TEMPE, Ariz. — On Sunday, Arizona State senior safety Alden Darby donned the team’s camouflage No. 42 Pat Tillman practice jersey.
Cornerback and fellow senior Osahon Irabor joined him in wearing one Monday.
“It just goes to show how much hard work we’ve been putting in,” Darby said. “We had two big holes to fill in the secondary. … For us to both have these jerseys just shows how much effort we’ve been putting in to get the secondary on point.”
With the Tillman family’s blessing, coach Todd Graham created the tradition last season of issuing the special jersey to defensive players excelling on the field, in the classroom and in the community — in the spirit of Tillman, the late ASU linebacker who was killed in 2004 while deployed with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.
Darby was the first player to earn the honor briefly last season. He donned the jersey again during spring practice along with Irabor, senior linebacker Chris Young and senior defensive tackle Will Sutton. Darby was again the first to earn the honor this season.
“He brings it every day,” Graham said. “I think Pat would be proud that he’s wearing it. There’s not a day that that guy doesn’t bring it.”
Darby has long been a vocal and emotional leader of the defense, and this season he has taken on more duties coaching teammates. Graham has not announced his team captains for this season, but Darby is a virtual lock to be among them.
“To be recognized for all my hard work, recognized for pushing when I’m tired is an honor,” Darby said. “It makes me keep going more. I never have a day where I’m not sure I can bring it, but I do have certain days where I can feel it’s going to take a little longer than usual to warm up.”
Graham said Irabor has reached a point where he is working as hard as Darby every day on every rep. Still, Graham would like to see more players earn the jersey.
“If you look out here and see 11 of them, we’ve got a chance,” Graham said. “Right now we’ve only got two, so we’ve got a ways to go.”
Graham also said he’d like to see players on offense earn the equivalent. Graham has said there is a separate jersey for offensive players, but one has not yet been issued. He also said quarterback Taylor Kelly and offensive linemen Kody Koebensky and Evan Finkenberg could be close to earning the honor.
Junior defensive lineman Demetrius Cherry was not at practice Monday, and Graham said afterward the junior college transfer had been suspended for a violation of team rules. Graham suggested the suspension would last a few days.
Cherry, who came to ASU from Contra Costa College in San Pablo, Calif., has been somewhat of a disappointment in fall camp. Expected to compete for a depth spot on the defensive line, Cherry is currently running with the scout team.
Graham said Cherry did not come in prepared to meet the standards ASU sets for its players, so this suspension is part of getting him there.
ROOM TO GROW
Graham called on defensive lineman Marcus Hardison to step up Monday after the junior college transfer has gotten off to a bit of a sluggish start.
“It’s been slow going to be honest with you,” Graham said. “He’s just not been coached the way we coach. It ain’t just get up and do what you want to do, and I’m not saying that’s what he did in junior college. He just hasn’t been in a system like ours.
“He’s fought it a little bit, but he’s a good kid, and he’s responding. We cannot have him being a backup. He’s too good of a player, too good of a talent. He’s so much better than that, and that’s what I’ve talked to him about.”
Graham and defensive line coach Jackie Shipp tried putting Hardison at the defensive end but shifted him back to the inside spot that Sutton plays. Graham and Shipp can both be seen getting in Hardison’s ear regularly.
“I’ve been pretty hard on him and pushed him, and so has coach Shipp,” Graham said. “We’ll get him there.”
NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS
— Wide receiver Joe Morris missed the early part of practice Monday for a doctor’s appointment but arrived before the end. He has missed all of camp after having minor foot surgery, and it sounds as if Monday’s visit to the doctor should have him cleared to practice in the next couple days.
— Tight end Darwin Rogers was dressed for practice again but still not participating fully after suffering an unspecified injury last week. He mostly conditioned on the sidelines Monday.
— Linebacker Carlos Mendoza, who has been working on second team at will and spur, limped off the field early in practice and soon had ice on the knee that’s given him trouble throughout camp.
— Freshman wide receiver Cameron Smith shed the green “no-contact” jersey Monday after a lengthy stint in it due to a hamstring injury. He is apparently full speed and expected to contribute this year.
— Senior Robert Nelson continues to get first team reps at field safety, though it might be more for seasoning, as Graham said Saturday redshirt freshman Laiu Moeakiola is leading to start there.
— Senior receiver Kevin Ozier ran with the first-team offense during 11-on-11 Monday. He has progressed since dealing with minor injuries early in camp and is competing for the third starting receiver spot.