It's a cornerstone of the Arizona State football program. Something head coach Todd Graham reiterates to his team over and over again every week.
How do you respond? Respond to adversity, respond to challenges on and off the football field.
Arizona State redshirt sophomore Edmond Boateng's career as a football player has been littered with challenges that he had to respond to. The 6-foot-3, 265-pound defensive lineman has chosen to respond positively each time. He's come to many forks in the road and chosen the correct path.
That path has led him to the starting Devilbacker position for Arizona State this season, and although he may split snaps with Antonio Longino on Saturday, it's far from the first challenge he'll have to overcome to advance his football career.
A late start
Boateng played soccer and some basketball too during his time at Wiregrass Ranch High School in Wesley Chapel, Florida located about 30 minutes drive north of Tampa. He also produced music, tried his hand at rapping, photography, and his first love was skateboarding. Although these are all things he keeps in touch with at Arizona State as a graphic design major who wants to start his own clothing line, it wasn't until his junior year of high school that football entered the fold.
"I always had the football coach looking at me saying ‘hey come out,'" Boateng said. "My size definitely helped and I didn't really know what I was doing but eventually they were working with me and I got comfortable playing football."
He acclimated quickly, recording 24 tackles including five for loss and three sacks during his senior season. But then something went awry. Colleges like the University of South Florida were looking at him, but nobody was willing to pull the plug and offer him a chance to play.
Boateng faced his first chance to respond. Would he stay put and just go to college to get a degree, or was the chance to play Division I football a dream worth persuing? Boateng chose the latter.
"I knew that it wasn't them saying, ‘you can't play,' it was just them saying I wasn't ready, so I knew JUCO was definitely the place I wanted to go," Boateng said.
Boateng received a full-ride scholarship to play football for the New Mexico Military institute (NMMI) in Roswell, New Mexico where he began in the fall of 2012. NMMI has had success sending kids to the NCAA Division I level. They have sent no less than 69 players to Division I schools, nine of which have gone on to the NFL, including legendary quarterback Roger Staubach before he was picked up by Navy. The discipline level, as expected for any service institution, is also incredibly high.
He wasn't at NMMI long before Boateng was faced with another choice and another chance to respond.
A wrist injury held him out the entire 2012 season. He could have quit right then and there again but he persevered.
"I had high hopes for that season but I realized the best thing to do was redshirt and really get some football under my belt," Boateng said.
The decision once again paid off, his first Division I offer came in the Spring of 2013. The next season the offers began to roll in. He made 19 tackles, including six for loss with two sacks, as well as two pass breakups in 11 games as a redshirt freshman.
Before it was all said and done, Boateng was a four-star JUCO prospect, the No. 3 defensive end and No. 25 overall recruit in the entire country according to ESPN. He received 11 other offers including Miami (FL), West Virginia, Arizona and Utah among others.
"The wrist humbled me in a sense," Boateng said. "I just realized I had to stay focused."
Focus is a must at NMMI. Boateng mentioned having to be up at 4:40 a.m. every day to sparkle his brass and get his uniform tightened up. There are even codes you have to say before you pick up your fork and knife to eat. The discipline allowed Boateng to flow seamlessly into the Arizona State program, where discipline and a tough work ethic have been hallmarks of the Todd Graham era.
"The military life almost overwhelms you and your kind of submerged into it. It gives you a strict mindset and coach Graham has a strict mindset so those things go hand in hand so you don't really see a change," Boateng said. "Going to junior college definitely helped just with the mindset of staying focused, staying grounded. Not really letting the biggest universities get to my head and try to live that lifestyle of the DI fantasy. "
Boateng committed to Arizona State on December 16th, 2013. He would be an early enrollee at ASU and be able to learn the system in the spring. He had a distinct advantage and was able to learn the system and schemes before fall camp. He also used the time to get himself into better shape.
"He's getting better and better everyday, I thought he made a durastic improvement last spring. He's just to keep getting better every week," Assocate head coach Paul Randolph said. "He's done some good things. He can run very well and has good energy. He's a very intelligent player. He's more of the kind of guy you have to get to pull back."
Boateng however seemingly disappeared as fall camp rolled around. The first two weeks up until Camp Tontonzona, he was getting minimal reps at three-technique and defensive end. Yet again, Boateng had a chance to respond to the adversity and try and earn more playing time.
Graham has especially pushed Boateng to get better, consistently pointing out every mistake he makes in practice.
"It gets your head spinning a little bit," Boateng said. "You realize he's just trying to get everything to the T and you just got to stay focused, you can't let it get the best of you."
Finally, one week before the Weber State game, Boateng's hard work paid off. Graham put him at starting Devilbacker on August 21st and the next day when the depth chart came out, Boateng was listed as the starter.
"Coming into camp, I thought he'll be a rotation guy (at defensive end)," Graham said. "This guy has an unbelievable spirit every day. He's playing with a passion, and we found a place for him to play. We are better today because of it."
Boateng will face another test, and a chance to respond, Saturday when he competes with Longino. He'll need to try even harder to further cement his starting spot at Devilbacker. Once again, Boateng has a positive outlook on how things could develop.
"I think I've been doing good, Boateng said. "To be honest there is so much room for improvement and that's going to come day by day."