Damon Magazu Feature: Recipe For Winning
Sept. 17, 2013
Originally printed Aug. 31, 2013 in the First and Goal football game program
By Jody Jones,
On a picturesque October afternoon in 2010, with the game hanging in the balance, freshman Damon Magazu forever secured his place in the annals of East Carolina Pirate football lore with the game-winning interception in the end zone against arch-rival NC State in overtime.
That play may be the most memorable play thus far in his career for ECU fans, but that's not how he hopes to evoke memories from the Pirate Nation.
"It's really fresh and it's something that I won't ever forget, but I don't want to be remembered for just one play," Magazu said. "I want to be remembered for a whole career as an impact player and a leader."
Magazu, a senior from Charlotte, made the first start of his career on that autumn day and has taken the field with the first unit defense in 24 of the 25 games played the past two years, ranking second on the team in tackles each of those seasons.
However, playing in all those games took a toll on his body. Magazu was diagnosed with a herniated disc during the spring of 2012 and endured the pain of the season that followed with epidural shots. Following the Pirates' New Orleans Bowl game, Magazu underwent back surgery and began a six-month rehab process.
An All-Conference USA Honorable Mention performer as a junior, Magazu missed spring practice, but it allowed him the chance to focus on becoming completely healthy, both physically and mentally.
"In some way in may have been a blessing in disguise," Magazu explained. "It was good not only to rest my body, but to rest my mind. I was able to get away from all the Xs and Os for a couple of months and concentrate on getting my legs back under me and my body back into shape."
With a fully recovered and well-rested Magazu in the mix, the Pirate secondary could be one of the deepest groups on this year's squad. In addition to Magazu, the four-position unit features three returning senior starters, including Adonis Armstrong and Chip Thompson to go along with six other letterwinners.
Defensive coordinator Rick Smith, who returned to ECU this winter after spending three seasons as secondary coach at USF, has been given charge over the group and improving the Pirates' overall defense, particularly against the pass.
"I've been really impressed with their work ethic," Smith explained about his secondary unit. "What has really impressed me has been their `want to.' We talk all the time about the three "W's," which are: Work, Want to win a championship and Willing to sacrifice.
"We have to be able to play smart, trust that each man knows what he is supposed to be doing and that they do their job. If all that happens we will be successful as a secondary group. If one piece falls apart, then everything we are trying to do will crumble."
As one of the seniors on this team, its Magazu's responsibility to ensure that everybody buys into the defensive philosophy presented by Smith.
"The attitude that we have is to compete every down. He stresses all the time to run to the ball. We worked on that all summer with Coach [Jeff] Connors and we just kept running and running and everybody bought into it. We have a great attitude about running this year and it's really starting to show on the field."
On the field is where Magazu and his teammates hope to make the most progress from a year ago and are using their 2012 their statistical deficiencies as motivation. ECU's pass defense ranked 10th in Conference USA and Magazu is determined that the Pirates' ranking will be much higher this season.
"We don't want to be the Achilles heel of the team, nobody does," he said. "We don't want to let our teammates or coaches down. Coach Smith has instilled a lot of confidence in some of the players that might have lost it. Our confidence is growing everyday competing against the great offense we have and we're proving to ourselves and to everyone else out here that we can compete against every team."
Competition is one thing that Magazu has never backed away from. The art of facing a challenge head on was instilled in him by his father and two older brothers, who have also enjoyed professional and college football careers.
His father, David, currently serves as the offensive line coach for the Denver Broncos. His eldest brother, Anthony, played quarterback at Kent State and brother Dominick played wide receiver at Boston College and Appalachian State.
"We played a lot of backyard football and I was always the monkey in the middle playing defense, because they wanted to play catch," Magazu chuckled as he explained. "I developed a lot of skills playing against them and my dad gave my a lot of input; both the father version and the coach version. He did a great job of giving me the good and the bad.
"My dad and my two older brothers really pushed me and put a fire in me that I've kept my entire life. They've influenced me a lot and taught me how to compete in everyday situations."
Magazu has competed from the first day he stepped into the Cliff Moore Practice Facility. As a freshman he played primarily on special teams before winning the starting job at free safety the next season.
During the two seasons that followed, he compiled 160 tackles, five interceptions and seven pass break-ups. Among those five pick-offs is the often forgotten, game-saving grab in the end zone against UCF in 2011.
ECU led 38-31 as the Knights drove down the field with 2:10 to play. After being stifled at the 14-yard line, UCF quarterback Blake Bortels rifled a fourth-down pass into the end zone where Magazu took it away and ran back out to the 15-yard line with just over a minute to play, sealing the win for his senior teammates in their final home game.
"I love Damon Magazu," Smith told HoistTheColours.net. "We recruited him out of high school the year before I left and I was sad I couldn't take him with me. He's a real coach's pet. He's not athletic, and he'll tell you that, but he's a football player."
He's become a slimmer football player this season, dropping 13 pounds in the off-season, partially in thanks to his own cooking. His zeal for preparing his own meals has been well publicized, as has his teammates' delight in partaking of his various cuisines.
"I think it's relaxing," Magazu explained. "After a long day of classes, meetings and practices, its unlikely that my roommates are going to have dinner waiting for me, so I just had to learn. I think it's a good skill to have so I can cook a nutritious meal for my family in the future. It's a lot cheaper and healthier."
Magazu hopes he and his Pirate teammates have the recipe to cook up a Conference USA title and a bowl game win in 2013 as ECU exits the league for the American Athletic Conference. Magazu has played in two bowl games, but has yet to bring home a trophy and wants nothing more than to end his career as a conference champion capped with a bowl game victory.
"We've been striving to win a conference championship since I got here and it's something that would be so great for the program to bring it back to Greenville in our last year. It would be nice to go out on top."