PAYSON - Ah, the things that motivate athletes.
Arizona State's new starting linebackers, sophomore Jamar Williams and junior Justin Burks, are wearing numbers 4 and 5, respectively.
"Me and Jamar got a thing going," Burks said. "That's how fast he runs, 4.5. That's how fast I want to run."
Williams goes one better, noting that "all the guys in the box are single digits," referring to safeties Riccardo Stewart (7) and Brett Hudson (2).
These are the games within the game as ASU continues to try to improve its defense to make a run at the Pacific-10 Conference championship.
If that's to happen, Williams and Burks will be key contributors.
They move into the starting lineup replacing Mason Unck and Solomon Bates.
Williams was the fourth linebacker last season after arriving from Houston. Burks is a junior-college transfer coming to the Pac-10 three seasons later than anticipated.
Out of Bellflower (Calif.) High School, Burks was quoted by SuperPrep magazine saying he was 90 percent sure he'd sign with Oregon State. He was holding out hope that Texas would offer a scholarship, the report stated.
Texas did call. But it was the branch in El Paso. Burks, who was on ASU's second-tier list of recruits that season, said he signed with Texas-El Paso instead of Oregon State because the Beavers had lined up several other linebackers, "and I didn't want to compete with four linebackers. I wanted to compete with two or three."
At ASU he found only himself to compete with last March. Arriving in January, Burks, after two years at Cerritos (Calif.) College, lined up with the first team on Day 1.
"I just had to get used to the plays and the terminology," said Burks, a first-team JC Grid Wire All-American after participating in 167 tackles last season.
Said defensive coordinator Brent Guy, "He's everything we want in a linebacker. He runs down guys."
Williams made one start at Washington last season and played in 13 games. He spent time during the offseason with Bates preparing himself for his new role.
"Coming to ASU I knew I had the chance to come in and start early. I knew in the offseason I had to step up my leadership role," Williams said. "Spring gave me a good feel for starting. (Then) Solo taught me a lot about understanding the defense."
In his second season with ASU, Williams says he is bigger, faster and stronger. His listed weight is 235 pounds, but he said he's 243 pounds.
Coupled with Burks' listed weight of 247 pounds, the Devils have one of their larger linebacker duos in years.
ASU landed Williams after he had orally committed to Duke. He said he visited Arkansas, Kansas State and Texas but committed to Duke "to be a big fish in a little pond" while getting to play early and earning a Duke degree. Also, the other schools recruited him for the secondary.
Late in the process, ASU came calling and offered both the opportunity at linebacker and a chance to play early. He switched his commitment on his recruiting visit to Tempe.
Williams maintains he will bring the same interest in education at ASU that he was taking to Duke. He was "upset" with his 2.7 grade-point average last year and predicts a 3.5 this year. Burks is pleased to be at ASU so he can be closer to his family in California. He and his girlfriend have a child.
Asked what he brings to the defense, Burks said, "Intensity. I love to play. I love to have fun. I just want to do anything to help the team win."
Burks believes the Sun Devils are on the verge of a breakthrough season.
"Something great is about to happen at ASU," he said. "I want to be a part of it. Everybody's got good goals. Everybody wants to go to the Rose Bowl."
The Devils will need for the defense to make significant improvement from last year to reach their goal.
"We can be a great defense if we put our minds to it," Burks said. "If we do everything coach Guy tells us, we'll be in the right spots and we can make big plays and make a lot of things happen."
Added Williams, "Our goal right now is to surprise a lot people. We want this defense to be one you'll remember, one that people will be talking about for years."