Even during spring practices, Arizona State head coach Todd Graham insists on maintaining a disciplined atmosphere to help foster a more constructive learning environment. Graham asks his veteran players to set the tone for practices with their tempo and intensity, but this spring, not all position groups have a seasoned leader.
At defensive end, the Sun Devils return a lone player with significant game experience from last season, and that's junior college transfer Marcus Hardison. After struggling to make the transition from the junior college level, Hardison has impressed the coaches with his work ethic this offseason and drawn rave reviews for his commitment to the program.
This year, the Sun Devils pulled in another defensive end from a junior college during the 2013-2014 recruiting cycle. Arizona State landed New Mexico Military Institution transfer Edmond Boateng, and after allowing Hardison to take his time adjusting last season, the Sun Devils are determined to expedite the process with Boateng, a spring enrollee.
"No doubt he was very impressive in his first day," Graham said of Boateng last week. "Tremendous character, tremendous discipline."
Perhaps Hardison's newfound drive is completely internal, but now, the Florida native has external factors pushing him to succeed. While he may be the only returning player with game action under his belt, Hardison is facing stiff competition from Boateng.
Boateng says the discipline required by the Sun Devil coaching staff is nothing new to him, and that he actually thrives in these situations. With some players resistant to rules and instruction, Boateng believes his days at a military institution make him a prime candidate to make an impact in this system.
"Discipline, I came from New Mexico Military Institution so discipline-wise, it wasn't really too bad," Boateng said. "I don't really mess up when it comes to that, I kind of got my head screwed on right."
The real difference for a player like Boateng comes not during meetings or positional drills, but rather during team periods at practice when the speed of high-level Division I football becomes apparent. With everyone sprinting on and off the field, the Sun Devil practices can look like a hockey team practicing changing lines, and that's where Boateng is feeling the change.
"Speed-wise, tempo-wise, D1 football is right in your face, you're getting out there every play, so it's just a matter of time until I really get settled in with the tempo," Boateng said.
So how does Boateng stack up compared to his fellow defensive ends thus far? In talking with coach Graham, it appears as though the transition has been fairly seamless.
"We did a great job recruiting that right guy there," Graham said. "He's a guy that I consider right now, if you asked me, he'd be in the starting rotation.
That's high praise for Boateng, but he says that he has expected to contend for immediate playing time all along. One of the reasons Boateng wanted to transfer mid-year is so that he could get acclimated ahead of his fellow recruits, and right now, that decision is paying off.
"We have a lot of boys coming in for the summer and being able to come here mid-year and already get my mind set on how everything goes and how practice works, how classes work, just being a Sun Devil, that experience is a big benefit toward me," Boateng said.
With Will Sutton, Carl Bradford, Gannon Conway and Davon Coleman all returning on the defensive line last season, the Sun Devils actually did have the luxury of allowing Hardison to take his time in understanding the system. Hardison's repetition count fluctuated from week to week, but that won't be the case with Boateng this year.
Arizona State lost nearly every contributor off of last year's defensive line, and the absence of Bradford could be the most difficult to cope with this year. Graham and the Sun Devils have already shown more four-down linemen looks (as opposed to a 3-4 with Bradford as a stand up end), and that means finding players to man the end spots is essential.
"I've been doing this a long time, I've never had a guy like Carl (Bradford)," Graham said. "He played every down. People don't do that."
As Bradford heads for the pros, coach Paul Randolph assumes control of a defensive line in dire need of a leader who can turn raw talent into production quickly. This spring, Boateng has become one of Randolph's most important pupils, and the pair has already developed chemistry during drills together.
"His energy is explosive 24/7, he's always a bright-eyed guy so the relationship is good and what he's doing, and his characteristics are definitely being instilled in me day by day and that relationship is definitely growing," Boateng said.
Boateng said after Thursday's practice that his work with coach Randolph and strength and conditioning coach Shawn Griswold is paying dividends, and he believes his body is in shape to compete at the highest level. The defensive end entered Arizona State at 260 pounds, and has already beefed up to 271 pounds.
On Thursday, Boateng said that he wants to weigh 285 pounds by the season, and turn his remaining fat into muscle. Already a physical specimen, Boateng has the rare NFL-body type that just needs seasoning and maturation at the college level.
Fortunately for him, the Sun Devils are a match, because this team needs a player who can beef up the rotation and provide reinforcement during games when Hardison and his fellow defensive linemen need substitutions. Even though he's just three practices into his Arizona State career, it's already apparent that Edmond Boateng is a player that the Sun Devils will depend on to make a difference this fall.
"Marcus (Hardison) is not a guy that can play every snap, he's a little big," Graham said. "So Boateng will be a guy that we're counting on him to be a starter."