Winning UCLA would be especially important for natives of Southern California
Arizona State sophomore center Dohnovan West said he enjoys proving people wrong, taking their words or actions and turning them into the fuel that fuels his game.
As a freshman in 2019, West’s most discussed example of on-field motivation came during the Sun Devils road game in Michigan State when Spartan defensive tackle Naquan Jones objected to one of West’s blocks, threw it to the ground and said, “The room was dead. You’re just a little kid,” according to West.
West dominated Jones throughout the remainder of the game. After a game, he patted Jones on the helmet to offer his analysis of the situation: “Little guy beat you up,” West said. “Get out of the field.”
Last year, West said he derived his motivation from external doubt that ASU would be able to overcome his three-week hiatus from games due to a COVID-19 outbreak on the team. . He then helped ASU lead the Pac-12 in rushing yards per game while also securing one of the highest overall scores in the conference among guards.
This year, West said he finds different motivations from match to match. Against Colorado, for example, he said he was looking for players who called him “undersized and too small” in 2019. After he and his fellow offensive linemen made some superb downline blocks which led to a 30-yard touchdown after a double pass, West could be seen celebrating an opponent in the end zone. He said on Wednesday it was a rematch for two years.
“Maybe I got a little carried away,” West said with a laugh. “I don’t think I did, however. I just did my job and reminded him of who I was. It was a small moral victory for me.
Now, as the Sun Devils prepare for a road clash against the No.20 UCLA, by far their most important clash of the season so far, West has said his propellant is clear: The Bruins had recruited him in high school, but when the current UCLA head coach kelly chip resumed the program, he stopped calling.
A product of Bishop Alemany High in Los Angeles, West grew up in the shadow of UCLA and USC. Losing interest in UCLA stuck with him.
“UCLA was one of my first (scholarship) offerings,” West said. “When they got the new coaching staff, they didn’t come up with me again. It will motivate me when I go out and play against them.
West isn’t the only Sun Devil who grew up in UCLA’s imprint. In fact, 16 of the 83 ASU scholarship players – which is just under 20% of the group – have roots in Southern California.
Saturday’s game will be a kind of homecoming for these players, many of whom will have family and friends to watch from the stands. Several said they couldn’t let it become a distraction.
“It’s always a good thing to play in front of locals,” West said. “I should have a big group of people coming to the game. But at the end of the day I know you don’t want to focus too much on the little things because at the end of the day it’s another team and I have to play another game. It would mean a lot if we could go out there and have a victory. “
First-year defensive back RJ Regan added: “Especially before the game, friends can hit you or, of course, a lot of family. You just have to block everything until the end of the game and that’s it.
For players including West, second-year quarterback Jayden daniels, junior linebackers Darien Butler and Merlin Robertson, and senior cornerback Jack Jones, Saturday’s game could be their last chance to play in Los Angeles as college football players. Jones is in his final year of college eligibility while West, Daniels, Robertson and Butler could choose to move up to the pro ranks after this season.
“It’s a little more meaningful in a way because of it,” West said.
ASU’s ties to Southern California run even deeper. This is the region where the former Long Beach Poly High head coach and current ASU defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce coached some of his current players during their high school careers, a group that includes the star sophomore defensive tackle Jermayne lole (he is out for the season due to a torn right triceps tendon), Jones, defensive backs Kejuan Markham and Keon Markham, and security ByAndré Pierce (Antonio Pierce’s son).
Additionally, Butler, who grew up in Southern California, has repeatedly stated that UCLA is the school of his dreams. But Sun Devil’s key defender didn’t have a scholarship offer from the Bruins or any other Pac-12 school outside of ASU. If he had, he would probably be sidelined on Saturday.
In recruiting from the Los Angeles area, USC and UCLA tended to take their pick. But when the Sun Devils did well in the region, it resulted in some of their best teams in history. ASU’s 1986 and 1996 Rose Bowl rosters were teeming with stock players from the region.
Now the Sun Devils have a team with a similar lineup.
“I love the crowd (at the Rose Bowl),” ASU freshman receiver LV Bunkley-Shelton, another Southern California product, said Wednesday. “I feed off the energy of the crowd. But it’s just another game for me. I walk lucidly and I enter with a smile on my face.
West and several of his teammates and coaches have made it clear that the Sun Devils cannot afford to be distracted on Saturday night. The Bruins have one of the best race defenses in the country and offer disguised cover before the snap to confuse their opponents.
West said the match would be won or lost in the trenches. He knows ASU will have to find a way to direct the ball.
“We have to stay more lateral instead of vertical because they do a lot of twists and things,” West said. “We’re going to have to go through a lot of blocks and keep our head on a pivot because they like to bring a lot of blitz and twists. We need to have good communication, starting with me as the center.
Addition of the ASU offensive coordinator Zak Hill: “Yeah, that’s a very good defense. They are doing a very good job. Take a guess, bringing in guys from all over and they have a good team of vets and they are experienced. With that, you are on the same page as a defense or an offense. You’ve got experience, you know, you’re on the same page and you’re playing at a high level and they are.
The Sun Devils haven’t beaten UCLA or USC since they beat both in 2018. West said his ties to Southern California make these wins a little sweeter than the others. He and his teammates are just trying to prove themselves.
“I want these wins over the schools in Southern California,” West said before a smile slipped across his face. “It’s going to push me even harder on Saturday. I know that will be the case for other guys here too.