It's been an unpredictable five years for Brandon Magee in Tempe. The former Corona Centennial (CA) star committed to Arizona State, along with a number of his high school teammates, after an impressive 2007 season for Sun Devils, with hopes of continuing the team's winning ways under then Head Coach Dennis Erickson.
After three losing seasons, another one lost due to an Achilles injury during spring practice and a coaching change, Magee had every reason to be frustrated with his situation. However, being the natural leader that he is, Magee quickly asserted himself as the man in charge inside the ASU the locker room after the hiring of Todd Graham, looking to right the ship before his time was up at ASU.
Despite lowly preseason projections and heavy criticism as a team that had lost its way and needed to start over, Magee helped rally the Sun Devils in 2012, finishing 7-5 (5-4 conference) and positioned to play in their second consecutive bowl game. The Sun Devils capped it all off last weekend with their thrilling 41-34 come from behind win over rival Arizona in Tucson, reclaiming the prized Territorial Cup and giving Magee the ideal send off.
"It was big time," expressed Magee after practice on Saturday about the win at Arizona. "That's the biggest win of my career so far. Well, that one and the win against them in 2010. To go out like that in my senior year, to win down in Tucson, that's truly a blessing. And to be able to do it with these teammates and this coaching staff, it's the best."
Magee, perhaps, saved his best for last, finishing the game against the Wildcats with 17 total tackles, 14 of which were solo tackles, the most for any player throughout the history of the rivalry between the two teams. Trailing heading into the fourth quarter, Arizona State relied on the efforts of its defense to overcome Arizona, much to the delight of Magee.
"You know, it was really funny, because as the fourth quarter came, I remember them playing a song, and they had people on their team dancing on the sideline," said Magee. "I don't know if you caught that, but they were loose with it. They really thought they were going to pull the game out, so to beat them and have them all silent at the end, it was truly an experience."
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Magee soaked it all in, celebrating with his teammates and Sun Devil fans. As the ASU marching band serenaded the team with the school's fight song from atop Arizona Stadium, Magee quickly retrieved the Territorial Cup from the Wildcat sidelines, presenting it to Coach Graham as the team celebrated in style.
"That's how you're supposed to do it when you win; act like you've been there before," said Magee.
With the win, Arizona State cemented its hope for another bowl invitation, the second consecutive year the team will go bowling after missing out the previous three years. For Magee though, it will be his first bowl experience as the linebacker missed all of the 2011 season after suffering an Achilles injury during the offseason, giving him one final farewell.
"This will be my first time actually getting to play in a bowl game," he said. "Last year I missed it, but to be playing in a bowl game to end my ASU career, it's an all-time high for me. We don't know who we're playing yet, but it's going to be fun."
Last year, the Sun Devils broke their bowl drought with an appearance in the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl but were soundly defeated 56-24 by Boise State, sending ASU to their fifth consecutive loss and the firing of Dennis Erickson as coach. While their bowl destination may still be unknown, Magee confidently believes the outcome will be different for the Sun Devils this time around.
"I'm going to make sure that doesn't happen again," remarked Magee. "In terms of preparation, as of right now, I think we're practicing really hard for us to be so far away from the game. Our coaches won't let us slip and these players won't let us slip, especially our seniors."
Despite coming off the injury, Magee submitted his finest season at Arizona State in 2012, finishing second in the conference with 104 total tackles, becoming the first Sun Devil to record more than 100 tackles in a season since Robert James in 2007. He has been a catalyst for an ASU defense that finished 27th in the nation in total defense and second in both sacks and tackles for a loss.
Magee was recently recognized for his efforts on the field by being selected to the All Pac-12 Second Team Defense. And while he may be proud of the distinction, Magee wasn't shy to express that he felt he played at a level above that.
"I think I performed well," he said. "I performed as well as I did because my (defensive) line was excellent this year, the secondary played great and our defensive schemes were outstanding. The coaches put me in great positions to make plays, so I just followed the rules and did my job every game.
"As far as the Pac-12 honors goes, I don't want to get too much into that. As far as stats go, look at the first team and then look behind. I don't want to say anything, but…"
Nevertheless, Magee wasn't about to allow the perceived first-team snub deflect from his enthusiasm for the way his senior season has played out so far. He remains thankful for the opportunity he has had, starting his career with a number of his former high school teammates - Vontaze Burfict, Shelly Lyons and Will Sutton - and now getting to experience his first bowl game.
Magee has helped elevate the program in his final year, easing the transition for Coach Graham in his first season at Arizona State and firmly believing that the program is headed for better days.
"It feels good, especially to have seven wins right now," he said. "We have a good opportunity to get eight. Since I've been here, the most wins I've gotten is six, so to possibly beat that by two games would be pretty cool. And the future for ASU is looking bright.
"I'd say from a recruiting standpoint we're going to get all the top recruits. Our coaching staff is chasing all the good guys with character; the people that will play hard and represent our program and understand what we're working on here. The sky's the limit for us."
Despite his looming departure, Magee feels that there are a still a number of players on the defensive side of the ball who will rise to the occasion next year, asserting themselves as the leaders and captains of a squad that will hope to compete for that allusive division title.
"I'd say, looking ahead, if Sutton's still here, he'd definitely be it," remarked Magee. "And Alden Darby for sure. At linebacker though, I'm going to go with Steffon Martin to be the leader of that group. And the surprise guy next year, this is easy, will be Grandville Taylor. And the youngin' that steps up next year will be Carlos Mendoza."
As for what's ahead for Magee, that's yet to be determined. Also an outfielder for the Sun Devil baseball team, the two sport star was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 23rd round of the 2012 Major League Baseball draft. He signed a multi-year deal with the team shortly thereafter, but after a strong senior campaign on the gridiron, Magee is leaving the door open for a possible future in football and perhaps not baseball after all.
"I'm not sure yet," said Magee with a smile when asked what his plans were after graduation. "After the season I'm training for the combine. So, we'll see what happens with that. I'd like to try it first."
Whichever sport he chooses, Magee will surely be a fan favorite of amongst Sun Devils for years to come.