He signed in February as Arizona State's lone four-star defensive addition so it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that rush end Junior Onyeali is the lone true freshman to earn a defensive start this season.
Colorado's No. 3 overall prospect in the 2010 class, Onyeali was the top defensive recruit at Denver Mullen High School, which has earned more state titles and turned out more Division I prospects than any school in the state in recent years.
Onyeali plays a position where the Sun Devils had arguably their biggest personnel loss -- four year defensive end starter Dexter Davis -- and though he's not yet capable of filling those shoes, he's starting to show what might be possible down the road.
"He's a young kid right now, he's going to get bigger and stronger and all that stuff," Sun Devil coach Dennis Erickson said. "One thing he's got that never changes is a motor, that's how he plays the game as we all know. Once he knows what he's doing even more and becomes bigger and stronger, who knows. As a pass rusher he's got unlimited potential in my opinion.
"Particularly the last couple weeks he's getting better, maturing as he goes through all the stuff freshmen go through, not just on the field but off the field. I think he's comfortable where he's at right now so he's playing better."
With seven tackles including four for loss and half a sack through six games, Onyeali's production has been modest to be sure. But he's an eye catcher on the field due to his relentless, athletic pursuit of opposing quarterbacks.
"I feel like I've been doing okay, there's always room to improve though," Onyeali said. "Guys are bigger and stronger so it's not as easy to push guys around at this level and you have to use more technique a lot of the time. This year I feel like I'm doing okay but next year I feel like I can do a lot better.
"It's fun and exciting though. I feel like I'm living the life right now."
Erickson on Pac-12 split
Following practice Thursday, Erickson provided his thoughts on the announcement earlier in the day that ASU would play beginning next year in the Pac-12 South division with Arizona, Colorado, UCLA, USC and Utah.
"I kind of had a feeling how it was going to come down just because of the geographical deal, but then when you get into all the political things of the California schools and all that, I'm just glad they got it done and now they can start scheduling and we have a championship game I believe next year. It's good for us. We have a chance to go be in southern California at least once a year. Recruiting-wise, that's a huge thing for us."
Asked if he likes the idea of playing the conference championship game at a home site venue, Erickson said;
"It depends on where it's at. I really like it if it's here. I'm not sure I want to play in Seattle in December or Pullman. But I think it's a great idea. You get rewarded for having the best record."
Junior quarterback Samson Szakacsy returned to practice after being excused from Wednesday's session. He was used in some red zone situations in practice, as has been the case frequently in recent weeks.
Juniors Dan Knapp and Aderious Simmons split time at first-team right tackle and Erickson said both men would likely play Saturday.