ASU football, Todd Graham honor veterans with 'Salute to Service'

The Sun Devils have a rich tradition of student athletes and military service

Anyone who has heard the name Pat Tillman and understands his legacy knows there isn't a higher bar in ASU athletics than the one set by No. 42, who gave his life in the line of duty.

But for ASU football head coach Todd Graham, he's seen the legacy extended by former and current players – notably former Sun Devil defensive tackle Jake Sheffield and junior defensive lineman Christian Hill, who served in the Air Force out of high school before playing at Glendale Community College. 

Graham cited the service of his grandfathers in the armed forces as one reason for his reverence of military veterans. He also visited the beaches of Normandy, where he had a chance to reflect on the "unbelievable price and loss of life" that occurred on D-Day – June 6, 1944. 

"It's not just something that we do," Graham said regarding this week's "Salute to Service" game against Utah. "I try to work hard to teach our players and to teach my kids just how important it is to respect the price that's been paid for us to do this."

Last season, the Sun Devils (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) honored Tillman by sporting his last name on their uniforms in the Salute to Service game against Oregon at Sun Devil Stadium.

The game on the gridiron and wars taking place on remote battlefields are compared relentlessly, and do have many parallels. 

But only Hill, Sheffield, Tillman, and a select few other than the student athletes who are contractually obligated to serve due to their enrollment at a military academy (Army, Navy, and Air Force) can truly know the difference between the two. 

"We pride ourselves on discipline," Graham said. "When you see Christian walk in the room or Jake walk in the room, it's a different level." 

Despite being told over and over again that he wasn't good enough, Hill's determination has been nothing short of extraordinary.

"He didn't care what I said, he didn't care what my evaluation was," Graham said. "He was going to do it. And so many people let somebody else put parameters on their dreams. And that's what I'll always think of him because he's one of those guys who surprised me." 

Graham has long understood and appreciated the significance of athletics, scholarship and the military at ASU – three facets that will always be intertwined at the University.

"I'm very grateful to coach at the place that Pat played," Graham said. "I know it's hard not to see that we take that for granted. And that's why it's so important that we don't just recognize that today, that we do it every day."  

Notes:

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins led the first team offense at this morning's practice in 11-on-0 walk throughs. Freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole was with the second team, and freshman Jack Smith worked with the third team. 


Reach the reporter at smodrich@asu.edu or follow @StefanJModrich on Twitter.

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