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Losoya, Robertson among ASU OL battling for fifth starting job

Arizona State offensive lineman Zach Robertson, left, puts an arm out to block Arizona State defensive lineman Koron Crump (4) during a spring NCAA college football game Saturday, April 16, 2016, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

In Arizona State’s offensive linemen’s room, a message from position coach Dave Christensen looms large, a constant reminder for the group. It takes just four words to succinctly capture his essential theme for camp.

Big cuts. Fatal finishes.

Players feel like there’s a competitive position battle for the fifth starting spot on the line this fall. To that end, Christensen is trying to identify the player who best fulfills this ideology.

“He wants us to finish,” junior lineman Alex Losoya, one of the top candidates for the role, said Monday. “That’s the big thing right now. Other than knowing what to do, it’s just finish.”

Losoya gets it. The former junior college transfer, a player who relishes every opportunity to put an opponent in the dirt, has become the early frontrunner for the open spot at left guard. Through the first three practices of this camp, he’s taken every first-team rep there alongside more solidified starters: senior Casey Tucker (left tackle), junior Cohl Cabral (center), junior Steven Miller (right guard) and senior Quinn Bailey (right tackle).

Losoya is in the lead thanks to the head start he got back in the spring.

Last season, Sam Jones was named an all-conference honorable mention selection while starting all 13 games at left guard for the Sun Devils. But he departed for the NFL a year early in the offseason, leaving no clear heir to his position.

Those who are competing with Losoya — junior Zach Robertson (who started four games in 2017), USC graduate transfer Roy Hemsley and freshman Jarrett Bell — are, in one respect or another, at a disadvantage entering camp. Hemsley and Bell weren’t with the program yet in the spring and Robertson missed the first two weeks of spring ball for undisclosed personal reasons.

It allowed Losoya to play with the ones in all 15 practices. He was physical and picked up Christensen’s new schemes. His strong performance has carried over to the fall.

“I think building up from the spring and learning all the new stuff we put in, I have a great advantage,” Losoya said. “… Just building trust with coach Christensen and (offensive coordinator) [Rob] Likens and even coach Herm [Edwards]. That’s what you want. You want them to trust you and know that I can go to battle with the guys next to me and perform on the field.”

“He’s played well,” Christensen said of Losoya on Monday. “(He) had a real good practice tonight. He’s doing a good job. There’s competition in there but he’s having a great camp.”

Losoya’s closest competitor appears to be Robertson. In his first three seasons on campus, the former four-star, Top 247 national recruit hasn’t been able to capitalize on multiple opportunities to lock down a starting job. He’s battled weight issues that negated his athleticism and developed a bad habit of taking penalties. Distractions off the field set him back even further, as Robertson is keen to point out.

He might have turned the corner this summer, though. He lost 35 pounds — he’s now a trim 301 pounds — and tried to set his priorities straight.

“It all kind of hit me in the offseason,” he said on Monday. “That’s what sparked the initiative to lose the weight and just to stop all the B.S., the off the field B.S., and to be a man and grow up and learn from my mistakes and not make them again.”

Robertson was rewarded on Monday with first-team team reps for the first time this fall, filling in at right guard for Miller, who was absent for personal reasons. Afterward, Robertson said the competition for the line’s fifth spot has helped him unlock a sense of urgency he struggled to find before.

“This is definitely the most competition we’ve had in a long time, to actually be able to battle for a starting spot,” he said. “We all know that going into this, so we’re all working our ass off trying to be able to fight for that spot. Especially a guy like me who didn’t start much last year. It’s time to step up.”

Hemsley and Bell have been the second-team guards in all three practices while adapting to ASU’s scheme. Hemsley played in 14 games at USC last year, though never as a starter. Bell was a three-star recruit in ASU’s class this year and the 21st-best guard in the country according to 247Sports Composite rankings but will need time to get used to the speed of college football, Christensen said.

Robertson has a leg up on each of the newcomers but still seemingly trails Losoya in the battle for the fifth spot. He hasn’t caught up after falling behind in the spring.

For now, Losoya still has the inside track. He knows what it will take to fulfill Christensen’s edict of “big cuts and fatal finishes.”

“Blocking to the whistle,” he said, grinning.” (And) getting pancake (blocks).”

This story appears on ArizonaSports.com courtesy of a partnership with SunDevilSource.com, part of 247 Sports and home for the most detailed information on Arizona State football.

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