TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State junior defensive tackle Will Sutton, a consensus All-American and the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, will return to the Sun Devils for his senior season in 2013.
“I’m going to stay and play another year,” said the soft-spoken Sutton, followed by a pause. “That’s it.”
Sutton announced his decision to bypass the NFL Draft at a news conference Tuesday on campus, flanked by his parents and Arizona State coach Todd Graham. It came as somewhat of a shock, as it was widely believed Sutton would choose to leave early.
“In my opinion, professionally, I believe the best decision for him was to come back,” Graham said. “I’m really proud of him. Most people expected this to go the other way.
“That’s the biggest recruit we’ve had yet there.”
Graham’s last addition may ring truer than anything else said Tuesday. There are few players ASU could add that would have as much impact as Sutton should next season. And Sutton’s “that’s it” doesn’t begin to do his decision justice.
Sutton’s return might just be enough to make ASU favorites in the Pac-12 South.
UCLA might gt the “team-to-beat” label after winning the division in coach Jim Mora’s first year, but the Bruins lose a number of key players, including running back Johnathan Franklin, tight end Joseph Fauria and defensive end Datone Jones along with most of its defensive secondary.
And keep in mind, the Sun Devils were about 90 seconds away from beating UCLA this season without Sutton, who was dealing with a knee injury.
Arizona appears poised to slide a bit even with All-American running back Ka’Deem Carey. The Wildcats lose quarterback Matt Scott and have no obvious replacement, while Rich Rodriguez’s defense remains a work in progress. USC, too, has a question at quarterback and is coming off a hugely disappointing 7-6 season. The Trojans should also start to feel the effects of scholarship reductions stemming from NCAA violations.
With Utah and Colorado sitting at the bottom of the conference, that leaves ASU with perhaps the fewest concerns heading into 2013 and the strongest defense in the South. That defense was built heavily around Sutton this season, so getting him back gives ASU a ready-made blueprint with which to work from Day 1 of fall camp.
“He’s the best defensive lineman I’ve ever coached, probably the best defensive player I’ve ever coached,” Graham said. “He’s the energy behind our defense, so having him back is big, but he’ll be the first to tell you there’s a whole bunch of really, really quality guys. And we’re just scratching the surface of what we’re able to do defensively.”
“Having the leader back is critical.”
Sutton’s nonstop energy fueled the defense this season and the first team All-Pac 12 selection racked up 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss despite missing all of one game and all but two plays of a second with the knee injury.
The injury occurred on the second defensive play of the game against Oregon and appeared to be much worse than what it was — a bone bruise. That alone could have scared Sutton enough to make him jump at the chance to earn money in the NFL, but Sutton said it didn’t factor into his decision all that much.
“At first I thought about it, but it’s something you can’t worry about because injuries are going to happen anywhere down the road,” Sutton said. “I didn’t dwell on it a lot.”
Sutton did, however, dwell on the decision a lot. He admitted it became difficult to be asked regularly by teammates, friends and strangers what he planned to do.
“It’s a lot of stress gone to get this finally over with,” Sutton said. “There is a lot of relief. Now I can get to work. I have class at six o’clock.”
That was the other thing. Sutton said he wanted to finish his degree, which he should get this summer. Sutton admitted a number of factors played into his decision.
“I’m going to do some great things,” Sutton said. “We’re going to do some great things. … Getting more wins is the main thing. Just like this year, time will tell, and if I make as many plays as I did, then good things will happen. But the main objective is just to win.”
Sutton isn’t alone in his belief in the possibilities.
“He has some great players around him,” Graham said. “He believes we can be Pac-12 champions next year and compete to win every game we’re in. … We have some unfinished business. I’m proud of him, because I do feel that the best thing for him was to come back.
“The easy thing to do was to come out. He chose his team and his family, and their wanting him to finish his education. That’s a great story because a lot of people don’t make that decision.”