It didn’t take long for Mendoza to make an impact during fall camp a year ago as he ultimately worked his way into the playing rotation at linebacker and was, for at least a temporary basis, able to bypass a redshirt season. During August practices last season, Mendoza showed incredible athleticism and versatility and a knack for being an instinctive playmaker.
Unfortunately, Mendoza’s momentum halted in the second game of the season as he suffered a shoulder injury in what ultimately was an early breakout game for the true freshman as he had tallied two interceptions against Illinois earlier in the contest.
As difficult as a season-ending injury can be for a first-year player that had gained substantial momentum as did Mendoza last year, the camaraderie of his family, teammates and coaches helped make the experience as positive as possible.
“It was pretty tough going through [a season-ending injury], but I got close to my family and my teammates and they helped get me through that,” recalls Mendoza. “Brandon Magee was one of the main components of that, he helped me study, watch more film, I used to study him a lot when he was on the field. I was blessed to have Coach Graham still allow me to travel with the team as well. I picked up a lot from the team; I watched to see what I would do it if I were in there and run it through my head so that when I’m out there in that situation I know just what to do.”
Luckily, Mendoza was able to take advantage of a medical redshirt season for 2012 and enters the 2013 season with a full slate of four years worth of playing eligibility with the Sun Devils.
After missing spring drills while continuing his rehabilitation, Mendoza, who graciously credits the training and coaching staffs, gradually worked his way back into the two-deep at linebacker. Fortunately for the second-year Sun Devil, versatility such as Mendoza’s is a coveted trait in ASU’s attacking defense and the fact that he can fit in either at WILL or Spur linebacker gives a huge boost to his ambition to capture a key role in 2013. In addition to Mendoza’s natural talents, the Sun Devil coaching staff provides a complimentary boost to help him maximize his football potential.
“The coaches are really great, they push you really hard and they coach you and the main thing they want to do is give us a good mentality to come into the season with,” says Mendoza. “The coaches are hands on with you; they teach you different types of techniques. Coach Graham, he’s one of the main ones who is hands on, he’s always trying to help. You can go to the coaches with any questions at all; they’ve been straining us because it is fall camp. We’ve all been working hard as a team.”
Despite the adversity he’s faced through his first year in Tempe, Mendoza remains motivated not only by his personal goals but the presence of elite defenders around him such as All-American Will Sutton and honors candidates including Carl Bradford, Alden Darby and Osahon Irabor.
“Having so much talent around me helps me a great deal,” admits Mendoza. “I watch those guys and I look up to them because they’re the leaders on the team and I’m blessed and glad to have leaders like that because you see them work so hard and they’ve worked all their lives for what they’ve got, and we all love football, I’ve been here a short time and they’ve been here a while so they know how to work at this level to be the best. Just watching them and seeing what they do makes me want to work extra hard just to compete with them or even make them better.”
Through the first week of fall training, Mendoza has rotated between first and second team Spur linebacker. Moving forward, Mendoza plans to use feedback from his coaches to help spur (no pun intended) his chances to join the starting Sun Devils’ lineup.
“The coaches like how mobile and agile I am, I can guard receivers well and that’s a key component in my new position at Spur,” assesses Mendoza. “They can see my technique is good as well as my catch-up speed with receivers. During fall camp, I’m mainly working with my explosiveness off the line so I can be an explosive blitzer and just getting a little more physical. There’s always something to improve on.”