Marcus Hardison aiming to continue ASU's defensive line dominance

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By Brad Denny By Brad Denny

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Over the decades of Sun Devil football, several positions have had extended runs of excellence.

Woody Green, Freddie Williams and the Malone brothers led an unstoppable running attack in the 1970s. Danny White, Jake Plummer and Andrew Walter have gave Arizona State several standouts at quarterback. When Chris Coyle re-wrote the school record books last fall, the “Tight End U” moniker was dusted off.

With Will Sutton’s All-American season leading a dominating defense, a new legacy along the defensive line was born. This January, it added a new piece that figures to carry on the lineage.

Marcus Hardison comes to Tempe with quite an impressive resume.

The 6-foot-5, 280 pounder spent two seasons at Dodge City Community College, racking up 96 tackles and seven sacks. His play earned him a four-star rating by many prominent recruiting services, and ESPN had him listed as the nation’s fifth-ranked junior college recruit.

Not surprisingly, Hardison had dozens of offers from which to choose, including ASU. Yet, the Sun Devils didn’t immediately jump to the top of his list, but that changed thanks to the persistent coaching staff.

“After they offered me, it was about a month afterward that I really started seeing myself going to ASU,” said Hardison. “ASU was the first school to offer me coming out of my juco season and heading into spring. I didn’t really pay attention to it much. The coaches always used to call me 24/7. I just ended up getting a great relationship. I just started doing a lot of research on ASU.”

What that research turned up was that the program and culture being built by head coach of Todd Graham that stacked up favorably against some of the nation’s top teams.

“It’s a great school and a great program on the upswing,” Hardison said. “Coach Graham is new to the program and this is his first recruiting class. Once I went through my recruitment and doing research on other schools, that’s when ASU really started to stick out. In my head, they were already a pretty good school. Comparing them to other schools, that’s when they started to stick out.”

Hardison’s relationship with and respect for Graham helped to elevate ASU over the other programs that were among Hardison’s finalists: West Virginia, Kansas State and South Florida.

“He tells you what he wants out of you,” said Hardison of Graham. “He has great expectations of me and everyone that is on his team. I just listen to him and respect everything he says. He’s an awesome guy and I believe everything he says.”

Like many talented players that start in junior college, the experience served to mature him as an individual and to light a fire in Hardison that he is now ready to unleash at the college game’s highest level. 

 “Juco and the Pac-12 are two totally different things. I got two years of college under my belt. I’m coming in experienced. I’m coming in early and getting the great conditioning and workouts. Just by me being older (Hardison is 21), I’m mature and I know what I want. Juco made me hungry.”

Often times, a top recruit will avoid a situation where he will face a deep depth chart at one of his schools, opting to go for a clearer path to the field. Not Hardison.

ASU returns of 2012’s starters and key reserves along the defensive line, a unit that helped the Sun Devils lead the nation in tackles-for-loss and finish second in sacks. Rather than seeing such a crowded situation as a negative, Hardison embraces the challenge.

“I knew what ASU was returning and what players they were recruiting at D-line,” said Hardison. “I thought about it, but it didn’t really affect my decision. Auburn wanted to put me in a 10-man rotation, I didn’t really like that. Coach Graham telling me I could start coming in is great, but at the same time, I knew who was already there. The two seniors at defensive end aren’t going to let me come in and take their jobs. I knew what I was getting into.”

He was also getting into a defensive scheme that brings pressure on every down from a variety of spots and angles. The gameplan places a premium on quickness to bring the fight to the offense, and it’s a philosophy that should bring out the best in Hardison.

“One thing I like about the defense is that it attacks. Attacks, attacks, attacks,” Hardison said. “We’re always moving. That’s a great thing for me, because I don’t like to sit there and clog up stuff. I’m an attacking player that likes to stunt and move around. I’m quick and have a great first step. Me moving is an advantage over an offensive lineman. I think it will fit my style perfectly.”

Hardison’s combination of quickness, strength, and size gives the coaching staff several options on how to use him. With the scheme’s reliance on multiple fronts, this has allowed versatile players such as Sutton, Carl Bradford, and Chris Young to thrive. ASU’s coaching staff expects Hardison, who will wear No. 12, to be another name on that list.

“I’m playing field side end, but he (defensive line coach Jackie Shipp) told me I’m going to learn two positions,” said Hardison. “He said I’m going to learn to play the 3 and the 5 (technique). I have no problem. Wherever they want to put m to help the team win, I’m with it.”

One of the major benefits of signing with ASU is getting to play a year with Sutton, a consensus All-American in 2012. 

“It’s awesome. That was another reason why I signed to ASU,” Hardison said. “You don’t get a lot of chances to play with great players like that. The opportunity to play with him and learn a lot from him will be awesome.”

Although Hardison has only been in Tempe for a short time, he already is embracing being a Sun Devil.

“It means a lot to me. It means a lot to me, my family,” Hardison said. “It means a lot to the organization. Just me walking around, people know who I am, without even saying a word. It’s exciting to walk around and people want you to sign things. I can only keep going forward with this.”

Hardison has yet to take a snap on the major college football stage, but that has not put a damper on his goals for his Sun Devil career.

“I made my goals the first day I came in. Coach Graham gave me a piece of paper. My individual goals are: Be a first team All-American, Pac-12 Player of the Year, beat Terrell Suggs’ sack record, the Nagurski Award, Lombardi Award.

“I told Will after he won all those awards, ‘You might not win them next year.’”

If he can come anywhere close to replicating Sutton's success, the Sun Devils will have themselves quite the playmaker on their hands.