San Diego State a nostalgic road test for Herm Edwards

Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards has shown the willingness to play and even start freshman early in the season. He started five freshmen in the Sun Devils’ pivotal 16-13 win over Michigan State last week. One of them, linebacker Merlin Robertson, made good on Edwards’ faith in him with five tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble in the crucial fourth quarter. 

“He was a big get for us in our recruiting process,” Edwards said. “When you ask a freshman to come in and start, that’s asking a lot. He hasn’t blinked, he has not blinked. And every week, he gets more confident. But he is a good player.”

Much of faith in the inexperience stems from when his first NFL head coach, Dick Vermeil, started him at cornerback during his rookie season with the Philadelphia Eagles. 

“I’m not afraid to start a rookie, and I learned that from one man and one man only, and he called me after the game. Dick Vermeil,” Edwards said. “He started a free-agent rookie at the right corner my first year, and I didn’t want to let that guy down. I was a rookie, undrafted. And every time I lined up, I thought about that man, I said, ‘This guy gave me a chance. I’m not going to let him down.’”

Edwards finished his college career at San Diego State. The Aztecs went 10-1 as an independent during his senior season. 

He, like many of his teammates there, came aboard as junior college transfers. Edwards was originally recruited to Cal but left after his freshman season and transferred to Monterey Peninsula Junior College after getting into a disagreement with a position coach. He returning to Cal and leaving as a junior for the same reason he ended up redshirting at SDSU and making his senior season count. 

“A lot of double transfers used to go to San Diego State back in the day. They recruited double transfers and JC (junior college) guys — no high school guys. It was like the haven for all guys.”

SDSU served as a great system for him to make an NFL audition during his senior system.

“We had basically two coverages, free safety in the middle and no free safety,” he said. “It really was a place that got you ready to play pro football because we played so much man coverage. But it was a fun place. We had a lot of fun and really good football teams as well.

“I have a lot of respect for that program because I know what that program means to a lot of guys,” Edwards said.

While he is still fond of the program, Edwards isn’t quite fond of the Aztecs’ modern take on their uniforms.

“I told (defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales), ‘You guys messed up those uniforms, they used to be all black with the red top hats, now they’ve got red on the sleeves,” Edwards said. “Things change, I get it.”

The 1-1 Aztecs’ enter the contest without starting quarterback Christian Chapman, who sprained his MCL last week against Sacramento State. Backup Ryan Agnew  went 11 for 17 for 159 yards with two interceptions in relief last week and will be making his first collegiate start against the Sun Devils. 

While Gonzales knows Agnew from his time in Rocky Long’s coaching staff last season, Edwards is convinced that the Aztecs are set in their identity regardless of who’s under center.

“We know who they are,” Edwards said. “They’re going to run the football — and they’re going to run it, and they’re going to run it, and they’re going to run it. That’s what they do, that’s their personality. They want to possess the clock.

“They want their defense to be fresh so they can run around; their defense plays with their hair on fire, they play, they play hard.”

The early portion of his Sun Devil tenure has led to catch phrases like “Leave it on the grass” and “Be hungry, be humble” that has been plastered on T-shirt’s and sold to the masses for future foot all games. This week’s theme is, “Storm the castle.”

About: Tony Capobianco

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A graduate of the University of Arizona (2008-2013), Tony Capobianco covered sports from preps to pros since 2011 from the Tucson Citizen to Miami Herald to most recently with the Enid News & Eagle. The "Cuban Cowboy" took a first pitch to the nuts and lived to laugh at the viral video. Follow him @TonyCapobianco

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