Jason Shivers couldn't afford to play Pop Warner football when he was a kid growing up in Phoenix, but he still got two important things out of the youth league: a passion for the game—though he lacked a uniform, he went to all the practices and rehearsed the drills at home—and the inspiration to make money. He got his entrepreneurial start selling tomato plants to his neighbors, and now the Wildcats' junior free safety is incorporating the business he started in high school, Shivers Landscaping, which has 10 employees. Eventually he hopes to add a car wash and a minimart and more workers. "We've got a lot of deals going on right now," says Shivers, whose major combines business study and landscape architecture and whose list of adult responsibilities also include a three-year-old daughter, Takia, and a recently purchased house. "Fortunately, my business partner is running most things right now."
On the field the 6'1", 197-pound Shivers doesn't have the luxury of delegating any of his myriad duties. As the free safety in the Sun Devils' nickel defense, Shivers is the key playmaker, responsible for calling signals and stopping both the run and the pass. "He has to be part cornerback, covering a slot receiver when we're blitzing; he has to be a free safety in some coverages; and in the run game he's a linebacker," says Sun Devils coach Dirk Koetter. "It's a demanding position. Fortunately Jason has both confidence in his ability and actual ability."
The Arizona state champion in the 100-and the 200-meter dashes in his senior year at South Mountain High, Shivers has speed, stamina and the ability to take down opponents who sometimes outweigh him by 50 pounds. In 2001 he became the first Sun Devil to lead the team in tackles as a freshman, with 89; in his sophomore year he again was tops, with 121. "My position comes with a lot of heat," says Shivers, "but I love it because I get to be the quarterback of the defense."
His counterpart on offense, Heisman candidate Andrew Walter, completed 56.7% of his passes for 28 touchdowns and a school record 3,877 yards despite starting only the final 10 games as a sophomore last year. Walter will no longer have Shaun McDonald, who's gone to the NFL, as a target, but he will be able to count on a more experienced offensive line—five linemen return—and an improved running game.
Despite the early departures of McDonald and All-America defensive end Terrell Suggs, the Sun Devils hope to challenge for more than the Pac-10 title this year. "My eyes are set on the biggest prize, New Orleans and the national championship," says Shivers. You can be sure he means business.
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]