Tag: Pac-12

Battle For The Territorial Cup At Highest Level in Years

TEMPE – The 92nd meeting between Arizona and Arizona State heads for the gridiron this Saturday and supporters of both schools couldn’t be more pleased.

In a year when both schools were predicted to finish at the bottom of the Pac-12 South Division, they are now playing for a second place finish behind the University of Southern California. Depending on what part of the state you were in, the opinions varied on who would claim the cellar, yet neither fan base had much hope for even becoming bowl eligible this season.

The Wildcats started the season with Brandon Dawkins under center. Dawkins struggled in the opener against in-state FCS opponent Northern Arizona University, putting up a paltry 7-of-13 for 89 yards and one touchdown pass.

Is Tate the Cure-All for the Wildcats?

Head coach Rich Rodriguez’s squad would go on to lose two of the next three at home to Houston and Utah before opting to shake things up at the quarterback position. Enter sophomore Khalil Tate, and the rest they say, is history.

Tate rushed for 327 yards and four touchdowns while throwing for another 142 yards and a touchdown against Colorado sparking a huge four-game win streak with Tate ripping off big runs and scoring almost at will. During the stretch, Tate piled up all the accolades thanks to his five passing and four rushing touchdowns.

Over the past three weeks, the ‘Cats and Tate hit a roadblock losing two of three with their only victory being over a one-win Oregon State team.

The scene in Tempe was much more bleak at the start of the 2017 season. The Sun Devils were coming off their worst season of the Pac-12 era where they literally gave up in the final game of the 2016 season surrendering 56 points in Tucson.

The writing was on the wall for the Sun Devils and head coach Todd Graham – this was unacceptable.

Armed with a healthy quarterback in Manny Wilkins, a five-star backup quarterback who started for Alabama last year and a new coordinator on each side of the ball, the Sun Devils looked ready to compete.

Until the season started.

The Sun Devils were embarrassed in their home opener by nearly losing to New Mexico State and going on to lose the next two non-conference games to San Diego State and Texas Tech.

All was not well in Tempe and losses in what was supposed to be the easy part of the schedule looked to be a harbinger of things to come with conference play looming large.

N’Keal Harry Doing Great Things

Conference play for the Sun Devils was a gauntlet facing three ranked teams at home including Oregon, Washington and USC along with two tough road games at always-tough Stanford and Utah.

Nobody in their right mind could have predicted that the Devils would go on to beat then-No. 24 Oregon or then-No. 5 Washington, but the defense stepped up big…I mean huge. They were close wins, but they were wins—against ranked teams and the Sun Devil faithful believed once again.

The road games against Stanford, Utah, UCLA and Oregon St. were a literal “Tale of Two Devil Teams.”

After beating Oregon at home, Graham took his team on the road to face Heisman Trophy finalist running back Bryce Love and the Stanford Cardinal. Love, the former track and field speedster proved why he was a front-runner shredding the Sun Devil defense for 301 yards and three touchdowns.

Following the Washington win, the Devils put on a defensive clinic at Rice-Eccles Stadium holding the Utah Utes to three points for the first 57 minutes of the game. The road woes came back to haunt the Devils losing in embarrassing fashion to a hapless UCLA team. True to form, the following road game showed the offensive firepower of Manny Wilkins by scoring the first 30 points against Oregon State.

The momentum coming into the game is definitely on the side of the Sun Devils who have won two of their last three with the Wildcats losing two of three. All bets are off, however, when it comes to a rivalry game.


The Greatest Picture of all Time

Most odds-makers have this game as a ‘pick-em’ meaning there is no clear favorite so bet accordingly. Here are a couple nuggets that will make this game all the more exciting.

