It was a last minute decision.
At 2 a.m. on the eve of National Signing Day, defensive end JoJo Wicker called up Todd Graham to share his decision. Graham was elated. Wicker had passed up 10 other scholarship offers, most notably UCLA, Notre Dame, Texas Tech and rival Arizona, in hopes of finding a spot on the field in Graham's scheme.
Now, Wicker is the only true freshman to sit atop the depth chart at his position. He's the 6-foot-3, 275-pound anchor of this ASU defensive line, and he's a braces-donning teenager fresh of out high school.
But there was something in the Long Beach Poly grad, the same high school that linebacker Salamo Fiso hails from, that stood out to Graham from the very beginning.
"He’s the best defensive lineman that I’ve been around as far as in recruiting," Graham said after a practice earlier in the year. "He’s just an incredible character kid, got a great family, he fits into what we’re trying to learn and it’s not easy to learn as much as there is to learn in that short a period of time and so show up here with the latter part of the gym and then three weeks of practice and showing up ready to play. He’s a stud I absolutely love the kid."
Scout.com ranked Wicker as the No. 11 defensive tackle recruit in the country and No. 93 overall prospect in the nation after his dominant senior campaign. A season in which Wicker put up punishing numbers, leading the team with 138 tackles, 26 of them for loss and perhaps most impressive, 17.5 sacks.
While the young new addition is slow to put up astounding statistics thus far this season, he is, in Graham's eyes, among the hardest workers on this defensive line. Graham describes Wicker as a unwavering spirit who is always doing his part to learn the in's and out's of the system, while donning a bright smile on his face. They say, give him an inch and he'll take a yard? When Wicker's given a inch, he'll take away your yards.
Take, the USC game for instance. Wicker got his first start in what was inevitably ASU's most important contest of the year as they opened their conference play. Armed with the confidence Graham had instilled in him in his selection to let the freshman anchor down the defensive line, Wicker forced a fumble, one of only four fumbles by USC this season, giving his team the momentum in a crucial period in the game.
So far this season it has been Wicker's pass rush abilities, one of the biggest reasons he was targeted so highly, that have shown through. He has pushed opponents back 35 yards with four tackles for loss with two sacks, while playing a vital role in the creation of a solid run-defense, something Graham is always emphasizing against these Pac-12 opponents.
It has been Wicker's presence, his tenacity, his dogged study of a new system and his pivotal plays that have taken a fresh-faced, wide-eyed kid and molded him into a Division I athlete and one deserving of ASU's Freshman of the Mid-Year.