TEMPE, Ariz. — Terrell Suggs was a wanted man when he emerged from the visitor’s locker room at Arizona Stadium following Arizona State’s 34-20 victory over Arizona in 2002.
His family wanted to take photos. His fans wanted autographs. The media wanted the junior defensive end’s thoughts on this win and his future. And coach Dirk Koetter, with his hands firmly gripping Suggs’ shoulders as if to weight him down, made his desire plain when he started a chant.
“One more year! One more year!”
Suggs was able to please three of the four parties in attendance that day, but he disappointed his coach when he declared for the NFL Draft and was selected 10th overall by the Baltimore Ravens.
Ten years later, one of his ASU brethren is facing a similar dilemma, and we may all know the resolution of his internal conflict by the time the Sun Devils walk off the field following the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl vs. Navy on Saturday at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
Will Sutton won’t garner quite the interest Suggs did from NFL teams. Sutton is projected as a second- or third-round pick — maybe lower. But following a standout season in which he was also ASU’s top player, Sutton was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, becoming the first Sun Devil defensive lineman to earn that distinction since Suggs.
“He did it from the defensive tackle position?” Suggs asked incredulously. “Wow! That’s legit.”
Sutton finished third in the Pac-12 in sacks (10.5) and first in solo tackles for loss (20) despite missing two games due to a knee injury. He forced three fumbles. There was no questioning his impact when he was on the field. What the NFL microscopes will examine, however, are his height (6-2) and weight (271). Unlike other NFL prospects, Sutton does not look like a guy who can add weight for the next level without sacrificing his quickness. That makes him a tweener whose position is difficult to peg.
“He’s got to decide if the team has a chance to compete if he comes back to ASU,” Suggs said. “And does it help or hinder his chances.”
Although it might not hurt his draft stock as much because he’s quarterback, you can make a strong case that USC’s Matt Barkley was a hotter commodity last season than he is now after the Trojans’ disappointing season. Closer to home, ASU running back Cameron Marshall could end up falling from a middle- to late-round pick in 2012 to an undrafted free agent in 2013 after his reps and production fell dramatically under new coach Todd Graham.
“You don’t want to become a fourth- or fifth-rounder because you didn’t perform the next year,” Suggs said. “At the same time, you don’t want to be a third-rounder and wonder ‘what if I had a better year?’ There’s no easy decision.”
Suggs’ choice was far more clear-cut. He was projected as a first-round pick — and a high one at that. Still, it didn’t ease his mind when he was weighing his options.
“You really should take your time and enjoy the process, but I was too busy getting stressed, because I really wanted to come back,” Suggs said.
One worry that prayed on Suggs’ mind, in the event he did return, was the specter of an injury.
“I thought about it all the time, man, all the time,” he said. “If you make that decision to come back, one play can end it all. It doesn’t even have to be an illegal hit. It could just be something unfortunate or some fluke play where a guy hits your knee and blows it out, and then all the things you’ve worked for, all the things you’ve dreamed of, are gone.”
Things have worked out nicely for Suggs. He’s played 10 seasons for Baltimore and he was named the Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 when he recorded 70 combined tackles, 14 sacks, seven forced fumbles, six passes defended and two interceptions.
Suggs suffered a partial tear of his right Achilles tendon in early May, yet somehow returned to the lineup and has played in the club’s last eight games. He has no doubt now that he made the right decision, but he cautioned Sutton that every player’s situation is different.
“At the end of the day, he’s got to talk to the people that care about him the most and the ones that helped him get where he is today,” Suggs said. “It’s a pretty awesome accomplishment, what he’s done, but the thing I would say is there is no wrong decision.
“If he comes back to ASU, he’s got another year to play college ball, another year building those relationships and camaraderie. If he goes to the NFL, well, that’s a good life, too.”