It's easy to sometimes go overlooked or even be viewed as the weak link when playing on a defensive line that features two All-Americans in Will Sutton and Jaxon Hood and another with the freakish playmaking ability of Carl Bradford, but Gannon Conway always knew that if he put in the work, he'd eventually get to reap the rewards of his effort. Even after ascending to the top of the Sun Devil depth chart following the spring, some questioned how long it would last.
But seven games into the season now, Conway continues to anchor the defensive end position for an improving Sun Devil defense and he's only getting better with each passing week.
Led by its defensive line, Arizona State (5-2, 3-1) submitted its most impressive win of the season last Saturday, knocking off a ranked Washington (4-3, 1-3) team in a game designed to separate the conference contenders from the pretenders. The Sun Devils overwhelmed the Huskies from start to finish, controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball while shutting down a Washington offense that entered the weekend as one of the best in the Pac-12.
In the middle of it all was Conway, who registered four tackles and his second sack of the season in the win.
"It was pretty incredible, but what we were able to do was really come together as a unit," said Conway after practice on Tuesday on the win. "We really didn't do anything special, we just came out and did what we've been coached to do and just made plays. A lot of time as the plays would happen, our guys were where they were supposed to be to make the play. Then they figured out, 'We can't run that way, let's go this way,' and then boom, Chris Young would be there or Will Sutton. So I think when we play as a unit, it allows us to have that kind of success."
The Sun Devils, which had struggled to stop the run at times throughout the first half of the season, rose to the challenge last weekend by limiting the nation's then-leading rusher, Bishop Sankey, to just 23 yards on 11 carries while holding the Huskies to minus five yards rushing overall.
"I feel like we made a statement but our goal was really just to come out and do what we've been coached to do and make sure we made the plays and were our 1/11th," remarked the senior. "Obviously, that wasn't our goal, to make a statement by stopping the leading rusher, but that's what happened and as long as we keep doing what we're coached to do, we'll be able to make that happen every game."
Conway's four solo tackles against the Huskies were a career-high for the Gilbert native and a testament to the hard work he's put in since the spring in an effort to continually improve and provide the Arizona State defense with another formidable piece to its defensive line.
"I was happy but my wife was happier than I was. She was ecstatic," said Conway on his breakout performance. "It's been very rewarding and I'm really grateful for the opportunities that I've had in my life to get to where I am today. I feel like every experience that I've had has led me to where I'm at today and really, I've always had this goal in my mind to be where I am and I know that as long as I work hard and do what I'm supposed to do, I'm going to be able to accomplish all of my goals.
"I'm really happy with where we're at, but after watching film of the last game, there's still so much that I can do to get better. There were many more plays that I could have made, so there's definitely improvement to be made."
Following their win over Washington, Conway and the Sun Devils enter their much needed bye week this week atop the Pac-12 South standings and in a position to contend for their first divisional championship. While the momentum is building for Arizona State, Conway insists the break couldn't come at a better time for the team, especially after their difficult schedule to start the season.
"We know what we can do as long as we play as a unit and do what we're coached to do, and we're going to be able to have so much successes on the field, but I mean, after all of those games that we've had, this bye week couldn't have come at a better time," he said. "We're going to be able to really replenish our bodies physically, because after Stanford, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, even Washington, those were some really good teams and some really good offensive lines.
"We're going to be able to take advantage of this week to refresh our bodies but at the same time, prepare ourselves for next week at Washington State, which is also an important game on our list of goals to accomplish."
Through seven games this season, Arizona State has proven to be one of the better home teams in the Pac-12, highlighted by their perfect 5-0 record at Sun Devil Stadium. Unfortunately, they're yet to win on the road, where three of their final five games will take place, starting with a trip to Pullman, Wash. next Thursday to take on Washington State. With consecutive conference wins under their belt and a suddenly rejuvenated defense beginning to find its stride heading down the stretch,
Conway believes the Sun Devils have learned what it'll take for him and his teammates to take that next step towards accomplishing their ultimate end-goal.
"I think what we did to prepare for Washington is the same thing that we're going to do for the next couple of weeks," he said. "It doesn't matter who we're playing, that game is a must-win. It does not matter who we're playing - Utah, Washington State, Oregon State - those are all important games. Obviously UCLA and Arizona are going to be important, but I think we just need to have great weeks of preparation and not let practice slip by us.
"Coach Graham always reminds the seniors, 'You guys only have X amount of practices left.' He always reminds us to take advantage of every rep that we have and every opportunity that we have to master our craft. As long as we do that, we'll have a lot of success in those games."