Junior Onyeali burst onto the scene in 2010 with a great debut season that earned him Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors.
However, things went downhill from there. Injuries hampered him in 2011, and he had just one sack in his eight games. Worse still, his attitude turned south and he was suspended by Dennis Erickson for the Maaco Bowl.
Upon taking over the program, Todd Graham continued Onyeali's indefinite suspension. To his credit, the 6-foot, 233-pound junior followed Graham's course for reinstatement and emerged as a better player and person. That success has carried over into this season, as he already has four sacks in five games.
House of Sparky's Ben Haber caught up with Onyeali after Monday's practice to get his thoughts on a few topics.
House of Sparky: What were your thoughts when Coach Graham continued the initial suspension from Coach Erickson? Did you feel that was the right move?
Junior Onyeali: I thought it was reasonable. I know I messed up. I was shocked at first. He talked to me and then I understood what he was trying to do.
HoS: At any point, did you think of transferring and getting a fresh start?
JO: That thought is always going to cross your mind. but at the same time, I wanted to play for ASU. I was going to do my best, one day at a time.
HoS: How has the journey back from those tough times impacted you as a player and as a person?
JO: It made me appreciate it more. It made me appreciate playing football and playing for ASU.
HoS: What were your thoughts as you took that those first few snaps against NAU?
JO: It's good to be back. I missed the spring, and I missed a lot of stuff, but just to play again was fun.
HoS: How do you evaluate the job that the defensive unit has done over the first five games?
JO: I think we've done OK. I think we have a lot to improve in every area. Every position has a lot to improve. I'm on the D-line. I'm looking at it as we always have more room to grow, each one of us. From Will, to Jaxon and such.
HoS: You're coming off a great game against Cal. What factors helped you to that performance?
JO: I was mad [laughs]. I was focusing on getting off the ball. I felt like I wasn't bringing as much passion or intensity as I used to, so I just wanted to get back to that.
HoS: How much easier has your job been given the dominant play of Will Sutton?
JO: I love it. I've always told him that the only thing we've been missing the past few years is penetration up the middle. Now that we have penetration up the middle, quarterbacks don't have anywhere to go.
HoS: What's going to be the gameplan to shutting down the Colorado offense this Thursday?
JO: We're going hard, and I'm going back home (Onyeali is from Denver), so it's going to be fun.