As ASU football coach Todd Graham spoke Monday in his pre-spring camp press conference, new athletic director Ray Anderson observed Graham behind all of the reporters and studied his enthusiasm as spring practice begins Tuesday.
Graham was eventually asked how excited he was to serve under Anderson. Graham answered by acknowledging Anderson’s presence in the back of the room, and Anderson jokingly offered to leave.
Anderson has worked his new role for barely more than a month. Graham has yet to even run a practice under his reign. Yet, that playful moment in the press conference alone showed the two men are in complete support of each other and expect nothing short of excellence.
“The support that is here right now is unprecedented,” Graham said. “I’m talking about from our president (Dr. Michael Crow), to our new athletic director, to what’s going on in athletics and to our boosters and our support from people that are out there.
“I don’t think there’s been a coach that’s set in this position that’s had the opportunity that we have to build a national power and build this program year in and year out.”
After the Sun Devils reached 10 wins and won the Pac-12 South last year, Graham reiterated Monday that the team’s motto is “Unfinished Business,” and that the goal is still 11 wins or more.
Tuesday will officially start Graham’s third campaign with the team. This year, he called spring practices the “winner training program.” The players have only been working out since their Holiday Bowl loss back on Dec. 30, but Graham said he’s already impressed with the team’s attitude and leadership leading up to practice.
The team’s glaring flaw of losing nine of its 11 defensive starters heading into next season was inevitably brought up in Monday’s press conference, but Graham hardly seemed concerned.
Graham seemed sanguine to watch certain players develop over the offseason like redshirt sophomore linebacker Salamo Fiso, redshirt senior defensive back Damarious Randall and redshirt sophomore defensive back Jordan Simone. He also mentioned that during recruiting, he made sure all of the prospects understood the Sun Devil Way before arriving on campus, rather than taking the time to teach it to them when they’re officially on the team.
“We graduated nine players on defense; we all know that,” Graham said. “There needs to be a lot of work that needs to be done with that. But again, that’s something I have a great deal of confidence in of our staff and our players that are coming in. We have a lot of great men coming in, too.”
The team will practice at least twice a week for the next five weeks and will end with the spring game on April 19. While Graham is optimistic for what’s to come for the team, the Sun Devils face another great challenge of reaching the Rose Bowl in 2015, followed by the College Football Championship Game.
“We’ve laid a good foundation, but we are by no means there,” Graham said. “We have a lot of work to do.”
— Graham said junior D.J. Foster will be the team’s “premier tailback” this season. Graham noted with the returning talent this offense has, he expects the team to be improved in “one-play touchdowns” when the regular season starts.
— Graham called redshirt senior quarterback Taylor Kelly the most respected and hardest-working player on the team. Even though winning the Heisman Trophy is a lofty goal, Graham said Kelly wants to win it this season.
— Graham praised sophomore linebackers Viliami Latu and Chans Cox for their intelligence, despite being young players, and said they are both dependable options to replace Carl Bradford at devilbacker.
— Although there was chatter of Marcus Ball switching to spur linebacker last year, Graham said the sophomore will stay at boundary safety this season because he likes Ball’s 6-foot-3 frame there. Ball sat out all of last year due to a clavicle injury he suffered during the preseason and will be limited during spring camp.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Josh_Nacion