Spring has sprung for ASU football as preparation for the 2023 season is officially underway. Music playing from the practice field can be heard from the parking lot, the gate to the field is propped open just enough for the allowed spectators to squeeze through. From all corners of the field, players and coaches cheer each other on and shout plays and formations from the sidelines.
On March 14, first-year head coach Kenny Dillingham, his staff and the team got to work together for the first time since they were recruited. Dillingham said the players are excited to be back on the field, but there's a lot of work to do.
"Practice has been a lot more intense than we used to," said senior ASU defensive back Chris Edmonds. "But this is good for us. This is what we need. It's been a lot of fun and a lot of energy. Coach Dillingham, he's on 10 at all times and that just helps bring energy to us. We just reciprocate."
Dillingham preaches two things for practice: intensity and physicality. The players can't be afraid to hit each other, everyone has to be at full speed at all times, and most importantly, there has to be ongoing competitiveness among players.
Throughout the entire practice, Dillingham runs from position group to position group giving his input and seeing what needs to be done.
He has a microphone hooked up to a loudspeaker he uses to bark instructions on what the groups are doing next. The microphone is used because his vocal cords can get gassed quickly, he said.
Dillingham doesn't just throw his players into practice with reckless abandon and expect them to improve. There has to be control in the chaos because without control, there are problems.
"I love competing. That's how I was raised, compete as much as possible," Dillingham said. "But if you lose control of yourself, that's when you have penalties concerning a problem. So the question we have is can you be as competitive as possible but be under control?"
Despite the constant balance of attitude, fun can also be had.
During one practice on March 18, a basketball hoop was wheeled into practice, and a full-on shootaround and dunk contest broke out on the field. From the outside looking in, this looks like an unnecessary distraction, but even activities like these promote competition.
Redshirt senior quarterback Trenton Bourguet said there is no other place in the country that does something like this – even a few of the coaches were playing some hoops.
"People get trapped in this business of college football, and they forget, we're dealing with 18- to 22-year-olds who have the same problem every 18- to 22-year-olds have," Dillingham said. "These guys still have to have a passion to have fun. They just looked at me like 'oh, here we go again.' I like to break up the monotony, and I think that's the key to it."
Dillingham said doing activities like these, amid the intensity, helps with the growing culture.
Even down to just a simple activity like one-on-ones, where a receiver lines up against a defensive back and contests for a ball thrown in their direction, it's apparent. Whoever wins that mini-battle gets the whole group excited. It feels loose.
"We're gonna have a lot of fun working really, really hard," Dillingham said. "But at the end of the day, we're going to be very direct. So if we have a bad day, they know it's a bad day. They know why it's a bad day and they understand that if we don't fix it, we'll have a lot more bad days in the future."
For a team with 43 new players, there is usually a lot of uncertainty. Instead, it feels like some of these guys have known each other for a while. Redshirt junior defensive lineman Prince Dorbah, who transferred from Texas during the offseason, called the energy unmatched.
"The love and energy here are contagious," Dorbah said. "The vibes here are unmatched compared to anywhere else I've been. Every day I wake up, and I'm excited to be here and excited to go to work with my guys every day."
While the Sun Devils are only three weeks into practice and there's questions to be answered for the upcoming campaign, these practices and how they're conducted can be a tell-tale sign that progress has been made under new leadership.
"You have to just compete," Dillingham said. "We have music playing all around practice, tells us to do different sorts of competition because that's really what it's about. We want to have an intensity about ourselves."
ASU's spring game will take place on Saturday, April 15, at noon MST at Sun Devil Stadium after the 19th annual Pat's Run, a 4.2-mile race honoring Pat Tillman.
Edited by Walker Smith, Piper Hansen and Caera Learmonth.
Vincent Deangelis is a full-time reporter for the sports department at The State Press. He has previously worked for Arizona PBS and AZPreps365.com.