TEMPE, Ariz. -- With a consensus All-American and freshman All-American as linemates, senior defensive end Gannon Conway often gets overlooked.
That's now changing.
With five tackles, including a sack at Utah, the former Gilbert Higley High and Mesa Community College standout is enjoying his most productive season at ASU. In nine games, he's already surpassed his numbers from the previous two years combined.
"He's the most improved player in our program," head coach Todd Graham said during his weekly Monday press conference. "He's different physically as a player this year than he was last year. I think he's stronger. He's faster. He's more mature. And I think he's smarter. He's put himself in position through film study. He studies more film than I think just about anybody on our defense."
Conway set the tone defensively against Utah.
On the Utes' first offensive play, he sacked quarterback Travis Wilson for a seven yard loss. Then on the very next snap he teamed with safety Laiu Moeakiola to tackle running back Bubba Poole behind the line of scrimmage for another seven yard loss.
"He made two back-to-back phenomenal plays," Graham said. "He made some exceptional, athletic plays that is something that in the past I wouldn't associate that with Gannon because he was technique guy; a sound, solid guy. But he really has improved his athleticism, his explosiveness. I think through our training program he's gotten stronger. He's just a really smart guy, too; does a great job."
Asked last week about his improved play, Conway was quick to extend the credit to his teammates.
"I've just been fortunate enough to play with a really good front seven," he said as he mentioned Will Sutton, Jaxon Hood, Carl Bradford and Davon Coleman. "I've just been doing my part and doing what I'm supposed to do. I've been able to make plays whenever I can."
Those plays -- 20 tackles, including five-and-a-half for a loss and three sacks (he had 13 tackles, two for a loss and two sacks entering the season) -- have earned him more playing time.
"He's coming off his best game of his career," Graham said. "And no longer will he come out on third down. I'm watching the film [on the plane back from Utah and turned to defensive line coach Jackie Shipp], saying ‘Why are we taking him out on third down?' That guy can rush the passer. We're not going to be doing that this week [Against Oregon State]. We're going to leave him out there.
"I do like how Gannon has come on and how he's played. He's a really, really good football player and is playing at a very, very high level right now. I thought he was the MVP up front."