One of the main catalysts of the Sun Devil defense so far has been the play of junior safety Alden Darby, whose ball hawking abilities have helped lead the way. For Darby though, October brings some additional inspiration, something he hopes to help share with his teammates.
In case you hadn't noticed, the Sun Devil defense has been scorching hot to start the 2012 campaign. The Sun Devils boast the 11th overall defense, holding their opponents to just 276 yards per game while allowing just a paltry 13.6 points per game, which puts them at 12th nationally in scoring defense.
Their relentlessly attacking defense is a major reason why the Sun Devils have gotten off to a fast 4-1 start (2-0 Pac-12) and have the rest of the conference on alert.
While Darby admits that he doesn't pay attention to what the numbers may say about him and his teammates, he isn't surprised about the results.
"Coach brings it up to us, he'll be like 'We're ranked this or that in the nation,' but I'll be like, 'We are?' Irabor said after Sunday’s practice.”I don't even look at stuff like that but the reason we're at where we are right now is because of preparation and the way that we worked in the offseason.
“And as close as we are, as together as we are, we all have one heart beat on the field. We believe in each other, we all have faith."
ASU spent a considerable amount of time working to develop team bonds throughout the offseason, culminating in the team's fall retreat to Camp Tontozona to conclude the camp, which so far has shown to be having an effect on the Sun Devils.
"We've got great players," Irabor stated. "We've got a great front seven. But the main thing is we've all come together as a family and we have a common goal. Everybody on defense, no matter how good one person may be doing, we all see each other as the same.
“We don't have anybody who's better than somebody (else). There's no big time. We're just one heart beat."
That mentality has been fiercely demonstrated by Darby and his defensive secondary teammates, who once may have been considered a soft spot on this side of the ball, but have proven to be as tough as any unit on the field.
The Sun Devils currently rank ninth in the nation with eight interceptions, reducing scoring chances for the opposition while putting their own offense in a position to enforce their high-octane ways.
"Yeah, I guess we've been doing our thing," Darby remarked humbly. "What we're doing on the field goes to show how our preparation and hard work in the offseason has been paying off. And I can't give enough credit to the front seven. They've been putting pressure on the quarterback and making them put the ball in the air, making the quarterbacks throw bad passes. I've got to give it all to the front seven. Without them, we wouldn't be where we're at right now as a secondary.
"But we are holding it down back there. The Bird Gang is hosting a no fly zone every game."
The no fly zone has certainly been in effect thus far in 2012 when Darby has been on the field. The junior already has two interceptions of his own, with returns of 50 and 34 yards respectively, while also tallying 24 tackles, including 12 alone in the team's contest at Missouri.
While Darby has received plenty of game day experience in his first couple years at ASU, he attributes his early success this season the most to the work he has put in off the field.
"I've stepped up my game mentally big time," Darby commented. "I've been getting in that film room, learning about my opponents. That's what I'm really keying on. When I'm at home, I'm not watching TV or playing Madden on PS3; what I do is watch film.
“I feel like if I can watch TV then I should watch film. So I've really stepped my game up mentally, making sure I prepare myself each week so I can go out there and play my game."
For Darby though, this time of year takes on a whole new meaning for him, reaching both on and off the field.
With the national breast cancer awareness campaign in full effect across the country, Darby, a full supporter of this cause, feels an immediate connection with the unfortunate passing of his aunt, a woman who played an instrumental role in his upbringing, just last year to breast cancer.
"It's huge, it's huge," said Darby. "My auntie (Annette McKinley) she passed away this month on the 28th last year. So it's huge, it means a lot to me. And not just to support her, but to support every woman out there that has breast cancer. To support every family out there that has been affected by breast cancer. It's a huge month.
"I try to go all out. Of course I've got to work within Coach Graham's rules and I respect him, but I'm going to try to go all out this month and show my support."
Growing up on the tough streets off Long Beach, Calif., Darby experienced the kind of childhood many can't even fathom. With both of his parents being imprisoned throughout much of his youth, Darby was raised mostly by his grandmother and aunts.
Determined not to succumb to the temptations of street life and gang affiliation, Darby sought refuge and support in the care of the women who loved him the most, including his aunt, which helped mold him into the individual he is today.
"She was big (for me)," Darby recollected. "No matter what the situation was, she'd always bring the sunshine into the room. She'd bring the life. She'd bring the energy. It could be the toughest situation but if I were to walk in front of her, I could tell her passion she had towards me and the love she had for me and how proud she was of me, to be one of the only males in the family to really be doing something positive in their lives. She always appreciated what I was doing.
"She actually never got chance to come out here and see me play. She came to one of my high school games before but she just loved me and would keep up on me, keeping news articles and telling her friends about me. She always gave big support and I love her to death."
Last year, before the team took the field against Oregon State, Darby donned a pair of pink gloves for the first time to show his support and love for his aunt. That night he intercepted two Beavers’ passes and followed that up the next week with another interception against Utah.
Playing with a renewed focus and extra motivation, Darby seems to perform well when the calendar turns to October.
"The other day I told Deveron (Carr), "This is my month," Darby exclaimed.”Last month I went off, but this month I'm going to go off again. It's going to be something crazy, you'll see. It's going to be my month. I feel like she's watching me, giving me that extra burst of energy, that extra effort. She's giving it to me."
With that inspiration, Darby gets set to take the field this Thursday as the team travels to Boulder to take on the University Colorado. When asked if he'll be adding any new accessories to the new uniform this October, Darby reluctantly admitted that he has a new surprise in store, but only if his head coach gives him the mod of approval first.
"I got some pink cleats," he confessed. "I actually went and bought some like they got in the NFL, the pink and black ones. I hid them in the locker room and everyone was like 'Those are sick!' but I'm not too sure I can wear them yet. I'm not worried about it though. I'm going to bring it by Coach Graham and we'll see how it goes."