Even with our successful basketball and baseball teams playing important games tonight, we still have continuing coverage of the retooling football team.
Many Sun Devil fans look at linebacker Mike Nixon as one of the reasons for our defensive success in 2008. He was an integral part of the defense all season, and even moreso when Gerald Munns left the team after the Georgia game.
Nixon took the time of out his day yesterday to sit down and discuss the upcoming football season, his academic success, and his journey from minor league baseball to ASU.
House Of Sparky: Many say that the defense was a bright spot of the 2008 Sun Devil football campaign. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the defensive core?
Especially going on to next year, we're going to have a lot of guys who played a lot of football. This year, at times, we took our bumps and bruises because we had some younger guys playing, but the fact is that all the linebackers got quality playing time.
Our safeties are going to be fairly young, but other than that we've got our corners back and most of our D-line; we only lost 2 out of the 8 guys in that rotation.
Experience should be a huge factor for us. Hopefully in those games that we could win, hopefully we will pull them out next year.
ASU recruited some topnotch talent on defense. How will this improve the team in 2009?
I think it will be great. There are always going to be injuries throughout a season, and the more depth we have and the better quality of guys we have coming in, there won't be a drop off between first and second teamers.
If you have different sorts of talents, too, coaches can put different packages in that exploit the talents of the guys they have. I think it will make us a lot more versatile next year.
On the whole, how do you think the team will fare in 2009?
I think it's going to be a lot better than this year. We had a tough schedule, and we didn't win a couple games we thought we should have.
We had a fairly young team, and hopefully all that stuff carries over where next year, those games that we could have won, we are winning.
Instead of a 5-7 season, we get back to where we were two years ago, hopefully vying for a Pac-10 title.
ASU takes on the University of Georgia in Athens on September 26, 2009. Do you look forward to traveling to SEC country for the first time in your college career?
I'm loving it. Traveling on the road is a ton of fun. It's tough to win on the road, just because the crowd; you've got 70,000 people against you.
We are going to be an underdog going into that game, and it will be a game where we have something to prove. Hopefully we can go out and get the season started on the right foot.
You and Troy Nolan both won the 2008 Most Valuable Defensive Player of the Year award at the Sun Devil awards banquet. How will you build upon your success in 2009?
We were 5-7 as a team, so we all have to get a lot better in a lot of aspects. The defense played well at points last year, and I think we've got to be more consistent overall.
Going back and looking at film, I think there is definite room for improvement from everybody, and mine's no different.
You were the winner of the Clyde B. Smith Award for academic achievement in 2008. You were also named to the Pac-10 All-Academic First Team and the ESPN The Magazine All-Academic All-District-VIII First Team. Do you feel like you set a positive example in the locker room for the younger players, who are trying to strike a balance between football and their studies?
I think so. A lot of our guys at first are living in the dorms, they are trying to balance being away from home for the first time with school, with football for the first time at this level.
Some people struggle with it, but I try to set an example to do the right thing, and put yourself in the position to succeed, getting good grades, and doing well in football will be a little bit easier.
Try to go to class when you have it, get your homework done. If you're making the effort, teachers will [recognize that].
You played minor league baseball for 4 seasons, making it all the way to AAA. What was it like to play minor league baseball, and how did it prepare you to play football at ASU?
It was fun. I am glad I did it, and I'm glad it's over with.
It was kind of a grind, I enjoyed doing it, but unless you're making it to the big leagues, the professional baseball life in the minor leagues is not very glamorous at all.
I got to the point where I didn't think making it to the Major Leagues was a strong possibility. It was kind of a long shot. It wasn't the life I wanted to be doing for another eight years to never make it in the Majors.
How did you end up on the football team at ASU?
Coach [Dirk] Koetter had actually recruited me out of high school. I was thinking about going back to school, and football was strong on my mind as well.
I bought a condo [in Tempe], and I lived here during my off season from baseball about two minutes away from campus.
Coach Koetter had actually contacted me during my third year [in the minors] and asked how things we going, and reminded me that if I ever thought about coming back, I'd have a spot on the team.
So just knowing that, and wanting to play in front of family and friends, it brought me back here.
I had actually signed with UCLA out of high school to play football, but only Coach Koetter contacted me and said there was always an open door in case things didn't work out. I am glad he did that for me.
You recorded 89 tackles, 5 interceptions, and a touchdown in 2008. Are you interested in playing professional football?
If that would be something that I realistically had a shot at, I would definitely pursue it 100%. We get to talk to some scouts this spring, and I'd really love to hear their take one way or another just so I know if that's a possibility in the future.
If it is, I will go for it as hard as I can. If it's a 1-in-100 chance, I feel like I am going to be successful wherever I choose to go in life, and I don't need to be putting all my eggs in that basket.
If you don't end up in the NFL, what do you plan on doing?
More school. Either law school or trying to get an MBA in Sports Management. Anything to put off the real world (laughs).
Thanks again to Mike Nixon. We're just getting started with today's ASU coverage.