"I think we got ourselves a SAM linebacker."
These were the words of Arizona State defensive coordinator Keith Patterson during last Saturday's scrimmage according to head coach Todd Graham. That linebacker is Salamo Fiso, who started 10 games including the last six consecutively to end the 2013 season.
Fiso, along with defensive back Lloyd Carrington, are the only two players with legitimate experience returning for the Sun Devils on the defensive side of the ball.
"He wasn't where we wanted him to get in the spring, he has had an unbelievable first part of camp," Graham said.
The 6-foot-0, 236 pounder will now be relied on even more with the news that the favored starter at WILL linebacker, Carlos Mendoza, will be out three to four weeks with a leg injury. This means early enrollee freshman DJ Calhoun should be next up at the position with Laiu Moeakiola on Fiso's opposite side at SPUR linebacker. Calhoun has clearly never played at the Division I level while Moeakiola, a redshirt sophomore, saw action in 10 games last season with 21 total tackles.
Fiso isn't worried about the lack of experience that surrounds him, in fact, he has been giving some advice to the younger new players.
"When they give us a new look, just go hard. Don't lay back-- just make us better," Fiso said.
Fiso made the Sun Devils a lot better last season, recording 71 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. Although the Sun Devils faltered, Fiso had his best outing in the Holiday Bowl against Texas Tech with a career high nine tackles. That performance Fiso said helped him build some momentum going into offseason workouts where he wanted to get stronger.
"I wanted to be a dirty dozen," he said. "And I got that for the first time this year so I was happy."
The, "dirty dozen" is an award given to 12 players who put in the most effort during summer workouts. This season, Fiso added that he not only wants to lead the team in tackles, but get become a bigger presence on the field with his voice.
"He's a guy we really need, you can hear him being very definite about his communication," Graham said. "If you listen to him on the field, he's the quarterback."
Graham mentioned that safety Alden Darby and linebacker Chris Young were the vocal players on the field last year, and noticed during the scrimmage that Fiso was especially loud.
"I usually keep to myself and now I'm just trying to be louder," Fiso said. "It's something I've worked on big time because I'm not really a talkative person."
The leading role is something Fiso said he's going to work extra hard to keep. He has the experience taking over a spot from someone else in Steffon Martin last season, so he has seen a player lose reps and doesn't want that to happen to him in 2014.
"I just got to keep working on the little stuff," Fiso said. "Because that's what really matters.