The house that Arizona State linebackers Jamar Williams and Dale Robinson shared last year rocked whenever the Playstation was turned on.
"We’re very competitive with each other," Williams said. "We compete on every little thing. Video games is No. 1. Then we’ll compete on girls. We’ll compete on dressing.
"Dale has a very vivid imagination. He wants to break (Terrell Suggs’) record for sacks, he wants to have 150 tackles, he wants to be defensive player of the year. And I’m the same way."
Anyone who doubts the seniors’ competitive streak — or their ability to at least come close to some of their lofty goals for this season — need look no further than their performances in last year’s upset wins over Iowa and Purdue.
In the 44-7 home victory over Iowa, Williams registered five tackles and a sack and returned an interception 31 yards to set up an ASU touchdown. Then in the 27-23 Sun Bowl win over Purdue, Robinson seemed to be everywhere at once as he totaled 11 tackles, including three for losses.
Heading into both games, the players felt they had been dissed by the opposition.
"They looked at us like we were soft because we were from the Pac-10," said Williams, one of the Sun Devils’ captains this season. "We had something to prove in each one of those games. You saw it last year, especially in the Iowa and Purdue games. We went out there to hit and really hurt somebody. Win or lose, no matter what, we wanted them to feel us at the end of the game."
Williams was a known commodity heading into last season. The 6-foot-1, 236-pounder from Houston played in all 13 of ASU’s games as a freshman before becoming a full-time starter as a sophomore. He had been around so long that on more than one occasion last year he had conversations with fans who assumed he was a senior.
Robinson, a trash-talker who is known by teammates as "The Manimal," was not so well known. The 6-1, 232-pound New Yorker played two seasons at Glendale Community College before transferring to ASU last summer. Despite missing out on spring practice, Robinson started ASU’s first game and racked up big numbers during a debut season that culminated with the 11-tackle performance in the Sun Bowl.
He said his play should improve this season now that he understands what he’s doing.
"Last year I was just playing a lot of the time because I didn’t know a whole lot. Coach (Dirk) Koetter just let me run around," Robinson said. "I’m 10 times better than that this year."
If Robinson has made anywhere near as much progress as he believes and Williams continues his steady improvement, they should both be in line for big seasons. New defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Bill Miller emphasizes speed and plans to give his linebackers — Robinson on the strong side, Williams in the middle and sophomore Robert James on the weak side — the freedom to move around and make plays.
"It’s going to keep us real active out there," Robinson said of the defensive changes. "You can expect some big plays from us."