When Arizona State dials up 6-7-8 this fall, it won't be calling relatives in the Atlanta area. It will be summoning a Sun Devils linebacking frenzy.
No. 6 is junior Shelly Lyons, No. 7 is sophomore Vontaze Burfict and No. 8 is junior Brandon Magee, at least those are their numbers after Lyons and Magee changed jerseys to create the numerical sequence among the starting linebackers.
Burfict, a budding All-American, might have been the best true freshman linebacker in the nation last year. Magee put up impressive numbers as a backup in 2009. And Lyons saw plenty of action and is certainly no slouch. By season's end, they might form the best linebacking trio in the Pac-10.
What's shocking is they used to form the best linebacking trio in California high school football. All three played for Centennial High in Corona, Calif. Toss in tackle William Sutton, and four former Huskies will be seeing lots of action on the ASU defense in 2010.
The number change isn't just a cute, casual gesture. It represents a deep connection. The troika are best friends and roommates.
"We're letting everybody know we are a brotherhood," Magee said. "I thought it would be good for the city of Corona to see how close we are."
Burfict, the man in the middle, is the best known. He was the Pac-10's Defensive Freshman of the Year, earned freshman All-American honors and is on the Lombardi Award watch list. He piled up 69 tackles -- second on the team -- with seven tackles for a loss, two sacks, five pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a handful of personal foul penalties, including three vs. Washington.
Burfict, who chose No. 7 because of John Elway but models his play on Baltimore Ravens LB Ray Lewis, said the penalties are due to "my passion for the game and competitiveness." And, no, neither he nor coach Dennis Erickson is not going to send Burfict to charm school to learn to keep his emotions in check.
"Naa. I'm just out there playing football," he said when asked if the penalties were a problem he was working on. "Coach [Erickson] said that if I'm out there playing football aggressively, flags are going to come but to just try to hold them to a minimum."
While his sometimes too aggressive play has earned him a bit of a reputation, Magee and Lyons describe Burfict as "shy" and "humble."
"You'd be surprised how different he is off the field than how he is on the field," Magee said.
Magee, who also plays for the Sun Devils No. 1-ranked baseball team, had 34 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, two sacks and an interception last year as Mike Nixon's backup on the weakside. Lyons and Burfict both describe him as a "neat freak."
"He doesn't even want wrinkles in his bed," Lyons said.
Lyons? He's the comedian. "He's one of the finniest guys there is," Magee said. "He just has jokes for days. And he's not scared to say what's on his mind."
Lyons has seen significant action the past two seasons behind Travis Goethel. He had 36 tackles as a true freshman and 17 last year.
Magee was glad to change his number from 48. "That's Terrell Suggs' number. I have a lot of respect for him so I didn't really want to wear the number any more because I know they are going to retire it sooner or later," he explained. This is Lyons' third number. He was 41 as a freshman and 13 last year.
Arizona State ranked No. 1 in total defense and No. 2 in scoring defense in the conference last year. Despite losing seven starters, there's plenty of scuttlebutt coming out of Tempe that the 2010 unit will be even better -- faster and deeper on all three levels.
One of the big reasons for optimism? It's as easy as counting 6, 7 and 8.
"We're bringing our own flavor to it," Magee said.