If you're followed Arizona State football over the last several months, you've seen plenty of Brandon Magee, and for good reason.
The senior linebacker is a rare combination of excellent on-field talent and a high-character, community-minded young man off the field.
Despite working his way back from the Achilles injury that cost him all of the 2011 season, Magee has become the face of the Sun Devil program, and has received well-deserved local and national attention heading into 2012.
We caught up with Magee last week to talk about his role as the face of ASU football, his recovery, the strengths of the new defense and the legacy he wants to leave behind.
Brad Denny: You've just been named to the Butkus Award watch list despite not playing a down in over a year. That's got to feel pretty good.
Brandon Magee: I'm feeling good, but that's an individual award. I'm worried about the team and how good we're going to be this season, and getting my other guys ready to go. That will come with good play, but right now, I'm just focused on the team.
BD: So how are you feeling these days? How close are you to being back to 100%?
BM: As close as I've ever been. I've been stuck on 80 for a while now, but I'm in the 90s now. Hopefully during camp, I can get to the 100 mark. I'm not sure I'll be 100% right when we go, but I'm sure that once we get the hang of things, I'll be ready to go.
BD: Now that Coach Graham has had seven full months here, how do you characterize the change in the program's overall culture?
BM: Individually, I love it. I live my life positively, and that's all Coach Graham is--positivity. If you're negative, it's not going to work out for you on this team. For the program, I think it's great. From the recruiting standpoint, he's going to recruit people with character and represent ASU in the right way. From the alumni standpoint, he's bringing them back, showing them around the stadium. We're putting alumni pictures all around the third floor offices. I think it's great, he's doing a lot of great things.
BD: With Brock Osweiler now a Bronco, you've inherited the role as the face of the program, something you have appeared to embrace. What has that been like for you?
BM: It's been pretty fun, going to news stations and stuff like that. Face of the program or not, I just want the team to be good, and I need some other guys on the team to credit. It's great, I'll take that role.
BD: With that face of the program status comes on-field leadership responsibilities. I've talked to several players and they all rave about your leadership qualities. With so many key players gone, how do you characterize the leadership on this team?
BM: We have plenty of leaders on this team. They talk about Cameron Marshall and I a lot, but there's a lot of guys. I've been saying this all day: William Sutton, Alden Darby, Keelan Johnson, Deveron Carr, Jamal Miles. All three quarterbacks have been stepping up. These are people stepping up during the summer, and they are going to be even bigger once the season comes.
BD: After years of the more passive scheme, how much are the guys looking forward to the new attacking style of defense?
BM: The defensive scheme as a whole is great. It uses everyone to their best here. If you're good at blitzing, you're going to be blitzing all game. If you're good at pass dropping, you're going to use your pass drop. They use everyone to what they are good at, not just stick you in a position and say "Here, adjust to this or else you are not going to play. It's a great opportunity for everyone to show there stuff, and there's going to be a lot of people making plays this year.
BD: From a linebacker's perspective, what are the most exciting aspects you are looking forward to this season? On the flip side, which aspects do you feel will present the greatest challenges?
BM: I'm most looking forward to blitzing. A lot. I like hitting the quarterback, I like hitting running backs and running them over. All that is fun, because when you get up, the fans cheer and that's a great feeling. The worries? I'm not worried about too much. I'd say just getting used to things and stopping the run in a stack system, a 3-3-5. That may take a little time over the summer to get adjusted to, but I'm sure I'll be fine and so will the other linebackers.
BD: Outside of yourself, the linebacking corps has talent with guys like Steffon Martin, Kipeli Koniseti and GrandvilleTaylor to name a few, but nothing proven yet in live action. How do you evaluate the group as a whole?
BM: We are hard workers. We are guys who--myself, I feel I'm underrated--so all of use feeling we're underrated, we all have something to prove. We're tired of hearing people say we lost a lot of linebackers, we're young, we can't do this, we can't do that. We're just ready to prove everybody wrong. They are always in the film room, always working hard and just ready to go.
BD: How have the defensive players taken to DC Paul Randolph and the defensive staff?
BM: I gotta say, the defensive coaching staff has to be in the talk of the best in the nation, even before I have even played. As people, communicating with their players. They call us every day to see how you're doing. They are worried about you academically. On the field, they are smart in knowing the game of football, and how to use players at what they are good at, so I'm excited.
BD: The big news last week was your contract signing with the Red Sox. Playing baseball has been a big dream for you, but how do you plan to juggle the two sports over the upcoming year and beyond?
BM: As of now, I'm just focused on the football season coming up, but in the future, who knows? If I put up a good season, seeing what the draft is looking like. Boston's letting me into the NFL Draft and do all of that, which is great. So who knows? I guess Bo knows, but he didn't tell me yet.
BD: You recently had a talk with Bo Jackson. What was that conversation like?
BM: He called me on Monday, and I signed on Thursday, because he already knew. He congratulated me on that, and he talked about how hard it is to be a two-sport player, especially today since the athletes are better and injuries happen more often and stuff like that. He's one of the most positive guys I've ever talked to, and he talked about how to represent yourself off the field, how to dress nice, how to treat people with respect. He was all about respect and to not go out and get in trouble.
BD: What are your thoughts on the upcoming trip up the hill to Camp Tontozona?
BM: I'm really excited to head up the mountain. I think it's a great opportunity for our fans to get back up there. I hear the fans chirping about how excited they are to go back, and I'm excited to go back. The atmosphere is just wonderful. Being up there, having an opportunity to hang our with your teammates like that, is going to bring us closer.
BD: The overriding theme since Coach Graham's arrival in December has been "Speaking Victory". How do you define that term?
BM: Speaking victory is positivity every day. When somebody asks me on the outlook for the season, I say "National championship". We haven't played a game yet, so I'm going to say national championship until somebody takes us out. Speaking victory is speaking victory about your teammates. Don't talk down to your teammates, don't talk down to anyone in the building, nobody is better than any one here. Staying level-headed and just positive living.
BD: What do you feel is the one X-factor-whether it's a player, scheme, mentality-for this team to succeed this fall?
BM: The X-factor is, everybody buying into the system. Everybody has to be bought in 100%, or Coach Graham is not going to put you on the field. Sticking with the system, believing its going to work, staying positive, practicing hard and staying healthy.
BD: What legacy do you want to leave at Arizona State?
BM: How I helped people off the field. That's number one. On the field is fun, but it lasts for what, a game? Maybe the next week if you have a really good game? But the stuff that happens off the field lasts a lifetime. I like to get out into the community and help people on the way. I like to use my name a lot to get the opportunity to help people. I want to be remembered for how much I helped in the community.
Previous interviews in our "12 in '12" series: QB Michael Eubank, K Alex Garoutte, RB James Morrison, C Kody Koebensky, CB Deveron Carr, QB Mike Bercovici, Devilbacker Carl Bradford, S Keelan Johnson
Follow me on Twitter @BDenny29 and like House of Sparky on Facebook