Next up in a cycle of elite run-stoppers
Only two teams in the Pac-12 last year (UCLA, Utah) allowed fewer rushing yards per-game than Arizona State (131.5).
D.J. Davidson, Tyler Johnson and Shannon Foreman were all core pieces of that successful run defense that have clocked out of the program (at least playing-wise, as Foreman has rejoined the program as a graduate assistant).
Jermayne Lole, one of the highest-rated Sun Devil defenders, was tagged to step up post-injury and fill one of the tackle roles, but he transferred to Louisville citing NIL opportunities.
Even after all the turnover, defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson and defensive line coach Robert Rodriguez would say the defensive line is poised for a strong 2022 campaign.
Three-technique tackle Omarr Norman-Lott and nose tackle Tautala Pesefea Jr., sometimes referred to in the media as “T.J.”, will have first dibs at plugging up the middle this fall, and so far Pesefea Jr. has done nothing but impress.
Pesefea Jr. went from a relatively uncovered recruit out of high school into a three-star prospect in one season of junior college ball in 2018 at American River College in Sacramento, Calif. He carries a massive-yet-mobile frame at 6-foot-5 and 305 pounds, and he saw action as a backup nose tackle the last three seasons in Tempe.
In 2022, he appeared in 10 games recording 20 total tackles and eight solo tackles. He and Miami transfer Nesta Jade Silvera are expected to take snaps at nose tackle in 2022.
Get a glimpse into ASU’s Friday spring practice with our sights and sounds video and anecdotes @SunDevilSource.
— Mason Kern Local4 (@MasonKernMedia) March 7, 2020
During spring practices, Pesefea Jr. was consistently in the backfield on run plays, manufacturing visual frustration on the offensive side of the ball. The defense usually has the upper-hand in the spring while the offense figures out its timing, but Pesefea Jr.’s presence was noticeably overwhelming for most offensive lineman.
Along with his run-stopping prowess, Pesefea Jr.’s football IQ was put on display a few times, recognizing screens and thwarting otherwise confusing backfield action. The sacks and tackles-for-loss don’t pop off the stat sheet as strongly for nose tackles, so success can often not be measured numerically.
If you’re only looking at box scores, Pesefea Jr. might not stand out. Viewing him in-person is a different story. The redshirt senior will not be guaranteed the starting job in 2022, and may fly under-the-radar early, but his progression in practice and as a role-player are hard to ignore during a transition period for the defensive line unit.
We are proud to celebrate the heritage & legacy of our Asian American and Pacific Islander student-athletes.@_Merlin_2 & TJ Pesefea Jr reflect on the importance of celebrating their heritage. #ForksUp | #AAPIHM pic.twitter.com/QERrjKKf2d
— Sun Devil Football (@ASUFootball) May 23, 2022