At 6-3 and nearly 300 pounds, Adam Tello is a physically imposing individual with the kind of work ethic and drive capable of producing great results. In 2008 he played in five games as a redshirt sophomore, starting the first four games of the season at right tackle for the Sun Devils. Unfortunately, his season came to an unexpected early end as he suffered what would ultimately be the first of many injuries for the Norco, Calif. native.
"I've had shoulder surgery, two back surgeries and I've had a torn PCL, that's the list right there," reflected Tello after practice on Tuesday about the injuries he's suffered. "I've also had two L4/L5's where they've shaved them down and they say that my next surgery is going to be a fusion, and that's not good because I'm so young."
At just 22 years old, Tello has experienced more than his fair share pain as a gridiron warrior. That's why nobody questioned him when just a few weeks ago Adam informed his coaches and teammates that he would be stepping away from the game of football after a lengthy rehab stint following his most recent back surgery turned out to be less cooperative than he had hoped for.
"Walking away was the worst!," exclaimed Tello. "Honestly, and you can ask Coach Erickson, it took me at least two weeks to decide. It was the hardest decision of my life."
The decision to retire was Tello's, and not one that was stressed to him by doctors, but that didn't make things any easier for him.
"I talked to my parents and I talked to my coaches and they all felt it was the best thing for me," explained Tello on his decision to retire. "Just because I tried coming back and every week it would flare up and it was just getting worse.
Like I said, my next surgery is going to be a fusion, and that's, like, life-changing." As it would turn out though, Tello's retirement would be brief. As the Sun Devils continue to rack up wins in 2011 they also seem to be suffering even more injuries. The recent injuries to fellow linemen Aderious Simmons, Garth Gerhart and Evan Finkenberg forced Tello to dig deep within and find the motivation to return the game he thought he was done with.
"I had to put my personal problems aside for my team because they needed me with Garth and Evan being out," commented Tello. "It was a tough decision, but I'll do anything for these guys. I know that this is our season and my team needed me to just be there. So if that's what I've got to do, then that's what I'm going to do."
In an otherwise all too familiar scenario this season, the Sun Devils lost another offensive lineman as starting guard Andrew Sampson went down with a minor injury in the second half of last Saturday's contest with the Oregon Ducks, requiring brief medical attention.
Sampson's departure from the game presented Tello with an opportunity that he at one point thought he may never experience again, as he was called in to help the Sun Devils sustain their drive.
"Just being out there, I'm always excited," said Tello with a smile as he reflected on the moment. "I'm ready to go at a moment's notice. It just felt good to get out there, even if it was for just one play. It was amazing. I just wanted to stay in. I was more upset about being taken out than going in. I wanted to stay in there so bad."
While his stint that night may have been brief, it speaks volumes to the commitment Tello has to this program and to his teammates.
"I can't say enough about Adam," said Coach Erickson. "We had those injuries, and here's a guy that's been around for five years and is cleared to play but obviously goes through pure pain all the time. He walked into my office and said 'I need to help you if I can,' but we're not trying to get him involved that much physically unless something happens.
But it says a lot about him as a person and how much he cares about this team."
So far, Tello has been able to overcome the pain by staying focused on the season's goals and committing himself to helping out his teammates, most of whom are also aching as the Sun Devils have arrived at the midseason bye week.
"Today, honestly it hurts," he insisted. "There's always that pain but the thing that hasn't happened is that it hasn't tweaked on me. That's a different kind of situation. I also haven't had any numbness or tingling down my leg, so that's another plus. But there's always pain there.
"What I'm most happy about is I've come back and it's not flaring up on me like it did when I had to walk away. I'm really just trying to look at the upside of things right now."
An upside for the Sun Devils is that it appears as though Tello will be with them for the remainder of the season, adding some much needed depth to the offensive line as they prepare for the season's stretch run and a possible berth in the Pac 12's inaugural conference championship game.
Having worked his way back into game shape over the past few weeks, Tello looks like he's secured a spot in the rotation going forward.
"My role is going to be if any guard goes down, I'm going in," said Tello. "I talked to coach about it today and he just said that I have to be ready at any given moment's notice. I'm the first alternate.
"We have good starters, but the guys behind them aren't really ready. They're just younger guys. So if any starters were to go down, I don't want to put any of our young guys in a bad situation. I'd rather be there and the coaches have confidence in me that I can go in there and do what I have to do."
"I told him today, you're my ace in the hole," said offensive line coach Greg Smith. "You're the guy I've got to have. I told him if either guard gets in trouble, he will be the first one going in. To do what he's doing is a real tribute to him and all the stuff he has been through."
Tuesday morning Tello was one of a handful of Arizona State football players who visited the Phoenix Children's Hospital, hoping to bring cheer and smiles to their faces. It's part of a department-wide program that a number of Sun Devil athletes have participated in so far.
While it was an opportunity for the athletes to make an impression on the children, Tello walked away from the experience feeling blessed for the chance to be a part of it.
"Honestly, going there made me feel like a little girl because these kids go through the worst things possible and they have such great spirits, reflected Tello, "it makes me feel like I have nothing to complain about. Even if I've had four surgeries, it makes me appreciate the little things in life.
"It makes me thank God for all my friends and family and for just being okay. It's like these little kids have these illnesses but their spirits are so uplifting, and just to see that gave me so much inspiration."
The inspiration feelings are mutual, and one we can all take something from.