Graham promotes even keel approach

Graham promotes even keel approach

Arizona State's adages such as High Octane and Left Lane-Hammer Down are anything but tranquil sayings. Nonetheless, while they convey the desire for a fast paced and passionate style of play, Sun Devil Head Coach Todd Graham doesn't want his players, or coaches for that matter, to exhibit any emotional highs or lows before or after a game.

After all, he knows who bears the ultimate accountability.

"I'll tell you that 100 percent of the times we lose, I will come in here and take 100 percent of the responsibility because that's the way it is," Graham said. "Whether you like it or not, you might as well take responsibility for it. Ultimately, that's what my job is. You don't get too high, you don't get too low. You just keep getting better. You have to keep working and getting better.

"I really believe that great players win big games. I think leadership and coaching loses close games. I'm proud of how our coaches respond but I'm not surprised. We've been around each other for a while."

Graham said that regardless of a contest's final score, he avoids reading any media articles, but does make a point to read his players' comments.

"The danger is when things are going good, you get swelled up with importance and you're going to get humbled," Graham explained. "You read the bad things and whether you want to or not, that effects you. You have to stay even and focused on what's at hand. You have to teach. That's what our guys have done. They're not going to flinch.

"They're going to work hard because we're not anywhere close to where we need to be. I'm very proud of the effort that we've had. We have a lot of work to do and we're working frantically around here. Obviously, we're excited and we're not surprised at where we are at. We have an opportunity to do something great but it's not going to be easy."

***

Speaking of challenging tasks, Arizona State will face a California team which has won eight of the nine last meetings and hasn't been defeated by a Sun Devil team in Berkley since 1997.

"I don't think about that," Graham stated. "I guess when you're involved in coaching a football team, what you did last year has nothing to do with what you're going to do this year. The hardest thing you have to do is win on the road. That's not easy. It's the hardest thing in college football.

"We do focus on that. I'll probably focus more on correcting the mistakes we had from our first road game (a 24-20 loss to Missouri) more than I will focus on what we did in 1999. The reason why you have something like that is because it's hard to win on the road. Each year it's a different team. They're not even the same guys. I don't see what that has to do with anything besides being something to talk about."

For Graham, an extra emphasis on fundamentals will serve his squad well not only in hostile environments, but also in highly competitive contests.

"There are so many things, fundamentally, right now that we've seen in the third week," Graham described. "When you're in a close game, you're going to lose the game because of those things. There were three games that weren't even close. I'm proud that we executed very well and dominated those games.

"Ultimately, I said at the beginning of the year that there will be a lot of close games. We have to win the close ones. We have a lot of work to do fundamentally to get better."

***

Pick a defensive category, any category, and chances are you will see ASU if not leading the Pac-12 in that statistical grouping be placed in the upper echelon. Three players on this side of the ball that have made their presence known thus far are defensive lineman Will Sutton, and linebackers Brandon Magee, and Chris Young.

"Will is a guy who's just scratching the surface," Graham said. "We've challenged Will to practice, walk and talk exactly how we want him to do it. He started to do that so the sky is the limit for him. In four games, I can't imagine that there's a defensive tackle in the country that has played better than Will Sutton has.

"Brandon Magee has been very consistent for us. He's very smart, very savvy and very experienced. Obviously, he has a knack for getting the football. He has gotten a couple interceptions. He's a very explosive blitzer. Again, he's another guy that we've challenged. We coach those two guys harder than anybody else on the defense, along with our two safeties.

"I've been very pleased with Chris Young's talent. It's amazing what he's been able to do in such a short period of time. The good Lord blessed him with some great skills and we're trying to take those skills and utilize them in our system. What I'm most proud of is that all three of those guys have stepped up and are going out and taking the practice field everyday and working hard to be better every single day. Those three aren't guys that because they excel, they can just go out on Saturday and think they can hang out and not work hard. These guys want to be good. I think that's one of the things we need to stay focused on. They can see that we have a lack of depth. We have to develop that depth. You aren't competing against the guy behind you. You are competing to be the very best. They've stepped up to that challenge that we've made."

***

These days even walk-ons, such as Andres Garcia, are making their mark even in a special team's role. Graham credited John Sanders, the team's Coordinator of Football Operations, for his involvement with the walk-on program and indentifying such talent as Garcia.

"We had a try-out and that's what we need to build here," Graham remarked. "To have a guy come out that has that kind of ability. He's a very powerful and quick guy. We identified that on special teams. That's something that I want to do. We've put five guys on scholarship since I've been here; five guys on scholarship that were walk-ons. That's something that I want to build on because this is a state university here. I want people in this valley to want it. If you have a dream of playing at this level, you can't walk-on at a better place. This place is going to give you an opportunity.

"Garcia came out here when school started and he's been on the football field. I think that says a lot. He's unusual because he's in really good shape, he's really strong and he's really quick and fast. We're proud of him. He's played on kick-off return. He spells Brandon Magee on kick-off return. He played on PBR last week and he went down on kick-off cover. We have a couple more guys (walk-ons) this week that might show up in there."

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