TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State defensive end Junior Onyeali returned to the practice field Friday, participating in football activities for the first time since his suspension at the end of last season.
Onyeali, a junior, was suspended before the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl last season following a verbal confrontation with then-coach Dennis Erickson. New coach Todd Graham took stock of the situation and decided to uphold the suspension indefinitely while Onyeali underwent a “plan of improvement.” Onyeali subsequently missed spring practice.
That plan appears complete, as Graham reinstated Onyeali for fall practice. Speaking with reporters for the first time since his suspension after an evening practice Friday, Onyeali — who is expected to play a linebacker-type pass-rushing position — said the process was something he needed to experience.
“It’s been a journey, but it’s definitely been a journey that I learned a lot from,” Onyeali said. “I think I needed to go through it. I’d definitely say it helped humble me.”
Onyeali said Graham’s plan helped him improve in a number of ways, from academics to community involvement to becoming less selfish.
Onyeali was one of the top freshmen in the Pac-10 in 2010, finishing with 6.5 sacks, most among newcomers. But he battled a knee injury in 2011, missing four games, and never got it going. Onyeali knows he could have simply transferred to another school during the suspension to start fresh, but Graham and his staff won him over.
“I felt a new energy,” Onyeali said. “Even though I was suspended, I felt like they were doing something that was going to be something special, and I wanted to be a part of it.
“It can always get frustrating, but I was always looking at the goal, looking at what I wanted to be part of.”