Arizona State DE JoJo Wicker's push to greatness starts at practice

ASU defensive end JoJo Wicker has had two solid seasons. Entering this season, he expects to be even better.

Michael Slater last week stood with his Arizona State defensive linemen on the Kajikawa practice fields. The position coach held a pole that had a football attached at the end.

Slater put the ball on the ground between junior JoJo Wicker and senior Tashon Smallwood. With both linemen in their stances, Slater jerked the ball to simulate the snap. Wicker and Smallwood exploded forward, both hands slamming into the sled in front of them, lifting it off the ground and pumping their legs.

“You’re not delivering a blow coming out of your stance,” Slater said to Wicker.

Smallwood walked to the back of the line. Slater called him back. “Two perfect reps, that’s all I want,” the coach said. Wicker and Smallwood lined up again.

“Hit! Hit!” Slater yelled, moving the ball.

A few minutes later, an electronic horn sounded, sending the Sun Devils to the opposite field for “team” action. Wicker led his defensive teammates.

“JoJo!” Slater called out.

Wicker turned.

“What’s wrong?” Slater said.

As the Sun Devils enter their fourth week of preseason practice, this has become a theme of sorts. The coaching staff is pushing everyone, but particularly the team's most talented personnel. An All-Pac-12 second-team selection last year, Wicker tops this list. The junior from Long Beach, Calif., has had a solid first two years, but he’s expected to be better this season, a leap that requires an extra push.

Practice is where it starts.

“The thing with JoJo now is learning how to practice, just being consistent with his habits,” Slater said two weeks ago, not long after ASU had started preseason practice. “He’s a very talented young man, but he has to turn the light switch on all the time and not just try to flip it on and off.”

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ASU head coach Todd Graham described Wicker as, "one of the hardest working defensive linemen" on the team. (Photo: azcentral sports)

It’s important to understand: Wicker is not lazy. Far from it. He was among ASU’s hardest workers in its offseason conditioning program. Before preseason practice, he was chosen as a team captain, along with senior running back Kalen Ballage and junior guard Sam Jones.

Put simply, he’s among the most respected players on ASU's roster.

“JoJo is one of the hardest-working guys we have on the defensive line and a guy that’s capable of a completely different level,” coach Todd Graham said. “We’re just trying to push the bar upward. It’s not good enough to work good or work great. We want your best.”

Off the field, Wicker appears somewhat laid back. Junior quarterback Manny Wilkins described him as just a “very, very, very humble dude,” someone who “puts his head down, closes his mouth and works.”

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ASU defensive lineman JoJo Wicker speaks at Pac-12 Media Days. Coaches said Wicker is not a vocal player, but he said he understands speaking comes with his new leadership position on the team. (Photo: azcentral sports)

Added Slater, his position coach: “He’s kind of a quiet guy, doesn’t want a lot of attention.”

Even so, Wicker understands the spotlight that comes with his status. For this story, he was interviewed three times: once at Pac-12 media day in Los Angeles, once at Camp Tontozona and again after last week’s practice.

At Pac-12 media day, Wicker described his leadership style: “I can be both (leading by actions or words), it just depends on the situation. If it’s little stuff, I’m going to tell you but I won’t be yelling. I’ll lead mostly by example.”

At Tontozona, Wicker discussed a potential move from end to defensive tackle: “It’s comfortable for me. It’s what I came here to play. It’s what I’ve been playing pretty much since I started playing football.”

And last week, Wicker discussed his position coach asking him what was wrong: “Right now I’m just getting caught up in things that’s distracting my focus.”

Graham has high expectations for this group. During his time in Tempe, his best defensive front came in 2013 with Will Sutton, Davon Coleman, Gannon Conway and rush linebacker Carl Bradford. It set the tone for a defense that ranked fifth nationally in forced turnovers.

Graham believes this front could approach that level.

“We ain't done anything yet,” he said. “We got to prove it on the field.”

For that to happen, Wicker would have to play a starring role. And that’s what his teammates expect. Smallwood said Wicker is good enough to compete for All-America honors, “no question about it.”

Junior right tackle Quinn Bailey said Wicker is among the best – if not the best – defensive linemen the Sun Devils will go up against this season, not just because of his talent, but because of his motor.

While Wicker likely will open the season at end, Slater said ASU will move him all over to try and take advantage of the best matchup. At end, Wicker's speed is good. Inside, where there's more beef, it's extraordinary.

That’s why Wicker was anxious to shake off last week’s practice, to learn from it and move on.

“I know what Coach Graham is saying,” Wicker said of his effort. “It’s just sometimes I think too much, but I know who I am. I know what kind of player I am.”

And the kind he's about to become.

 

 

 

arizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 3 Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett didn't travel to Arizona Western to see other players, but Thompson jumped out on film.  Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 4 Head coach Todd Graham (right) and offensive coordinator Billy Napier (left) talk during practice on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017.  Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 5 ASU's football team breaks from a huddle during practice on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017.  Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 6 Defensive lineman Tashon Smallwood (90) warms up before practice on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017.  Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 7 Offensive coordinator Billy Napier talks to quarterback Dillon Sterling-Cole (15) during practice on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017.  Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 8 Defensive lineman Shannon Forman (97) runs through a drill during practice on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017.  Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 9 Punter Michael Sleep-Dalton (36) practices his kick on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017.  Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 10 Punter Michael Sleep-Dalton (36) walks of the field during practice on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017.  Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 11 Defensive lineman D.J. Davidson (98) runs through a block during practice on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017.  Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 12 Defensive lineman Shannon Forman (97) runs through a block during practice on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017.  Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 13 Defensive lineman D.J. Davidson (98) blocks a dummy during practice on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017.  Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 14 Defensive lineman D.J. Davidson (98) blocks a dummy during practice on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017.  Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 15 Defensive lineman D.J. Davidson (98) blocks a dummy during practice on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017.  Sam Caravana, Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 16 Defensive lineman Shannon Forman (97) gets ready to take part in a blocking drill on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017.  Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 17 Quarterbacks Manny Wilkins (5) and Blake Barnett (8) throw together during practice on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017.  Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 18 Defensive lineman Jojo Wicker (1) practices blocking during practice on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017.  Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 19 True freshman running back Eno Benjamin (6) during practice on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017.  Sam Caravana, Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 20 Linebackers DJ Calhoun (3), Christian Sam (2) and Khaylan Thomas (20) stretch during practice on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017.  Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 21 Freshman running back Eno Benjamin (6) warms up before practice on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017.  Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 22 Freshman running back Eno Benjamin (6) warms up before practice on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017.  Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 23 Freshman running back Eno Benjamin (6) warms up before practice on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017.  Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 24 Quarterback Blake Barnett (8) runs through a drill during practice on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017.  Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 25 Linebacker DJ Calhoun (3) stretches during practice on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017.  Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 26 Linebacker Christian Sam (2) stretches during practice on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017.  Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 27 Linebacker Khaylan Thomas (20) stretches during practice on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017.  Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 28 Quarterback Blake Barnett (8) throws during practice on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017.  Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 29 True freshman running back Eno Benjamin (6) runs through a ball security drill during practice on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017.  Sam Caravana, Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 30 Freshman running back Eno Benjamin (6) runs through a ball security drill during practice on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017.  Sam Caravana, Sam Caravana/azcentral sportsarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 31 Arizona State head coach Todd Graham talks to Blake Barnett at Camp Tontozona on Monday, Jul. 31, 2017 in Kohls Ranch, Ariz.   Rob Schumacher/azcentral.comarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 32 Arizona State head coach Todd Graham at Camp Tontozona on Monday, Jul. 31, 2017 in Kohls Ranch, Ariz.  Rob Schumacher/azcentral.comarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 33 Arizona State wide receiver N’Keal Harry works on hand-skills at Camp Tontozona on Monday, Jul. 31, 2017 in Kohls Ranch, Ariz.   Rob Schumacher/azcentral.comarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 34 Arizona State Manny Wilkins hands-off the ball to Kalen Ballage at Camp Tontozona on Monday, Jul. 31, 2017 in Kohls Ranch, Ariz.   Rob Schumacher/azcentral.comarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 35 Arizona State running back Nick Ralston and head coach Todd Graham walk through the pines trees towards the practice field at Camp Tontozona on Monday, Jul. 31, 2017 in Kohls Ranch, Ariz.   Rob Schumacher/azcentral.comarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 36 The first day of practice for Arizona State at Camp Tontozona on Monday, Jul. 31, 2017 in Kohls Ranch, Ariz.   Rob Schumacher/azcentral.comarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 37 Todd Verch and his dog Dakota watches the Arizona State football team practice at Camp Tontozona on Monday, Jul. 31, 2017 in Kohls Ranch, Ariz.  Rob Schumacher/azcentral.comarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 38 Arizona State football players make their way to the practice firld at Camp Tontozona on Monday, Jul. 31, 2017 in Kohls Ranch, Ariz.   Rob Schumacher/azcentral.comarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 39 Arizona State offensive lineman Sam Jones at Camp Tontozona on Monday, Jul. 31, 2017 in Kohls Ranch, Ariz.   Rob Schumacher/azcentral.comarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 40 Arizona State defensive lineman JoJo Wicker at Camp Tontozona on Monday, Jul. 31, 2017 in Kohls Ranch, Ariz.   Rob Schumacher/azcentral.comarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 41 Arizona State running back Gil’Scott Jackson make his way to the practice firld at Camp Tontozona on Monday, Jul. 31, 2017 in Kohls Ranch, Ariz.   Rob Schumacher/azcentral.comarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 42 Arizona State running back Kalen Ballage at Camp Tontozona on Monday, Jul. 31, 2017 in Kohls Ranch, Ariz.   Rob Schumacher/azcentral.comarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 43 Arizona State offensive lineman Mason Walter (center) at Camp Tontozona on Monday, Jul. 31, 2017 in Kohls Ranch, Ariz.   Rob Schumacher/azcentral.comarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 44 Arizona State running back Kalen Ballage at Camp Tontozona on Monday, Jul. 31, 2017 in Kohls Ranch, Ariz.   Rob Schumacher/azcentral.comarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 45 The first day of practice for Arizona State at Camp Tontozona on Monday, Jul. 31, 2017 in Kohls Ranch, Ariz.   Rob Schumacher/azcentral.comarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 46 Arizona State running back Nick Ralston and head coach Todd Graham walk through the pines trees towards the practice field at Camp Tontozona on Monday, Jul. 31, 2017 in Kohls Ranch, Ariz.   Rob Schumacher/azcentral.comarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 47 Arizona State running back Nick Ralston and head coach Todd Graham walk through the pines trees towards the practice field at Camp Tontozona on Monday, Jul. 31, 2017 in Kohls Ranch, Ariz.   Rob Schumacher/azcentral.comarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 48 Arizona State quarterback Blake Barnett at Camp Tontozona on Monday, Jul. 31, 2017 in Kohls Ranch, Ariz.   Rob Schumacher/azcentral.comarizona-state-de-jojo-wickers-push-to-greatness-starts-at-practice photo 49

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Article Arizona State DE JoJo Wicker's push to greatness starts at practice compiled by www.azcentral.com