ASU LB D.J. Calhoun is ready for primetime debut

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Calhoun (4) aims to make a tackle during the scrimmage at Camp Tontozona By Brad Denny Calhoun (4) aims to make a tackle during the scrimmage at Camp Tontozona By Brad Denny

TEMPE, Ariz. -- "I'm a hitter, so I'm going to have to hit things."

For a linebacker, that's about as good of a mindset as you can have. It's also an indication that Arizona State true freshman D.J. Calhoun is ready to make his debut for the Sun Devils.

The consensus 4-star recruit from El Cerrito, Calif. is just hours away from making his first career start in his first collegiate game. Since coming to ASU as a mid-year enrollee in January, Calhoun has been working hard to live up to the lofty expectations thrust upon him by both fans and the coaching staff.

With the departure of nine starters from last year's defense, the opportunity, and the need, was there for Calhoun to make an immediate impact for the defending Pac-12 South champions. Taking advantage of his mid-year status, Calhoun performed well during spring ball and ending those sessions atop the depth chart at WILL linebacker.

Beyond helping him immensely, that experience Calhoun gained in the spring allowed him to be a valuable resource when the bulk of his fellow 2014 recruits joined the program over the summer.

"That benefited me a lot, but I think even when my first group came in, I felt like I had to be more of a leader, to show them things I learned," Calhoun said. "By then, it all clicked together."

His spring success, however, was no guarantee of a starting job. 

At the outset of fall camp, he watched as redshirt junior Antonio Longino took first-team reps at WILL. Longino then moved to Devilbacker, but redshirt sophomore Carlos Mendoza began seeing some first-team reps.

As the two battled, Mendoza suffered yet another injury in a career already full of them, and remains sidelined. Rather than being a contentious competition, the two players remained supportive of each other.

"You have to compete anywhere you go," Calhoun said. "Me and Carlos, we never argue. If I'm on the sideline, he helps me. If he's on the sideline, he helps me. When he was injured in the spring game, he was helping me the whole time."

With Calhoun atop the depth chart and Mendoza still healing, another true freshman, Christian Sam, fills out the depth chart as the opener looms.  

Rather than be concerned about their collective inexperience, Calhoun sees the youth at WILL as a positive.

"I love it. Our team is young," Calhoun said. "So if we do good and strive to make Rose Bowl, I'm not worried about the next years that are going to come. It's going to be outstanding."

Even with so much inexperience in the lineup, Calhoun likes what he's seeing from the Sun Devil defense.

"It's coming great. Everybody is communicating on every play," Calhoun. "Everybody is getting together and swarming to the ball."

Calhoun and the rest of the Devil defense will be facing Weber State on Thursday night. An FCS team in transition following a 2-10 showing in 2013, Calhoun feels confident in his unit's chances against the Wildcat offense.

"They're more of a regular team that runs power, but we're going to stop them," Calhoun said. "We're not worried about them. At the end of the day, they are a college team and can't take them lightly, but we're going to come out here and hit them in the mouth."

Calhoun anticipates that on Thursday night when he is standing inside Tillman Tunnel before taking the field, the emotion of the moment will hit him.

"It's going to be crazy. I might cry and shed a tear," Calhoun admitted. "It's going to be overwhelming. I'm going to be nervous for sure, and I may be excited at the same time."

Calhoun's goals for Thursday night are simple and direct.

"Get as many tackles as I can and make my coaches proud," he said. "I'm playing not for myself, but for my fans and my family.

"It's game time now. All the things I've learned, I have to put on the field now."