  • The team with the worse record has won 13 times since 1979, ASU was nationally ranked four times during that span and lost to Arizona. Arizona was nationally ranked once and lost to ASU 7-6 in 1992.
  • The team with the worse record has won five of the last seven years.
  • The home team has won the past four years and 11 of the past 20 years.
  • Arizona State (Normal School) won the first ever meeting in 1899.
  • Arizona leads the all-time series 49-40-1.
  • Since Arizona State became a university in 1958, the Sun Devils lead the series 31-26-1.
  • Since both teams moved to the Pac-10 from the WAC in 1978, Arizona leads 21-17-1 including a streak of 9-0-1.
  • This century, ASU leads 10-7 and has won three of the past five years.

Regardless of what you think will happen, the opposite will usually occur. This game has seen it all from Arizona students burning the brand new field at Sun Devil Stadium in 1958 to two blocked PAT’s on a cold December night in 2010.

While that stung for Arizona, they will always have their big moment. In 1986, both teams came in to the game nationally ranked; the ‘Cats were 7-2 and ranked No. 14 and hosted the No. 4 Sun Devils who came to Tucson sporting a 9-0-1 record. Of course, Arizona went on to win that game being the only blemish on the Pac-10 and Rose Bowl champion’s resume.

This year’s game in Tempe has big bowl implications when we thought for sure the only thing they would be fighting for was saving their head coach from the unemployment line.

National Signing Day Looms Large for Arizona State Football

TEMPE — It’s National Signing Day, when 17 and 18 year old boys decide put their signature where there mouth is. A day where fax machines get their biggest workout of the year and after all is said and done, a ritual as tried and true as any other rears it’s ugly head.

Middle-aged men will be complaining and in some cases cursing these young boys and their families.

It’s disgusting…but it happens, every year.

I get it, they want what is best for their favorite team or Alma Mater, but “C’mon Man,” this is a young man who is in most cases still in high school. The biggest decision that I had to make my senior year was whether to go to Burger King or Pizza Hut for lunch; but I never had somebody twice my age calling me out on social media because I just wasn’t in the mood for a Whopper.

Friday Night Lights

Eno Benjamin Brings Texas Football to Tempe

High school football is king in Texas.

Despite all the Hook ‘Em, Gig ‘Em and whatever inappropriate things said at Baylor, the state of Texas lives and breathes for high school football.

A whopping 46 players on ESPN’s Top 300 hail from the state of Texas with Georgia and California trailing but not close. 15 percent of the country’s top-ranked players call the Lone Star State home and the third best running back from the talent-rich state has already enrolled in Tempe.

Eno Benjamin is from Wylie East High School in Wylie, Texas just outside Dallas and has been one the best recruiters for the Sun Devils.

An early enrollee, Benjamin could not wait to get on campus and arrived in Tempe the day after announcing his commitment at the All-America Bowl.

Benjamin not only excels on the gridiron but also in the classroom, he is in the Barrett Honors College and looking to major in business law.

The Alabama Connection

The top teams stay at the top due to recruiting and the Alabama Crimson Tide is a perfect example.

Despite losing in the National Championship earlier this month to Clemson, Nick Saban and his coaching squad has had a top recruiting class year in and year out. This year is no different, ESPN.com ranks Alabama at the top of the heap with 24 commits including three 5-star and 17 4-star recruits.

By comparison, Arizona State checks in at No. 37 on the same list with six 4-star and 11 3-star recruits. If ever there was a team to emulate, it would be Alabama: and Arizona State is doing just that.

Can Barnett Overtake Manny Wilkins at QB?

It started with wooing quarterback Blake Barnett who played in Bama’s first game of the 2016 season defeating one of Arizona State’s most-hated rivals—the University of Southern California.

Barnett was nearly perfect against the Trojans connecting on 5-of-6 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. After seeing limited playing time, Barnett left Alabama after week four and signed with the Devils in December.

It was originally believed that Barnett would have to sit out the 2017 season but Barnett found out the day before National Signing Day that he would be eligible to play opening day due to an appeal ruling.

Next up on the Alabama hit list was Brandon Ruiz.

