. I just want to win," Wadood said. "We haven’t had a Rose Bowl here in over 10 years. That’s the overall goal. With that, if we win a Rose Bowl, everything takes care of itself as far as all-conference tags and All-American tags."