The Backstory: When discussing the qualities of a legend, it's hard to evaluate players who only give us a small sample size to work with. Some players have extraordinary years that are impossible to ignore, but many junior college players only have two years of eligibility to make their presence felt.
At Arizona State, No. 5 hasn't exactly been a popular number. It first debuted in the early 1980s, and it doesn't have the tradition that other numbers have. But when Junior College transfer Zach Catanese donned the number in 2005, the California native embarked on a quiet but productive career.
Unlike most of our legends, Catanese wasn't an immediate standout. But he did have an outstanding work ethic, a willingness to learn and improve, and the desire to succeed that is common among all of our Sun Devil legends. For those reasons, Catanese joins our elite and represents the players who wore No. 5 at Arizona State.
The Player: Zach Catanese (2005-2006)
Zach Catanese didn't always look like the imposing defensive back he was during his days as a Sun Devil. Before he arrived in Tempe, Catanese weighed less than his 230-pound playing weight, and he took awhile to grow into his 6-foot-2 frame. Catanese lacked the build of a true Division 1 football player, so after high school, he enrolled at Shasta Junior College to prepare himself for the college game.
Catanese was a playmaker throughout his high school days, and that didn't change when he first played at the college level. At Shasta, Catanese made an immediate impact by racking up 77 tackles and five interceptions during his freshman season. As a sophomore, Catanese earned Preseason All-American honors and also became a team captain. Catanese played with a scholarship on his mind, and that came to him in the form of an offer from Arizona State that he accepted after his second season at the JUCO level.
Once he arrived in Tempe, Catanese picked up where he left off and the Sun Devils were glad he did. The learning curve was short for the defensive back, and he was installed into the starting lineup for the first game of his Arizona State career. On the field, Catanese thrived as he enjoyed one of the best seasons of his football career playing in the Pac-10 conference.
In 2005, Catanese started all 12 games and finished second on the team with 107 tackles. Catanese made an impact in every game and had at least six tackles in 11 of his 12 games. For his efforts, he earned Honorable Mention All-Conference recognition and the right to keep his starting spot the following season.
As a senior, Catanese again made the most of his opportunities. After earning Arizona State's Most Improved Defensive Player Award in his debut season, Catanese backed up his hard work by posting 59 tackles, forcing two fumbles, and snatching two interceptions in 2006. Catanese again earned Honorable Mention All-Conference honors before concluding his career as a Sun Devil.
Junior Onyeali: If the Sun Devil defensive end wore No. 5 instead of No. 97 during his freshman season, the legend tag would belong to Onyeali. Onyeali won Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors in 2010 and was a Freshman All-American, but has struggled with consistency during his career. Onyeali figures into the game plan this season as a pass rush specialist, so he may be able to challenge Catanese's legacy at No. 5 with a big season.