The Sun Devils just bid farewell to unanimous All-American kicker Zane Gonzalez and were worried that they would never be able to fill his shoe.

The local product out of Gilbert Williams Field High School would routinely nail 70+ yard field goals and was thus heavily recruited by Nick Saban and Alabama. On June 10th, 2016 Ruiz committed to Alabama…seven months later, he opted to stay true and committed to Arizona State.

Flipping former Alabama players and commits is one thing but the real coup de grace is being able to acquire one of the Crimson Tide’s top recruiters.

Napier Brings Recruiting Clout to Tempe

On Monday, Arizona State announced that Alabama’s Wide Receivers Coach Billy Napier was named Lead Offensive Coordinator. Over the past five years at Alabama, Napier was an integral part of the 2011 and 2015 National Championship teams and coached in the 2016 game.

Prior to his time at Alabama, Napier was the Offensive Coordinator/ Quarterbacks Coach at Clemson under Dabo Swinney.

The 2008 Clemson recruiting class was ranked as the No. 2 class in the country and the 2009 offense set an all-time school record for most points in a season under his tutelage.


Bishop Gorman High School

In Nevada, there is only one high school that matters, and it is Las Vegas’ Bishop Gorman High School. Five of the top six rated players in Nevada are all on the same squad including defensive backs Bubba Bolden and Alex Perry. Bolden had originally committed to Southern Cal but backed out when he learned that his best friend Perry had committed to Arizona State.

Bolden Looks Incredibly Happy Here

In an announcement akin to Snoop Dogg, Jr. committing to UCLA, Bolden re-committed to USC at the All-American Bowl stunning Sun Devil faithful everywhere.

There are still those holding out hope that Graham and company have the clout to flip Bolden to join Perry and Scottsdale Saguaro’s KJ Jarrell, the No. 5 ranked player in Arizona and the No. 28 safety in the country.

If the Devils were to score a coup with flipping Bolden and then he and Perry would go on to perform as expected, it would bode very well for an excellent recruiter like Napier to have a BG pipeline. Imagine the amazing things that the remaining three 4-star recruits from Gorman could have done for Arizona State.

Staying True to ASU

It’s no secret that the “School Down South” has difficulty recruiting when it comes to football. Of the top 20 recruits according to ESPN.com, only three have committed to The University of Arizona. Arizona State on the other hand has been ‘in the mix’ for every top player coming out of Arizona with nine commits from the Grand Canyon State including three of the top five.

Can Jarrell Save This Defense?

The state’s top player, offensive tackle Austin Jackson visited four Pac-12 schools including Oregon, Washington, USC but saved Arizona State for his last official visit on December 2nd. He has kept his selection close to the vest but has since eliminated Oregon from his final three.

Scottsdale’s Saguaro High School had a decent 2016 season.

They dominated each opponent they faced going 14-0 with a phenomenal 183-30 scoring advantage in the 4A State Playoffs and finished the year as the the state’s 2nd ranked team behind 6A State Champion Chandler High School.

In addition to the aforementioned safety, KJ Jarrell, three more of Arizona’s top 20 players are from Saguaro High School and have committed to Arizona State. Offensive guard Corey Stephens, outside linebacker Kyle Soelle and tight end Jared Poplawsksi are all rated as 3-star recruits and will look to maintain the strong pipeline to Arizona State.

Other schools in the southeast Valley are staying true to ASU with the state’s No. 3 and No.4 players coming from Gilbert’s Highland High and Chandler’s Basha High. Both Tyler Johnson and Ryan Kelley are ranked by ESPN as 4-star recruits but only Johnson is listed on ESPN’s Top 300.

The tide is starting to turn, no longer are the top players in the state looking to get away to the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles or the tradition of playing in the SEC or Big Ten. The Sun Devils are on the cusp of greatness and this year’s Signing Day is merely the beginning of something great.

I hope you are along for the ride.

