Jared Cooper

Coop’s Corner: Latu Rising Under Shipp’s Guidance

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Change is not easy for everyone, but it’s those who are resilient are the one’s who can achieve anything.

Throughout the 2014 season thus far, there has been tremendous improvement on the defensive line as a whole. One of the emerging players is the powerful and aggressive, Mo Latu. A run-stuffing tackle who provides depth for the line, Latu is six-feet-two-inches tall and is around 360 pounds with size that dominates the line of scrimmage.

He may be one of the bigger guys on the roster, but there is something different about Latu that can be hidden behind his facemask. Not only does Latu has a huge smile, but he has a talent that not many people may know about it. Beginning at the young age of seven, Latu began to play the ukulele as a part of his Polynesian tradition called Faikava. “I learned it from my uncles,” said Latu. He went on to say that his favorite song to play is “All of Me” by John Legend. “I know I can’t sing it but you know what, everybody in the world (has) seen that video, so everybody can be the judge of that,” laughed Latu.

Latu2During his first three years at Arizona State, Latu had to overcome many different battles to get to where he is today. Latu has spent time on the offensive line during his redshirt sophomore season but soon returned to the position he loved most, defensive line. Amongst that, he has also dealt with weight loss and trying to become more fit and physical for this attack-style defense. Throughout the off-season, he worked diligently to get to where his coaches wanted him to be and to perform to the best of his ability. “I continued to work hard and continue to drop the weight and get my stamina up and my strength up,” said Latu.

As a redshirt junior, Latu is in his fourth season with the Sun Devils and has seen an increase in his role. So far, we have seen him move to the starting defensive tackle position after being the back up to begin the season. “I just took every day as a starter and practiced like a starter even though I wasn’t at the starting position” said Latu. Throughout his ten appearances this season, Latu has recorded seventeen tackles and one sack for the Sun Devils.

With the adversity that Latu has had to overcome, his tenacity and resiliency have not gone unnoticed, which has helped lead him to where he is today. Defensive line coach Jackie Shipp describes him as a good person. “He’s gotten better and he’s getting better,” said Shipp. “It just tells you about his character, what kind of person he is, how he has taken hold to doing things how we like them done and he sees how it’s helping him.”

Shipp1

One of the chief reasons for the overwhelming success of the defensive line over the past couple seasons is due to their position coach, Jackie Shipp. Now in his second season with ASU, Shipp is one of the more experienced coaches on the staff with twenty-three years of coaching college football, including four national championship games. Not only does Shipp bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the defensive line, but he has a tough, competitive, hard-working persona that he instills in his players. “He’s very strict on what he wants. He’s going to get every little ounce of you, out of you,” said Latu.

Aside from coach Shipp’s many years in college football, he also has experience when it comes to the professional level in the NFL. Shipp’s biggest moment of his professional career was when he was one of the linebackers who led the Miami Dolphins to the Super Bowl in 1985 after being selected in the first-round of the NFL Draft the previous year. Additionally, Shipp’s coaching resume as it translates to professional level has been something to marvel at. During his career, Shipp’s defensive line groups have consistently ranked near the top in the nation and has worked with many players, some of whom have gone on to be Pro Bowlers.

A big accomplishment for Shipp came last season in 2013 when defensive tackle Will Sutton won his second Pac-12/Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year award. Following his senior season, Sutton was drafted in the third round by the Chicago Bears. Earlier this season during the Bears bye week, Sutton visited practice to speak and work with the younger players on the defensive line about what he’s learned at the next level and how it can help them now. “It’s always good because guys are going to look up to him and they can learn from him and you hope they bring back a good message for them,” said Shipp.

If any message is to be sent to Arizona State though, it must be to forgive and forget. Last weekend, the Sun Devils fell short to Oregon State in an upset on the road, 35 to 27. To this point in the season, ASU’s blitzing has been the premier part of the defense and was exploited during the second half against the Beavers. During the game, the Sun Devils brought the blitz to quarterback Sean Mannion and the offense on 65.7% of drop backs creating a lot of pressure, especially in the first half, allowing only two completions and intercepting the ball twice. However, when it came to the second half, Mannion threw two touchdowns with no interceptions and seven completions against the blitz, helping lead his team to victory. Although the Sun Devils struggled against OSU, coach Shipp remains confident in his line and the defensive coaching from head coach Todd Graham and the rest of the staff. “If I was a defensive lineman or linebacker, I would want to play in this defense the way we blitz and get after people, especially defensive lineman,” said Shipp.

Coming off of a loss for any football team, especially one’s who had a five-game winning streak snapped, can be a difficult challenge to overcome. Following the loss last week, the Sun Devils have two more games during the regular season, with their final home game this weekend against the Washington State Cougars. On the season, WSU is 3-7, 2-5 in conference play, with there two Pac-12 wins coming against Utah and Oregon State. The Cougars suffered a big blow earlier in the season when their starting quarterback, Connor Halliday, suffered a season-ending injury, giving freshman quarterback Luke Falk the nod. The Cougars currently rank number one in the nation in terms of passing yards, averaging 477.6 yards per game. When addressing this pass heavy offense and how to combat it, ASU Defensive Cooridinator Keith Patterson said, “We can’t allow big plays and got to stay sound vertically but it all starts with, no matter who you are playing, you have to stop the run.”

Aside from the game being played on the field Saturday, this game also holds a significant importance for eleven young men on this Sun Devil football team. Prior to the game, ASU will honor their seniors as the take the field in Sun Devil Stadium for the final time of their career. When reminiscing on his time as a member of the ASU football team, senior defensive lineman Marcus Hardison said that his favorite parts are “the brotherhood, the friends that I’ve made, and the bonds and relationships that come along with this.” For some of these players, emotions could be high, but they must remain focused on the game at hand and not let it slip away. “It’s going to be surreal, four years of college going by,” said Hardison. “It’ll be pretty sad but at the same, you still got a game going on.”

The Arizona State Sun Devils will play at home against the Washington State Cougars for the last time this season, in an early morning game, beginning at 11 am. ASU enters the game at seventeen point favorites.

Mo Latu

Jackie Shipp

About Jared Cooper

Jared Cooper

Jared is an Intern this season for ASU Devils Den. He is a senior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications studying Broadcast Journalism with a focus in sports broadcasting. In addition to interning at ASU Devils Den, he works in the Marketing Department for the Phoenix Suns. Jared is a former Sparky the Sun Devil, ASU's mascot, from 2011 to 2013.

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