PAYSON, Ariz. — Two weeks from the season opener, the Arizona State Sun Devils defense received a big boost — the return of junior defensive tackle Jaxon Hood, the team’s most experienced lineman.
Hood had missed all of fall camp because of personal reasons, but he was on the field and back with his teammates for practice Thursday, the first one held at Camp Tontozona after rain forced ASU to relocate to Rumsey Park Wednesday.
He did not speak to reporters afterward, but is expected to address his absence Friday.
“Much, much needed experience on that defensive line and it’s great to have him back and back in our program and ready to go,” head coach Todd Graham said.
Hood spent much of practice conditioning on the side, including riding the stationary bike. The former Chandler Hamilton High School standout participated in some position drills but was a spectator during one-on-one and team work.
The NCAA mandates a five-day acclimatization period where full pads are not permitted until the fifth day, so the earliest Hood could be a full participant is Monday.
With 18 starts under his belt, Hood has more game experience than any other player on the defensive side of the ball. His presence is important considering the defensive line lost three key performers off last season’s Pac-12 South championship squad to graduation: two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton as well as Davon Coleman and Gannon Conway, a pair of honorable mention all-conference selections.
Hood, 6′ and 300 pounds, was a freshman All-American starting all 13 games in 2012 before a leg injury limited him to five starts a year ago.
“He’ll provide so much for (Tashon) Smallwood, so much for Connor (Humphreys), so much for those younger guys,” Graham said of Hood’s leadership. “What I need more than anything is just (for Hood to say), ‘hey, here’s why coach is doing this, here’s why this is so hard, here’s why you’re so uncomfortable’ and explaining those things to them that will help them. And Jaxon is a kid that I’m personally extremely close to. He has a great heart. He’s really, really important to me and really, really important to our team.”