Tempe Chamber of Commerce Hosts Kickoff Luncheon

Ray Sparky

The Tempe Chamber of Commerce hosted another legendary luncheon in anticipation of the 2014 Sun Devil Football season. Frank Kush was there, Rose Bowl winning quarterback Jeff Van Raaphorst was there, the 2013 Pac-12 Coach of the Year Todd Graham was there and so was DieHard Devil.

It was a veritable “Who’s Who” of Arizona State football at the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel, just a stone’s throw away from Sun Devil Stadium. The ballroom was packed, and the Tempe Chamber of Commerce sold out the event with 520 passionate Sun Devil football fans in attendance.

“We enjoy a wonderful relationship with the University, we’re partners on many different levels” Sean Donovan, Vice President of Media and Program Development told me prior to the event. “This is one opportunity to show our support very publicly and very visibly. We are happy to celebrate the start of the new season and bring the wonderful people and passionate players of Arizona State University to the community.”

Tempe ChamberThe “Voice of the Sun Devils,” Tim Healey, hosted the ceremony and incited the room of fervent Sun Devil football fans with talk of Arizona State truly having “unfinished business.” While it is always nice to say that the Devils are the defending Pac-12 South champion, there is so much more work to be done. The Pac-12 Championship, the Rose Bowl, and, yes, even the National Championship are goals for the 2014 Sun Devil football team.

The daughter of legendary Arizona State basketball and baseball coach, Bill Kajikawa, Dr. Christine Wilkinson spoke to the crowd on behalf of the ASU Alumni Association. Dr. Wilkinson, the President of the Alumni Association, has worn several hats at the University, including interim Athletic Director, and has more knowledge about the school and its history than even the most passionate alum.

Healey’s partner for the past 20+ years, Jeff Van Raaphorst joined him to discuss where the Devils have been and where they are going, and it’s evident that the Rose Bowl is only a step along the way. Van Raaphorst admitted that current ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly has the ability to eclipse his records and has the opportunity to join him among ASU’s elite quarterbacks.

Vice President of University Athletics, Ray Anderson joined the hosts on stage to talk about playing with class. “There will be no trash talking on this team,” Anderson told the crowd. “Sun Devils will play with class, honor and integrity. This will also be evident in how they live their lives off the field as well.”

With Jamil & The Cup

With Jamil & The Cup

I was hoping to see more unorthodox footwear from head football coach Todd Graham at the event. He has worn boots to flip-flops to address the media this year, but today was just a pair of smart, black dress shoes while he spoke with Healey and Van Raaphorst.

“We have unfinished business this year,” Graham said. “Our goal is not only to return to the Pac-12 Championship Game, but also the Rose Bowl and the National Championship. While those goals may be lofty, I believe in our guys. We are faster, smarter and more physical than previous years, so that is what’s expected.”

The Territorial Cup made its appearance when Kelly and offensive lineman Jamil Douglas joined the panel. Kelly and Douglas reinforced the “unfinished business” mantra and voiced their desire to take the Pac-12 and the nation by storm.

When Healey asked Douglas “What part of the Territorial Cup victory was most difficult for you?” He responded “Hoisting the cup after the game.”

“It was more taxing holding the cup up for so long than actually winning it.” Douglas said in closing.

Let’s hope they have no problem keeping the cup for years to come.


Sun Devil Stadium’s Good Neighbor: An Update on the State Farm Insurance Building

State Farm

For students that attended Arizona State in the ‘90s and 2000s, the dreaded north portion of Lot 59 was the last result for students commuting to the Tempe campus. It was also the home to some of the best tailgate parties known to man.

Sun Devil Stadium was home to Super Bowl XXX in 1996 and the NCAA Football National Championship in 1999. The NFL Experience took over the entirety of Lot 59 while the tailgate in the north lot of 59 prior to the ’96 National Championship was legendary. I was a student for both games and was slinging drinks at private tailgate parties for corporate honchos and generous donors.

The GameDay Crew was greeted by raucous fans.

