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ASU Football: 'Summer of Legends' No. 1 Phillippi Sparks

The final installment of our 'Summer of Legends' series honors a local prospect who locked down opposing receivers in the Sun Devil secondary.

Phillippi Sparks (right) with Darren Woodson.
Phillippi Sparks (right) with Darren Woodson.

The Backstory: On the final day of August, summer at House of Sparky finally draws to a close. Today is the last installment of our "Summer of Legends" series and tomorrow we transition to our game week coverage. Before we roll into the 2013 football season with a full head of steam, it is only proper that we extend our readership our gratitude for your support this summer.

Covering a football team over the summer is a difficult task. The staff here at House of Sparky faced many challenges, but we sincerely hope that series' like our "Pac-12 Power Rankings," the "Best Moment" poll and the "Summer of Legends" countdown entertained you and even helped educate you about the rich tradition at Arizona State.

Now it's time to close the books on summer and begin our fall. But before we do so, we honor the greatest Sun Devil to ever wear jersey No. 1. Fittingly, our selection is a local player who starred on defense, which are both qualities that would make the Sun Devils' current coaching staff proud. So without further ado, we introduce a legend for the final time.

The Player: Phillippi Sparks (1990-1991)

Earlier this week, we honored Maryvale High School alum Darren Woodson who patrolled the defensive backfield during his time in Tempe. Woodson boasts an "against all odds" story and had to walk-on to the team at Arizona State coming out of high school. Ironically, one of Woodson's teammates at Maryvale joined him at Arizona State and had an equally difficult road to travel.

Phillippi Sparks graduated from Maryvale in 1987 but lacked the pedigree to attract Division 1 attention. Sparks decided to continue his career at Glendale Community College where he helped lead the team to the 1988 Junior College National Championship. After two seasons in Glendale, Sparks made the short drive over to Arizona State where he fit right into the secondary.

In 1990, Sun Devil coach Larry Marmie put Sparks in the lineup at the left cornerback spot and the decision paid dividends immediately. Sparks brought energy and life to the field as a kick returner, but he did his best work defending passes. The Pac-10 Conference honored Sparks as a Second Team All-Conference defensive back, but Sparks still had room left for improvement.

As a senior, Sparks had his eyes on the NFL so he put together a season worthy of the scouts' attention. Against some of the best passing teams in the country, Sparks held his own and received First Team All-Conference recognition. Sparks' top honor came when he was named a semifinalist for the prestigious Jim Thorpe Award, which recognizes the nation's best defensive back.

Like many great Sun Devils, Sparks only played two seasons because he transferred from junior college. But when he arrived, he gave his all and that's a quality that every single one of our legends displayed throughout their careers.

In the Pros: From Maryvale to Arizona State and then to the NFL. It seems to be a theme for our legends this week, as Darren Woodson and Phillippi Sparks both took this road. The New York Giants drafted Sparks with the 41st overall selection in the 1992 NFL Draft, and Sparks made the most of his opportunity.

Sparks teamed up with Giants' corner Jason Sehorn to form one of the best defensive backfields in the 1990s. After eight seasons in New York, Sparks played his final year with the Dallas Cowboys before retiring prior to the 2001 season. In his career, Sparks notched 492 tackles, 27 interceptions, and one sack. Sparks is now a proud father of American Idol winner Jordin Sparks.

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