Freshman LB Calhoun impressing as he adjusts at ASU

D.J. Calhoun has been practicing at spur linebacker for ASU this spring but could also compete at will linebacker in the fall.

TEMPE, Ariz. — When asked to describe his first college practice Tuesday, freshman linebacker D.J. Calhoun fumbled at first, seemingly still processing what he’d just been through.

"Fast, tempo, everything’s fast," Calhoun said. "Nothing like high school. You have to listen, pay attention with your eyes and ears, especially with your eyes so you can see what’s going on.

"My mind was going everywhere, just thinking about, ‘What would coach say if I do this? What would coach say if I do that?’ And I’m listening to other players, so your mind goes around and around."

ASU’s first spring practice might have made Calhoun’s head spin a bit, but the early enrollee has impressed coaches quickly as he makes inroads toward a starting job on ASU’s new-look defense next season.

"That guy is impressive," coach Todd Graham said. "He can run, move, cover. He’s going to be special. We’re excited about him. We threw him in there, and I thought he showed up, had a great spirit about him."

As much as Calhoun might have impressed, he also heard his name called out plenty. Coaches appeared to get on Calhoun, the youngest player participating this spring at 17 years old, a little extra as he adjusts to the fast-paced, no-nonsense environment of practice under Graham.

Calhoun also has to make the mental leap to the college level, where just about everything is more complex than in high school.

"It’s like learning a new language," co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Keith Patterson said. "He probably thinks we’re speaking Greek to him right now."

More ASU coverage

The El Cerrito (Calif.) product and former USC commit should have a leg up on his fellow freshmen come fall after having participated in 15 practices and having worked within ASU’s scheme. He should be more comfortable within the system and more confident in himself amid the ASU staff’s intense coaching style.

Calhoun still has a ways to go before he gets there, but he’s already ahead of where most freshmen are physically for the first collegiate practice.

"He has all the physical tools to be special, but the biggest challenge for young newcomers is that they have to learn it, like it is speaking a new language," Patterson said.

At 6-foot and 205 pounds, Calhoun doesn’t look like the typical incoming freshman. He’s already been in the weight room with ASU’s strength and conditioning staff and has put on 15 pounds since arriving for the spring semester.

Calhoun likely will — and probably needs too — put on additional weight in the summer conditioning program. Another 10 or 15 pounds should make him just the right size to play will linebacker, where he’ll likely compete with Antonio Longino for the starting job. Calhoun has played spur linebacker on the second-team defense so far with ASU thin at the position due to Carlos Mendoza’s apparent foot injury.

The Sun Devils have big shoes to fill at will after Chris Young’s graduation. They also have a big need at spur, where they didn’t get the desired production last season after moving Young to will. Calhoun could be the answer at one of the two spots and is happy to play either.

"Now that I’m looking at spur, I love it," Calhoun said. "It’s in a way like I’m free, but you have responsibilities, too. But the spur is the main one that really makes plays."

Calhoun says arriving early helped him get comfortable with his new coaches, get to know his new teammates and start understanding ASU’s defensive scheme. He’s also adjusting to the structure of a college football program, where a player can go through an hour of meetings followed by walkthroughs all before stretching for practice.

If early returns are any indication, Calhoun is on the fast track to success, but he knows he still has a ways to go mentally and physically before the 2014 season arrives.

"It’s never far enough," Calhoun said. "You have to keep on going. You can never stop all the way until you finish here. Even if I make it to the league or not, you’ve just got to keep on going with life regardless."

Follow Tyler Lockman on Twitter