For three years, fans of Arizona State football waited. During that stretch, Will Sutton’s hunger grew.
In 2012, he ate…and went back for seconds.
Sutton’s blend of size, quickness, and ferocity found a perfect fit in the Sun Devils’ new attacking scheme, and ballcarriers felt the wrath. He posted 13 tackles-for-loss and 8.5 sacks in ASU’s first six games, helping the team to a surprising 5-1 start.
However, Sutton suffered a knee injury on the game’s first possession against Oregon—after forcing a fumble, of course. He subsequently missed the season’s defining game the next week, a close loss to UCLA, and was less than 100 percent for a few games thereafter. Ever the warrior, Sutton finished the year strong, adding 8.5 tackles-for-loss and 3.5 sacks over the final four games.
Then came the awards. Oh, so many awards.
Following the season, Sutton earned consensus All-American honors and was named the Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year, among others, but for ASU, Sutton’s value goes well beyond his substantial stat line and trophy case.
When he was in the lineup, the Sun Devils were among the nation’s elite defenses, and his play allowed his teammates to excel. Carl Bradford racked up 11.5 sacks last season, Chris Young tallied 14 tackles-for-loss, and with blockers forced to tie up Sutton, Brandon Magee had a team-high 113 tackles.
When he wasn’t on the field, it got ugly in a hurry.
In the nine games in which Sutton played healthy or mostly healthy, ASU surrendered an average of 305 yards and 17 points-per-game, only once allowing more than 30 points or 400 yards (Arizona). In the four games in which he either missed or was greatly impacted by the knee injury, those figures shoot up to 452 yards and 40.5 points-per-game.
When Sutton announced, to the surprise of many, that he would bypass the NFL Draft and return for his senior year, the expectations surrounding the Corona, Calif. native rose even higher than his All-American resume.
He will once again be the centerpiece of the Sun Devil defense that should serve as the catalyst of the team’s Rose Bowl hopes. Now up to a stout 305 pounds, Sutton will be counted upon to take his disruptive playmaking to a new level in 2013, even with every offensive coordinator making his neutralization their No. 1 priority.
But he will have some help up front.
Jaxon Hood looks to build upon his true freshman year in which he earned Freshman All-American honors, ends Davon Coleman and Junior Onyeali are primed for big senior years, and the team brought in the nation’s fifth-ranked junior college recruit in Marcus Hardison to bolster the line. All told, the ASU defensive line is as strong a unit as any in the Pac-12.
While the fate of the defense does not figure to be as dependant on Sutton this fall, Sutton enters the year as the one of the nation’s premier defensive players. If he can play to the level that was on display in 2012, the Sun Devils will have a very good chance to realize their run to the Roses.