Getting to know ASU guard Sil Ajawara
From the day he arrived at Arizona State as an out-of-shape freshman to his one-game disciplinary suspension last season, offensive lineman Sil Ajawara's first three years in Tempe have been trying.
As he embarks on what will be his junior season in eligibility, Ajawara says it's been a growing and learning process that has prepared him to take on a starting role this fall on ASU's offensive line.
Ajawara was in a different place entering fall camp a year ago. He was working his way back from sports hernia and was unable to get in the condition he desired. Then came the suspension from the season-opening victory over Northern Arizona due to a team rules violation.
But he didn't succumb to the setbacks, and his hard work paid off late in the season, as he played in four of ASU's last five games. In spring practice, he worked with the first team at left guard, and he enters fall camp as the favorite to start there.
With the start of camp two weeks away, FOXSportsArizona.com sat down with Ajawara to talk about his emergence on the field and more.
FSAZ: You missed the first game of last season suspended for a team rules violation. What kind of impact did that have on you?
Ajawara: It definitely refocused me and humbled me. I had clearly made my mistakes. Being suspended kind of motivated me. I didn't get as much playing time as I wanted to last year. I didn't play the role I wanted to. (The suspension) just kind of put my mind back to thinking 'I need to be focused on football, I don't need to be focused on outside things at all.' So it was pretty good for me actually.
FSAZ: A lot of guys have said the transition to Todd Graham's leadership was a challenge. What was it like for you?
Ajawara: For me, it wasn't too big of a transition. The mistake I made was something that was kind of from the past that got brought back up. The change was good because we needed that discipline. People always like to say that coach (Dennis Erickson) wasn't a disciplinarian and everything, but really he just expected us to act like adults when we left the building. A lot of people weren't able to do that because they weren't used to that type of freedom, and that showed up on the field. Last year was a big step for our program. It was strict, and everything was just more structured.
FSAZ: What was dealing with your sports hernia like last summer?
Ajawara: That was really frustrating because for a month -- actually, over a month, more like six weeks -- I wasn't allowed to do anything. Even when I went on the elliptical I wasn't allowed to use my arms because I wasn't allowed to use my core. It was frustrating because it was going into the last month of summer, the most important time before fall camp when you're trying to make gains and show you've gotten stronger. So it was extremely frustrating.
FSAZ: Going back even further, you weren't in the shape you wanted to be early in your ASU career, were you?
Ajawara: To say the least. I was really out of shape when I got here. I just didn't take care of myself like I needed to second semester of senior year (in high school). I didn't take it as seriously as I needed to. It was kind of a maturity thing. Once I got in here and once I got into the structure I lost the weight pretty quickly, but it still wasn't the way I wanted it to be. It's taken a couple years.
FSAZ: So where are you right now physically?
Ajawara: I'm in the best shape I've ever been in, hands down. I'm running a lot better than I ever have. I'm just under 300 pounds and 6-foot-4. When I first got here I was 330 pounds of horrible weight, just bad weight. It's definitely a change.
FSAZ: You got significant playing time late last season. Had things kind of just clicked for you?
Ajawara: It was the extra work. I worked with (Andrew) Sampson, I worked with (Evan) Finkenberg a lot. Fink and I went to the same high school, and he really wants me to be out there, wants me to be a part of everything, especially with this being his last year. Working with them, getting my technique down and getting more confident with my hands were the main things. The playbook I've always had a good grasp of.
FSAZ: How much did working with the first-team line in spring practice help in your development?
Ajawara: You guys know what kind of defensive line and linebackers we have. We have some serious talent on defense. I've gone against them for years, but I haven't gone against them on a consistent basis. Every single rep I'm going against somebody that's most likely going to be a top Pac-12 player. I'm definitely way more experienced than I was before spring.
FSAZ: You're first at left guard on the depth chart right now, but it's going to be a position battle in camp. What's your expectation heading into that?
Ajawara: I want that spot. I'm going for that spot. That will be my spot. It's going to be fun. The competition is definitely something that makes everybody better. It's not that it's my spot exactly. I'm just going do whatever I have to make sure I'm on the field this year. I'm not willing to sit out ever again. I want to be in the starting five the rest of the time I'm here.
FSAZ: What's your favorite thing to do away from the football field?
Ajawara: I just like to relax, honestly. I feel like we're so high-strung when we're around football. There's always so much going on, whether it's on the field, in the weight room or in the film room. Just being able to relax is always good. And movies are a big part of my life, whether it's new stuff or old stuff. I'm constantly watching movies.
FSAZ: What's the best movie you've seen lately?
Ajawara: 'This is the End' was absolutely hilarious. I'm not going to lie: I watched it twice, actually.
FSAZ: Outside football, who is the biggest influence in your life?
Ajawara: Just my family in general, whether it's my sisters or my dad. He's overseas a lot because he has business overseas. So whenever I get to see him or talk to him I try to take advantage of that as much as I can.
FSAZ: Growing up in Southern California between L.A. and San Diego, what was your football team?
Ajawara: Pro, it was always the San Diego Chargers. I still love the Chargers, even though it's hard times down there. I never really had a solid college team, but I went between UCLA and USC just because those were the home teams.
FSAZ: Any players you looked up to or enjoyed from either level?
Ajawara: Not really as far as those teams, but more when I'd watch a different offensive lineman. I'd look at them and see 'That's what I want to be able to do. I want to be that dominating force, be that good when I get older.'
FSAZ: What about today? Any players you like to watch or maybe model your game after?
Ajawara: This summer (offensive line) Coach (Chris) Thomsen has actually put a lot of film up of the Pittsburgh Steelers. How they work their double teams, how they change up their run game and run schemes against three down linemen versus four. A lot of the stuff we were seeing from the Steelers applied to us.
FSAZ: Fans still don't know you all that well, so what should they know as you move into a prominent role?
Ajawara: They should know I'm committed. I love being a Sun Devil. I love it here. More than anything else, I've enjoyed my time here and the people I've been around. Just being a part of the Sun Devil family is always going to be something big for me.
FSAZ: What are you most looking forward to about this season?
Ajawara: Just actually getting started. We've been out here in the summer for a couple months now and camp will be another month, but once we actually get to strap on and hit someone that's not part of this team, run into them for the first time and kind of establish 'This is the type of team we're going to be this year' -- that's the thing I'm most looking forward to.