In today’s social media-crazed society it’s unheard of for a high-profile Division I program to pull back the curtain on its’ football epicenter.
Unless Todd Graham is running the show.
Sunday morning in Tempe myself and a select few of the Phoenix sports media were given unprecedented insider access to Arizona State Sun Devil football meetings, practice and even a meal as ASU ramps up to their season opener against Texas A&M September 5th in Houston.
According to Associate Athletic Director for Communications Mark Brand, Graham first presented the behind-the-scenes idea shortly after returning from his European vacation this summer. The goal was to allow fans a transparent look at a “typical” in-season morning for the team.
Our small contingent was not allowed to shoot any video or have cell phone access during most of the events.
6:56AM: full team meeting on third floor of Carson Student-Athlete Center: the room is filled with players dressed in newly acquired Adidas sweats, workout shirts and shorts. Senior Associate Athletic Director of Football Tim Cassidy reminds the players to keep their dorms clean and orderly as they prepare for their annual trip to Camp Tontozona Tuesday.
7:07: Graham quickly walks in and the room instantly gets quiet. His voice hoarse, the head coach reminds the defense to stay physical, true to technique in practice before rattling off a few more bullet points for his squad to digest.
“It’s 1-0 in everything you do.”
“Are you focused when you walk in that door,” he bluntly asks his players. “I can promise you…if you’re the best player you’re going to play…I want to see some passion today!”
7:16: players break off into position meetings: Special Teams Coordinator Shawn Slocum now has the floor for the remaining student-athletes left in the large auditorium-style setting. He quickly runs through a power-point presentation.
“You’re accountable for the guy sitting next to you,” Slocum barks out. “You have to have a gladiator mentality.”
Graham silently stands off in the corner of the room with a dry-erase marker and white board intently plotting out schemes.
7:37: quarterback meetings, film work: Deputy head coach/offensive coordinator Mike Norvell sits at the large conference room table surrounded by (right-to-left) Brady White, Mike Bercovici, Manny Wilkins, Bryce Perkins and new “offensive assistant” Taylor Kelly.
Norvell is throwing out concepts quickly like an auctioneer at a classic car show. His fingers effortlessly mastering the clicker like a kid playing Xbox. The foursome of current QB’s hastily jot down notes in their binders. He shows a play from last year of Kelly missing an easy touchdown.
“Never go GA where you played,” Norvell quips, flashing a smile to Kelly who is sitting directly across the table. “Especially on bad clips.”
Bercovici has an answer for every one of his coaches’ questions, sometimes before his position coach finishes his thought.
8:09: Norvell still holding court as his quarterbacks respond, “Yes sir,” to each of his requests and sometimes more urgent demands. He shows a series of film clips from NFL stars Andrew Luck, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. The focus is watching their eyes, ball location and, even under pressure, making the right read and perfect throw.
8:19: “100% ball security,” Norvell stresses as the meeting breaks. “Let’s have a great day.”
9:07: practice starts inside the Verde Dickey Dome: Music blares on the overhead speakers as players stretch and warmup. Norvell claps and offers encouragement walking through the middle of the jogging lines.
9:37: individual groups dash to their set drills as yelling from nearly everyone on staff overlaps one another. It’s a typical Graham practice: no wasted time or movements as clocks in both end zones count down that particular “session.” Safety Jordan Simone and cornerback Lloyd Carrington are wearing Pat Tillman #42 practice jerseys. They’re awarded for excellent work on the field, in the classroom and the community. The backs of some of the teams’ helmets have stickers of both the Pac-12 and College Football Playoff National Championship trophy.
9:50: offensive players and coaches explode in applause as true freshman Perkins completes a deep throw. Shortly after, Graham is on the field in the middle of drills instructing his cornerbacks on proper hand technique when jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage.
10:37: he screams his approval after the defense picks off a pass in drills-one of three turnovers forced in Sunday’s practice.
11:17: true freshman White shows off his arm connecting with redshirt freshman receiver Jalen Harvey on a deep ball down the seam.
11:47: the near three-hour practice comes to a close as the players sprint to midfield. Graham’s nearly non-existent voice is the only one you hear off in the distance.
12:02PM: lunch on the fifth floor of the Carson Student-Athlete Center back on campus: the players randomly file into a long dining area which overlooks the south end zone inside Sun Devil Stadium. Each table is labeled with a position like “quarterbacks,” “running backs,” “linebackers,” etc. The spread of food is a nice balance of nourishment (salmon, salad, fruit) and taste (Italian beef sandwiches, soft serve ice cream). The “soda fountain” has no soda, only water and a variety of Powerade flavors. The cooler to the left is filled with individual servings of orange juice. One of the first things Graham did when he took over was clean up the training table selections.
12:16: he makes his way over to the designated “media table” and thanks us for coming. He is in no hurry to leave, asking us what we thought of the “experience” and how ASU could enhance it in the years to come.