What a difference a year makes.
Last August, the hype and hope surrounding the Sun Devils was palpable. Such was it's power that even the devastating Achilles injury suffered by linebacker Brandon Magee could not dim it. The enthusiasm marched on...until November.
When the Sun Devil sky came falling down, Magee's absence would prove to be a major factor in the team's ultimate demise. The team was able to get by for a while, but such a void in the lineup and on-field leadership was ultimately too much to overcome. These were the dark times.
Fast forward a few months to the eve of the 2012 season, and it's now Magee's return to form that has served as a catalyst behind the unexpected swell of optimism surrounding the team. The senior has claimed the starting spot at weakside linebacker, inherited Brock Osweiler's role as the face of the program and was recently named a team captain.
Yet the road back from his season-ending injury was far from easy, and even the perpetually upbeat Magee found staying positive a challenge through those tough times..
"Just staying positive even when you're sore," Magee said when asked about the hardest part of recovery. "There are days you don't feel as good as you think. You don't feel good. You just gotta stay positive, work through it, keep rehabbing it every single day and keeping a good mindset."
The recovery kept the 6-foot, 228 pounder out of most of spring ball, but his perseverance over the summer helped him to return strong during the team's fall camp. While there was a period of re-acclimating to the speed of the game, Magee is now closing in on being 100-percent, and it's not a moment too soon for the Sun Devils.
"I'm feeling really good. Excited to be back out there in front of my fans, family and with my teammates, and I'm ready to go," Magee said after Tuesday's practice.
But feeling good is one thing; being ready for the speed and physicality of an NCAA football game is another. When asked if there would be any rust or hesitation on the field after such a long layoff, Magee swiftly dismissed such a notion.
"No. Not at all."
If true, that will be great news for ASU fans in advance of this Thursday, when the team hosts NAU in the season opener.
The new Sun Devil defense uses the linebackers in a downhill fashion as a weapon of attack against the offense, and this scheme perfectly suits the athleticism and ball skills of Magee. The defense has also been simplified from last season, and when Magee jogs onto the field for his first action since 2010, his thoughts will likewise be centered on the basics.
"Just hit somebody. Stay mentally strong. I've got to communicate with a lot of our players all throughout the game, and we must know our keys."
With the ushering in of the "High Octane" era in Tempe on Thursday, a new defensive system, a big game next week against Illinois, not to mention his emotional return to the game he loves, is there a chance that ASU could overlook NAU?
No. Not on Magee's watch.
"We're not overlooking any game this year. We're really focused on NAU, and they have the capability to be a really great team. We have to handle them just like we would USC and Oregon."
Thursday night should, for all intents and purposes, amount to a lavish scrimmage. ASU will beat NAU. But the return to the field and to form of their hear-and-soul leader will be far more important than a single notch in the win column.