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August 12, 2010

Bray hits ground running as linebackers coach

Trent Bray has to be getting dizzy.

The first-year Arizona State linebackers coach is conducting a new drill, one that calls for his players to quickly sprint their way around a tightly drawn circle while Bray, wearing pads on his arms, hits the linebackers at random times and forces them to adjust accordingly.

The coach is rapidly spinning in circles to stay a step ahead of his athletic players, constantly shouting instruction in the process.

"Read and react!" Bray shouts.

The scene has repeated itself numerous times in camp this fall, Bray often putting his own body on the line and placing himself in drills to satisfy his hands-on approach, demonstrating the actions behind his commands.

It's a method his players have quickly grown to appreciate.

"Trent really just knows how to get to each and every one of us," senior linebacker Gerald Munns said. "He knows how to talk to us, and from the young guys to the older guys he's very personable with each and every one of us."

Bray's ability to connect with the fast, talented and brash players he instructs is rooted in his own experiences as a two-time All-Pac-10 linebacker at Oregon State (2004, 2005), where he was recruited by his current boss, ASU coach Dennis Erickson.

After serving as graduate assistant in 2008, Bray, son of defensive coordinator Craig Bray ("I'm not as much of yeller," the younger said) coached linebackers for the United Football League's California Redwoods last season. But when a staff position opened up in Tempe about a month before the start of spring practice, the 27-year-old jumped at the opportunity.

The chance to "just work with different people," was the selling point for Bray, who, as Erickson pointed out during ASU Media Day, "has his hands full."

The linebacker position at ASU is rich with talent -- "We're six deep in players that could start at this level and for this team," Bray said -- and full of big personalities. But channeling the abundant energies of guys like sophomore Vontaze Burfict and junior Brandon Magee is a challenge Bray said he embraces.

"Trying to keep them focused but not stifling them," is Bray's approach, he said. "That's the biggest thing; letting them be themselves and have fun and do all that, yet focus when they need to focus."

The linebackers who were on the team when Bray coached the position as a graduate assistant in 2008, lined up as a group outside Erickson's office when a position came open earlier this year, eager to endorse Bray, who is only a few years an elder to some of Sun Devils on the roster.

"Trent was the guy we wanted because we all felt comfortable with the way he coaches," Munns said. The way he packages us as linebackers and the way he rotates us. In film [sessions] he knows exactly what he's talking about. It's a good experience every time we go in there, a learning experience."

Erickson said he knew what he was getting in Bray: A player who constructed a stellar college career despite having much less natural talent than many of the linebackers he now coaches.

"He was a great player there with very average ability, and he stood out because he was smart and he knew what was going on." Erickson said. "He communicates with those players extremely well. … He brings a lot to the table for us, and he's done a great job with them since he's been hired."

For Bray's part, he counts himself lucky to be working with such an impressive group in his first season.

"I'm real excited," he said. "I think they have a chance to be one of the best in the country at that position if we stay healthy."

Especially if their coach keeps mixing it up in practice.


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