Osahon Irabor can still vividly remember the play that ended his first college football season before it ever really began.
In his sixth practice for Arizona State last fall, the cornerback made a break on the ball during one-on-drills inside the Dickey Dome and came away with an interception as he fell to the ground on top of his wrist.
"When I got up I was like, 'There's something wrong with it; I can't bend it anymore," Irabor recalled.
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The result of the play was a fractured navicular bone in his right wrist, which forced Irabor to redshirt during is first season. It was a disappointment to the Upland, Calif., native, especially because he'd been told leading up the the injury that he had an opportunity to earn significant playing time as a true freshman.
A seven-month rehab followed for the notoriously difficult-to-heal bone, a process that was frustrating at times for Irabor. During the period he expected to be adapting to the speed of the college game, he was instead relegated to the sidelines with an injury that only the medicine of time could properly heal.
"It was incredibly disappointing," said Irabor, who is slated behind junior Omar Bolden on the depth chart. "I didn't get to practice; I didn't get to get better, so spring ball this year was really my first time out there."
One advantage of the time away from the field, though, was extra time in the film room. After endless "mental reps," Irabor said he was well-prepared to return to the field this spring and his improvement has elevated in the fall.
In his first career game against Portland State last Saturday, Irabor -- still wearing a brace on his wrist -- came away with his first interception. It was an exciting moment for a player who spent a painstaking amount of time away from the game he came to Tempe so excited to play last fall and for the coaches who watched the work he put in to return.
"It could've happened last year is all I was thinking," Irabor said of his interception. "To finally be out there in the first game and get an interception, it felt great."
Irabor said he has benefitted greatly from playing behind Bolden, who attended Irabor's rival, Colony High, in California. As a sophomore, Irabor played against the then-senior Bolden and the two developed a friendly rivalry that they have grown as teammates.
"He helps a lot because he's tough on me," Irabor said of Bolden. "He's maybe a little tougher on me than everyone else because we're from the same area."
Irabor still knows he has some catching up to do. During Thursday's practice ASU cornerbacks coach Greg Burns had to remind the redshirt freshman that he was supposed to be lining up against a wide receiver, not a running back, when the scout team came out in a four-wide set.
But being on the field is the biggest step, a constant chance for progress.
"It's all about getting experience," Irabor said. "There's no substitution for being out on the field. Getting coached up and getting comfortable out there, it just takes some time."
Not to be taken lightly
ASU coach Dennis Erickson said he was pleased with the team's focus this week during practice, reminding his squad that its game against Northern Arizona can't be approached as a walk in the park.
"This is a good football team, Northern Arizona," Erickson said. "They've got a chip on their shoulder and that's just how it should be. I've been on the other side of these games before, and they've got some dang good athletes. They have a lot of guys from this area and they're going to come and play their rear ends off, so we better be ready to play."
Sophomore defensive tackles Corey Adams (knee) will not play Saturday. Junior tight end Trevor Kohl (hamstring) and sophomore defensive tackle Toa Tuitea (elbow) are also likely out against NAU, Erickson said Thursday.
Junior wide receiver Gerell Robinson (hamstring) is likely to play in his first game of the season after participating fully in practice this week.
Junior quarterback Steven Threet said he is excited to have another big target available in the 6-foot-4 receiver.
"G-Rob is a great receiver and we're happy that he's getting better and has a chance to be back on the field for us," Threet said.