(Photo: Blaine McCormick/WCSN)
In a front seven filled with returning veteran starters, first-year defensive tackle Shannon Forman is forcing his way to the top of Arizona State’s depth chart this preseason.
Less than three months after graduating from Southern Lab High School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the 6-foot-1 lineman has been a revelation during ASU’s preseason camp, transforming himself from just another true freshman to a potential starter.
“It’s a rude awakening,” Forman said of his first taste of college football. “…Right now, I’m just thankful for (playing with the starters).”
After redshirt sophomore George Lea’s demotion to the second team and an injury to fifth-year senior Alani Latu, Forman was given first team reps during the Sun Devils’ trip to Camp Tontozona last week. His impact was immediate.
Using his near-300-pound frame and athletic prowess, Forman excels at filling gaps up the middle and stifling opponents’ rushing attacks, a skill known all-too-well by the offensive linemen tasked with trying to stop him.
“I think Shannon Forman has come a long way since we started camp,” ASU right guard Steven Miller said after Saturday’s scrimmage in Payson. “He’s doing a great, great job.”
Monday, with Latu again sidelined with a right arm injury, Forman was back in the middle of the starting defense, locking horns with Miller and company. Tuesday, the freshman was once more playing between defensive line bookends JoJo Wicker and Tashon Smallwood, drawing double teams, eating up space, and wreaking havoc on the inside.
“He’s got this suddenness off the ball,” head coach Todd Graham said. “He plays very strong at the point of attack, and he’s smart, instinctive.”
While he isn’t the only big body at defensive coordinator Phil Bennett’s disposal up front, Forman separates his game thanks to exceptional footwork and deceptive speed, a gift he picked up while spending his adolescence mastering a different position on the football field, and a different sport off of it.
In addition to his defensive duties at Southern Lab, Forman was a ball-carrying tail back. Blessed with running ability and exceptional size, the two-way high school star was a natural with the ball in his hands, giving him another platform to showcase his athletic gifts.
“He plays with leverage, he was a running back,” Bennett told reporters Tuesday. “If you have (never) seen his high school tape, watch it.”
Bennett added that Forman’s high school coach, Marcus Randall, alerted him of the lineman’s speed off the line during his recruiting process. It wasn’t long after that Bennett successfully set his sights on the three-star prospect.
Away from the field however, Forman cultivated his swift-moving abilities while playing basketball.
Like his father, Forman’s true love is on the hardwood, playing the game his dad, Shannon Forman Jr., excelled in professionally after a productive career at Memphis University. The younger Forman balanced both sports during his first two years of high school, before committing to the gridiron full-time for his junior and senior years.
“My quickness,” Forman responded when asked how his basketball skills translate to football. “I’m athletic with it. If I’m moving around, it feels (like) basketball.”
His defensive coordinator agrees, saying his young nose tackle has “fast twitch,” a coveted trait among big-bodied linemen.
With his focus fixed on football for his final two years of high school, Forman experienced his best personal and team success back in Louisiana. Southern Lab won state championships in each of his final two seasons there. Forman, for his efforts, went on recruiting visits to Alabama and LSU before taking up Bennett and Graham on their offer to come to Tempe.
The early returns on that decision couldn’t be looking much better.
Less than three weeks from the start of the season, Forman is targeting a spot in the Sun Devils’ rotation along the defensive line. When asked if he would fill that role, Bennett grinned and responded with a simple, “absolutely.”
Other Tuesday Practice Notes
– Quarterbacks Manny Wilkins and Blake Barnett continued their battle Tuesday, with Wilkins again taking all the first team snaps during the media viewing period. After two short handoffs to Demario Richard, Wilkins used his legs to pick up a first down during 11-on-11 drills. He then found versatile running back Kalen Ballage coming out of the backfield with a quick pass for a nice gain. Later, Wilkins overthrew sophomore receiver John Humphrey in the back of the end zone on a failed two-point conversion.
– Sophomore receiver Terrell Chatman was taking snaps with the first team offense Tuesday. Next to John Humphrey and Jalen Harvey, the 6-foot-3 Chatman filled the position normally manned by sophomore N’Keal Harry, who was on the training table during 11-on-11 drills.
– After a week of experimentation along the offensive line during Camp Tontozona, ASU rolled out a starting five of Cohl Cabral, Sam Jones, A.J. McCollum, Steven Miller, and Quinn Bailey for the third straight practice during Tuesday’s 11-on-11 drills. Mason Schell, Alex Losoya, Tyler McClure, Connor Humphreys, and Mason Walter ran with the second team.
The group had a better day Tuesday, opening up holes for runs by Richard and freshman Trelon Smith. Before the up-tempo full-team drills, Jones rallied his line-mates, declaring they needed to “go to work” after the defense got the better of the group during last week’s practices.
– Graham said during Tuesday’s press conference that this is the most physical fall camp he has been a part of at the school.
“You’ve got to control your emotions. We want to be passionate, but it needs to be controlled,” Graham said. “I like that. I won’t say much to them when they are being combative. Football is a physical sport; you have to be the aggressor.”
The Sun Devils return to the practice field on Wednesday and Thursday, before holding a closed scrimmage on Saturday night.