In recent years, the No. 90 has been synonymous with Will Sutton. He was a consensus All-American in 2012, and the 2012 and 2013 winner of the Pac-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year Award. He collected 161 tackles, 45.5 for loss with 20.5 sacks during his time as a Sun Devil, eventually becoming a third round draft pick of the Chicago Bears.
Sutton's long hair always made the name on the back of his jersey difficult to see, but reading "Smallwood" above the No. 90 shouldn't be an issue at all in 2014.
Tashon Smallwood that is. The 6-foot-1, 285 pound freshman defensive tackle out of Fresno, California welcomes the challenge that wearing the number brings.
"I feel like it's great, it's something that I can climb to," Smallwood said. "I'm ready to get to him (Sutton) first and then get past where he was, so it's high expectations, but I love it."
Soon after Smallwood committed to the Sun Devils, he immediately began drawing comparisons as the potential, "Will Sutton of the future." He has a similar frame and body type as Sutton (6-foot-1, 301 pounds), and could play the same position for the Sun Devils.
"I don't really pay any mind to it, but it's not a bad thing," Smallwood said of the moniker. "My thing is, I just got to do what I have to do. They want me to perform at his level but my goal is to perform higher than his level."
Coincidentally, Smallwood's character and charisma are very similar to Sutton's. He's got this big infectious smile and an outgoing personality that made him very easy to carry on a conversation with. Also like Sutton, he's got a sense of genuine humility, knowing he still has parts of his game he can work on.
"I've got some things to work on like my first step," Smallwood said.
It was that first step that made him idolize his favorite NFL player. If Smallwood can replicate former Miami Hurricane and now NFL Hall of Famer Warren Sapp's production as a Sun Devil, he could be fun to watch for a number of years to come.
"I feel like my assets are just somewhat like his," Smallwood said. "I got to get better but I feel like he has a great first step, I have a good first step. His hands are great, my hands need to get better."
Smallwood and those hands almost never even made it to Arizona State. He was a three-star recruit according to Rivals, but ESPN and Scout both had him as a four-star. ESPN ranked him as the No. 20 recruit at his position in the 2014 recruiting class too. He committed to USC on Feb. 24, 2013 and then withdrew his verbal commitment from what was then Lane Kiffin's program on Sept. 7, 2013. It happened to be the same day the Trojans lost at home to Washington State 10-7. Smallwood then committed to Arizona State on Dec. 12, 2013.
This summer I will be taking my talents to ARIZONA ST. ✨ #blessed— tashon smallwood (@tsmallwood54) December 13, 2013
Even after his indecision between schools, Smallwood is confident that he made the right choice.
"I found ASU with great students, great coaches, great players and I feel like it's the best place for me," Smallwood said.
There is a very good chance Smallwood will be on the field a lot this season, whether it's starting, or rotating in off the bench. He has been a consistent member of the second team defensive line so far at practice in 11-on-11 drills, taking reps at the tiger and nose spot at different points. He even caught Todd Graham's eye on Monday after practice.
"(Tashon) Smallwood is a guy since we put on pads we were like 'wow'," Graham said. "He's everything we thought he was and maybe a little bit better."
Smallwood understands that the Sun Devils may count on him in the early going this season.
"He (Graham) doesn't need me to be 18 (years old), he needs me to be 22," Smallwood said. "My goal is to play right off the bat, I don’t want to redshirt. I don’t wan’t to watch, I want to get after it."
For the first time at practice on Tuesday, Smallwood substituted in for Marcus Hardison on first team during the walkthrough portion. Between the ears, the Central East High School graduate is pleased with his own performance so far, and that No. 90 is always in the back of his mind too.
"I think I'm doing well. I'm getting used to it and getting a lot of reps," Smallwood said. "Mentally I have to dominate, I got to be what Will Sutton was last year and the year before that."