Rashad Wadood played in ten games as a true freshman in 2011 and coming into the following season was projected to figure in the cornerback rotation as well as be one of the team’s key players on special teams. He did sprain his knee’s MCL late in his debut campaign with the Sun Devils, and while he only missed the last two games that year and was back to working out just three months later, a more serious injury, a separated shoulder, followed a couple weeks upon his return.
“It was actually going through spring (practice),” Wadood recalled. “It was just one of those injuries you play through. But then in the fall it got to the point where my shoulder would just keep coming out then popping back in. It got to the point where every time I hit someone it would do it. So, I had to go ahead and get the surgery. It was smarter for me to get it then, then have my shoulder dislocate and I’d be out for an entire season and I’d lose a year.”
After getting a taste of Division I football during his first year in Tempe, it was extremely difficult for Wadood to accept a fate of sitting out the 2012 season, especially when trying to prove himself to a first-year coaching staff. Nonetheless, his forced hiatus did ultimately carry some benefit with it.
“It’s been tough but it made me hungrier,” Wadood admitted. “I really had to talk to my mom and she really kept my head right during the whole process. It’s crazy sometimes how everything’s going right and then you just take a hit. You have to stay focused, you can’t fall off. Honestly, it helped me though, my grades went up. I had a 3.0 last semester; I’m a scholar-baller this semester and last semester. I got smarter in the film room and I’m bigger, I’m up to 192 (lbs.) right now.
“I kind of settled into my own, I’m back and I’m doing better than ever.”
The corner didn’t have to look far to witness some his now former teammates fail to conform to the team’s new culture and sense of discipline. Couple that new environment with a serious injury, and Wadood could certainly be in danger of joining that list of departures. Yet, a constructive approach to his adversity allowed him not only to remain on the team but also motivate him to excel so he can make an impact with the Sun Devils.
“For some people, something bad will happen and they use that as an excuse to start messing up here, messing up there,” Wadood explained. “I took it as a humbling experience like I’m going to focus on my schoolwork. I’m going to focus on getting better with film, since I can’t be on the field. I took mental notes on the sideline. I sat through every meeting we had, I was still learning and taking notes. That helped me be ready to come back.”
The Arizona State secondary’s performance was exceptional last season, finishing 3rd nationally in pass defense. The enormous success his teammates were enjoying didn’t make Wadood feel bitter about his misfortune or his inability to be part of such a significant unit on the team.
“You know I’m a team guy,” Wadood noted. “They made me feel a part of it still, they kept me in it. Like I said I was sitting in meetings still and I mean at first it was hard to watch things because I wanted to be out there so bad. At the same time though, I was so happy to see dudes like (Alden) Darby, that’s like my brother, I’m happy to see him out there. I’m happy to see Deveron (Carr), Ossie (Osahon Irabor), Keelan (Johnson), I mean I love it.
“God knows I’m going to be back sooner or later and I just wanted to be ready when I got back.”
Wadood’s readiness had definitely been on display in the spring. The corner is making sure that he’s increasing his confidence physically with his shoulder and mentally fully comprehending his assignments and improving on his technique. And if Wadood ever needed the aid of his teammates, he knows that these are individuals that he can truly count on.
“Ossie is like a grandfather to the group,” Wadood said. “He’s been here forever. He’s always calm and knows what to do. He helps you get out there and play the game and rely on your technique. He’s started for four years so he knows. It’s good to have him, it’s good to have his support, and it’s good to have Darby’s support. We have a good group.”
Indeed, a relatively inexperienced ASU secondary has been a pleasant surprise in the spring. Wadood has been battling Robert Nelson in earnest for the starting duties opposite Irabor, and the end result of that role competition, according to Wadood can be beneficial in many ways.
“It’s not necessarily about beating each other out,” Wadood explained, “it’s about making each other better so no one gets complacent. It’s about me working hard, then Rob working hard, me working hard, him working hard. At the end of the day we all want to better our game, we all want to win.
“Whether I’m nickel and he’s a starter or whether I’m the starter and he’s nickel, were all going to make our plays and do what we have to do to win.”
Repeating the success the secondary enjoyed in 2012 will undoubtedly be a stiff challenge to accomplish this season, yet head coach Todd Graham and his players alike haven’t been shy in their intentions to improve on what has already been one of the best seasons ever by any ASU defense. Furthermore, there’s no sense of pressure to eclipse last year’s achievements.
“We’re a lot closer as a team,” Wadood said. “Coach Graham is hands down the best coach I’ve ever played for. It’s crazy; I’ve never had a coach relate to us so much as a team. He’s hands on. It’s one thing to hear a person talk and it’s another thing to hear him talk and really relate and know he’s telling the truth. We’re all bought in and were close as a team. Were motivated and were determined. We have a good schedule, like Coach Graham talked about, and were ready to turn it up this season.”
“It’s not more pressure it’s more fun! Last year we didn’t have a clue, is this going to work? Are we going to do that? But, now we know what Coach Graham is talking about. We know if we do what Coach Graham says, nobody going to stop us.”
Becca Winn contributed to this article.