The GameDay Crew was greeted by raucous fans.

ESPN’s renowned program “College GameDay” filmed live there with the Tempe Town Lake as a scenic backdrop in 2005. Former Arizona State student Jimmy Kimmel did a piece for “Jimmy Kimmel Live” during the tailgate and I had the chance to talk to his Aunt Chippy yet didn’t make the broadcast.

The school stopped offering game parking in the lot a few years back and I remembered thinking that Arizona State was trying to shed its party-school image and closing down the rowdiest tailgate lot would be a logical first step.

When it was announced that the lot would be transformed into a two million-square-foot, 20-acre, $600 million mixed-use development, it was evident that the school was focused on developing around the legendary stadium and making use of the trendy lake-front property.

The Marina Heights development will be anchored by State Farm Insurance and will feature 2.6 million square feet of office space in five buildings, the largest office development in Arizona history. There will also be an estimated 50,000 sq. ft. of retail space to service the employees. The company based out of Bloomington, Ill., is also establishing regional headquarters in Dallas and Atlanta but will retain its main headquarters in Illinois.

The Arizona Board of Regents signed the pre-paid 99-year lease with SunBelt Holdings, Ryan Companies and State Farm Insurance for approximately $31 million, not a bad day’s work. Couple that $31 million payday with 8,000 jobs that will be created by the insurance carrier along with an estimated 6,000 retail employees by 2017, the Marina Heights project is a huge win for Tempe and Arizona State University.

Marina HeightsOn a side note, there will still be a huge parking lot that might be available for game day parking so it may be possible to have our cake and eat it too.

The completion date for the main building is scheduled for mid-2015 with total completion by 2017. State Farm has already held several career fairs and the regional headquarters will serve as a hub for claims, service and sale support, according to the press release.

Years of city planning are finally being realized after filling the dry riverbed and estimates are in the Billions, yes, with a capital B, in lakeside development that has been built or is on the way.

The centerpiece of development may be the lake, but I tend to believe that everybody just wants to be close to the hallowed grounds of Sun Devil Stadium. 

Arizona State Football: Third Down and Pac-12 Championship To Go


We are less than a month away from kickoff of the 2014 season, summer workouts are complete and the team returns to Camp Tontozona is less than two weeks. Pac-12 Media Day was a resounding success and the Sun Devils were predicted to finish third in the Pac-12 South by media members that cover the league.

There’s that number again…three. It must truly be a magical number.

Keeping in the context of the magical number three, let’s examine the all-important third down. In the perfect world, we would never need third downs as Taylor Kelly and his arsenal of weapons would nail a first down, every down.

ASU leading receiver Jaelen Strong

ASU leading receiver Jaelen Strong

This is a world where the University of Arizona still has a football team and the University of Southern California was predicted to finish above the Sun Devils in a preseason poll, so this world is far from perfect.

Third downs tell the story of how the offense responds under pressure and how it deals with adversity—will they extend the possession or will they fold?

In 2013, the Sun Devils third conversion rate was less than stellar, converting only 39 percent of the time. The bright side of the coin, however, is that Taylor Kelly will still be under center this year.

Kelly led the team last year with 30 rushes on third down. Half of those crucial runs netted the necessary yardage to extend the drive while six of the runs ended up in the end zone. The entire team totaled only three third down touchdowns all season…three.

Kelly’s 7.6 yards per carry on third down led the team and his six touchdowns on third down was second best in the country. If history tells us anything, the future looks bright on third down as long as Kelly is on the field.

The top teams in the country do well in their third down conversions so it’s no mystery that extending drives leads to winning games. National Champion Florida State finished third nationally with a 52.2 percent conversion rate while Pac-12 Champion, Stanford led all teams in the conference at 49.7 percent and tenth nationally.

Lame LaneArizona State’s 39.1 percent conversion was quite pedestrian, finishing eighth in the conference and 77th nationally. Kelly has a multitude of weapons other than playmakers Jaelen Strong and D.J. Foster.

