BRANDON MAGEE FINISHED HIS 2010 SEASON STRONG, WITH 13 TACKLES IN AN EMOTIONAL double-overtime victory against in-state rival Arizona. He stood second on the team with 73 takedowns (48 solo), and he was poised for an even bigger 2011. But the course quickly turned for Magee during a scrimmage that summer. "August 13," Magee says. "I shuffled and planted, and, man, I knew something was wrong. I'd never felt that kind of pain before. I fell to the floor, and it was bad news." The pain was a ruptured left Achilles that ended not just Magee's football season, less than three weeks before the team's opening game against UC Davis, but also his three-year career as an outfielder for the Sun Devils baseball team, with whom he had gone to two College World Series.
Magee spent the fall in street clothes as the football team started 6--2, then dropped its final five games, surrendering the Territorial Cup back to Arizona in a 31--27 defeat and getting blown out by Boise State 56--24 in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas as Magee watched from the sideline. "It was tough," he says. "I wanted to be with my guys and help them win. But God had a different plan."
ASU's disappointing finish was followed by the departures of fellow linebacker Vontaze Burfict, a teammate of Magee's since their days at Centennial High in Corona, Calif., cornerback Omar Bolden and quarterback Brock Osweiler to the NFL, as well as the firing of coach Dennis Erickson. Magee spent the off-season waiting out the rumor-soaked coaching search while trying to focus on his recovery and his second chance at a senior season.
"I thought, I'm not going to come back the same player," Magee says. "People always want to get back to where they left off. I want to be better. I want to win the Butkus Award, and I think I can. Every time I work out is harder. Everything I do is 100% full go."
It's been a long road for Magee. He couldn't compete in full contact drills during the spring, instead taking part in seven-on-sevens when he could. He has had a difficult time rebuilding his stamina and met with the team dietician, Beth Gevirtz, to stay trim. But although Magee couldn't always compete physically, he has taken the reins as the vocal leader of the Sun Devils' new 3--4 defense.
"He's the energy and the synergy of this defense," says Graham. "We held him out a lot this spring because of the injury, and you can tell a difference when he's in there and when he's not. You've got to play defense with passion, and that's what he does."
Magee has never let go of his self-professed first passion, baseball. Although dividing his time between two sports limited his collegiate at bats to 29, in which he batted .103 mostly as a pinch hitter, he impressed the pros enough to sign with the Red Sox in July. He also intends to enter the NFL draft next spring.
Graham isn't concerned about Magee's busy agenda and says he knows he'll have an "explosive" player when the season starts. "You want a linebacker who can cover and blitz, and he can do it all," he says. "We're thrilled to have him coming back."
Magee is excited to return as well, especially against Arizona and its new starting quarterback, Matt Scott, another former high school teammate. The Sun Devils senior is eager to wrestle the Territorial Cup away from Scott and new coach Rich Rodriguez on Nov. 23.
"I'm ready. I guarantee I won't take a play off," Magee says. "I'm bringing the Cup back. No argument. No discussion. We're bringing it back."