Will Sutton has to get to class. Not just tonight. But all of next year, also.
Sitting at the podium at his news conference Tuesday afternoon -- where he just announced he'd return to ASU for another season -- the Pac-12's defensive player of the year was asked what's next for him.
"I've got class at 6 o'clock," he joked.
His response added more humor to an already light-hearted environment. Minutes earlier, his decision to stay at ASU for another year was met with a huge applause. Joined by his parents and ASU head coach Todd Graham, Sutton talked about wanting to earn his degree, improving on ASU's 8-5 record in its first year under Graham and the relief that he'd made a decision. Sutton said he didn't make up his mind until Tuesday.
"There were a lot of pros and cons," he said. "It wasn't just one thing. It was a lot of things ... I took everybody's advice. I listened to everybody. You can really tell who is telling you just to tell you or telling you stuff that will really help you out. I just had to sit down and say, 'This is what I'm going to do.'"
Obviously with Sutton back, ASU should continue to be one of the better defensive teams in the conference. This season the Sun Devils finished second in the Pac-12 in total defense and tied for fifth in scoring defense, allowing 24.3 points per game.
"I told the guys, the team with the best defense wins this league," Graham said. "Stanford finished first and they won the league. We finished second."
Sutton became the first ASU player since Terrell Suggs in 2002 to earn consensus first-team All-America honors. His 23.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks in 2012 both rank fourth on the school’s single-season list, and he led the Pac-12 with 1.08 sacks and 1.96 TFLs per game. Sutton also added three forced fumbles and five pass breakups.
"His actions are showing what his priorities are," Graham said. "I think that speaks volumes about him. That's the kind of leadership we need to get to the level we want to be at. His belief that we can win a championship had a lot to do with him coming back."
The race for Pac-12 defensive player of the year should be an interesting one next season. With several first-team all-league players returning, including UCLA's Anthony Barr who was neck-and-neck with Sutton for the league's top defensive honor, the conference shouldn't be hurting for marquee players next season.