It's been a long journey for Gannon Conway, the local product who starred at Higley High School in Gilbert, AZ. After only being lightly recruited out of high school, he spent one year at Mesa Community College before departing on his two year Mormon mission in the Dominican Republic. But the time away from the game he loved only fueled his passion to return to the football field.
Upon returning to the Valley, Conway joined the Sun Devils with little more than a promise that he'd be given a chance to show what he's got. For two years he's heard that he's too small or too slow, but has steadily worked his way towards becoming a significant contributor for the Sun Devil defense. Now as a senior, Conway knows it's his last chance to make his mark.
To the surprise of many, Conway began Arizona State's spring camp last month as one of the starting defensive ends, playing alongside a pair of All-Americans in Will Sutton and Jaxon Hood. To the surprise of even more though, he finished camp at that same position, refusing to relinquish his role amidst heavy competition.
"My goal is to be starting for this team in the fall and contributing to us hopefully winning a national championship," he said recently after practice. "I prepared for this opportunity and took advantage of it, basically. I've worked hard, gotten better at some of the things the coaches said I needed to, and worked with Coach Shipp so I can keep that starting position."
In two years at Arizona State, the 6'-4", 265 pound end has seen action in 16 games while recording 13 tackles, including 2 for a loss. He also has totaled two career sacks. However, under new Sun Devil defensive line coach Jackie Shipp, Conway has found his comfort zone and developed into more of a threat along the defensive line.
"Coach Shipp is my fourth defensive line coach since I've been here, so it's kind of different," he said. "I'll get a feel for each coach and then they change. But Coach Shipp has been the most aggressive and intense coach we've had here so far. There's a lot of yelling but it's good because he coaches a lot of footwork, getting off and being explosive, and really getting after the offensive tackles."
"Coach Shipp really focuses on technique and fundamentals," he added. "Getting off the line and working a lot on handwork are just a couple of the things that I've really been focusing on this spring."
Conway also credits a lot of his development to the chemistry he's developed with his teammates, even despite the constant change in coaches throughout his time in Tempe.
"When you look back at last year, a lot of us had only been together for three or four months before we started playing in games," he commented. "But now we've been together for over a year, so everyone has a good feel for each other. We all know each other's tendencies. I know the linebackers got my back behind me. I know Jaxon's got my A gap next me.
“We're all have good chemistry and it gives us a better outlook in terms of developing good relationships out there."
Helping Conway prepare for what lies ahead has been the benefit of additional practice time against the Arizona State starting offensive unit in the spring. Admittedly overwhelmed at times, Conway knows that playing against one of the conference's better overall offensive units will only help him stay ahead of the curve come the fall.
"It's a hard offense to practice against, especially since they've got a lot of smoke and mirrors going on in the backfield," he said. "But it really prepares us for a lot of good teams that we'll be playing in the Pac-12, especially since in this conference they run everything."
As the spring comes to an end, Conway says he's looking forward to the time off before returning to the field for summer workouts. At the conclusion of the spring semester, Conway and his wife, whom he met after returning to ASU following his mission, will celebrate their two year anniversary next month. And after that, it's back to work for the senior with starting aspirations.
"I know this summer is crucial for me so I'm going to work hard," he said. "Coach wants me up to 275, so that's about 10 pounds I need to gain while continuing to maintain my speed. But really, it just motivates me to play at my best because that's what I have to do. And if I play at my best, it'll only help the team."