Kipeli Koniseti at Media Day (Photo: ASU)
They always say that it's the size of the fight in the dog that matters. However, when that same dog has the size to match the determination and tenacity, watch out.
With just four starters returning to the nation's 91st ranked unit from last season, 2012 Arizona State defense is in dire need of size and fight. Thankfully for the Sun Devils, they have Kipeli Koniseti on the roster, and he brings plenty of both.
Koniseti was set to be a member of the Sun Devils' 2009 recruiting class following an accomplished career at Grant High School in Sacramento. Unfortunately for both player and university, he failed to qualify in time, sending him to a junior college career at College of the Sequoias.
While starring as both a quarterback and linebacker for the Giants, he never lost sight of his dream to play at ASU, and the Sun Devils never forgot about him. Ultimately, his efforts paid off and he joined the team prior to the 2011 season.
"It was long, but a good wait for me," said Koniseti. "It was a good journey to help me experience what I experienced, and it got me to where I'm supposed to be. I'm just happy to be here."
While Koniseti's journey to Tempe last season was complete, his quest for meaningful playing time was still ongoing. Due to ASU's tremendous depth at the position, his reps during his first season were scarce, although he did see some time on special teams. Koniseti appeared in nine games and registered six tackles.
Since the end of 2011, that linebacker depth has all but vanished, creating a path for Koniseti to become a critical part of the defense. Even with that opportunity, Koniseti is not taking anything for granted.
"Whatever opportunity they give me—either first team or second team—I'm just taking it and doing the best that I can. Just doing my responsibilities, learning keys for the defense and all of that. Anytime they put me in there, I'm taking it and doing my best."
He did just that during spring football. With Brandon Magee still recovering from his Achilles injury, Koniseti not only practiced with the first team defense, he excelled. The team's shift to a more aggressive style allowed him to make numerous plays, and in the process, to catch the coaching staff's eyes. But rather than feeling content in his standing after that success, Koniseti still maintains the same hunger.
"Spring gave me more reps and made me more comfortable. But it's just that: just spring ball. I see myself as a new guy. I haven't really done anything last year, a special teams player. But I see myself as the same rank as a guy trying to fight for a spot."
Such a determined attitude is a great asset to have, but on it's own, it won't take a player far at the FBS level without measurable and talent, and Koniseti has plenty of both.
At 6'3", 243 pounds, he is the most physically imposing member of the linebacking corps, and combines that bulk with very good quickness, athleticism and hitting ability to become the kind of potent weapon the new defensive scheme needs from its linebackers.
"We're a lot more downhill. A lot of the time we're run first, pass second players as linebackers. It also allows us to blitz from all different angles. That's why this defense is really good. It's a multiple defense that allows us to be comfortable in about three different sets and a couple different base formations."
One aspect that he is particularly looking forward to is taking the fight to the quarterback, something that the Sun Devils haven't done in recent years. Since 2007, the team has not finished higher than 49th in the nation in sacks. Koniseti and the defense are looking to change that for the better.
"There's all kinds of ways we can attack you, and we're always pressuring the quarterback. Making the quarterback uncomfortable is the main key, and we're attacking all the time. I can bring to the table being a good blitzer, and helping with the inside run. Just being a very physical player makes a big difference."
The team will need him to bring that each and every day.
With the loss of Vontaze Burfict, Shelly Lyons, Oliver Aaron and Colin Parker, the Sun Devil lost their top linebackers from 2011, and even Magee, their one star at the position, is still an unknown factor after missing so much time with his injury.
That leaves Koniseti among a group that includes holdovers Grandville Taylor, Brandon Johnson, and newcomers Steffon Martin, Salamo Fiso, Carlos Mendoza and Matt Rowe to help not only fill the gaps, but improve upon their predecessors.
While the questions and concerns loom large, so does Koniseti's size, tenacity and potential.
Looking towards the 2012 season, what are Koniseti's goals? Predictably, they are both grandiose and humble.
"Of course, be the best linebacker in the nation and help this team as much as I can, whether it's on defense or special teams. I'm just trying to contribute."