The Sun Devils lit up opponents in 2013 with a record-breaking six games of 50 or more points including a stretch of four games against Pac-12 opponents and one opposing coach fired on the tarmac.

We know that the team can score early and often, but imagine if you will, how dominant the team would be if they could convert third down conversions half of the time like Pac-12 North foe, Stanford…they would be unbeatable.

This is the year that it all comes together, and after claiming victory in the brutal four-game stretch against UCLA, USC, Stanford and Washington, the nation will notice that Arizona State football is a legitimate contender for not only the Conference title but also the National Championship.

Legendary Frank Kush Field Remains a Place of Reverence and Mystique


Kush StatueI remember like it was yesterday. It was a Friday, just a few weeks into another school year at Arizona State. I woke up around 10, threw on my school uniform which consisted of a t-shirt, shorts, flip-flops, hat and dark sunglasses and headed to the MU to grab some grub before class.

The campus was abuzz as the football team was hosting the two-time defending National Champion Nebraska Cornhuskers and with typical aloof, even the most die-hard fans knew that we had no chance on the gridiron come Saturday.

The Devils were blown out in Lincoln the year before to the tune of 77 points and the Huskers’ most recent national championship came here in Tempe against a previously undefeated Florida Gators team.

The Huskers had won 37 straight regular season games coming into the matchup, but the Arizona State administration had the equalizer. On September 21, 1996, on the morning of the big game, the field was named in honor of Frank Kush the legendary Sun Devil coach.


The goalposts didn’t stand a chance.

On Frank Kush Night, a statue was unveiled of the field general with 200 of his ex-players in attendance. Over 74,000 Sun Devil faithful were in attendance for the upset of the decade. 

The Devils shut-out the Huskers for the first time in 23 years and did it on offense and defense with a record three safeties.

The House of Heat earned its name that night not only due to its 91-degree weather at kickoff but also by how Jake Plummer, Derrick Rodgers and Keith Poole torched the team that hadn’t lost a game in over two seasons.

With all the discussion about the new stadium renovation, it’s the field that deserves all the glory.

Frank Kush Field and it’s natural surface of hybrid Bermuda grass is truly hallowed ground and the tradition of that began on that hot September evening will carry on through this renovation and many more to come.

The stadium and field has seen it all, from the shocking upset in 1996 to the largest seated crowd in 1999, when 80,470 fans saw the University of Tennessee defeat Florida State University 23-16 in the stadium’s first of two NCAA National Championships. It was also home to Super Bowl XXX in 1996 and played emergency home for the San Diego Chargers in 2003 when the Chargers hosted the Miami Dolphins for Monday Night Football.

Hollywood, the Vatican and the leader of the free world have also made their stops to Tempe to visit the legendary Frank Kush field and while the Pope and the President’s visits were cool, I think Cuba Gooding, Jr. said it best in Jerry Maguire.

“I went to Arizona State, I’m a Sun Devil, man!”

Kush Field

Sun Devil Football Figures are Truly One of a Kind


Jake FigureMarion Grice has his own Sun Devil football figure, decked out in his Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl uniform to commemorate his Offensive MVP award. Terry Richardson has one in production and Andrew Walter, the program’s leading passer in total yards and touchdowns will auction off two of his own in his Congressional race this fall.

These completely original, handcrafted figures, however, are not just for former athletes; they can be ordered by anybody who bleeds maroon and gold. That is if they don’t mind waiting a bit to see their order completed.

Dave Smith, founder of Cardboard Sun Devils, has a Facebook page showcasing his work and potential clients can add their name to the waiting list and get in contact with Smith via his page.

Marion Grice

Marion Grice

Smith, who grew up in the Valley is the product of two Arizona State athletes. His father played baseball and his mother was named conference female athlete of the year for her performances in gymnastics and track.

After graduating from Cactus Shadows High School, Smith enrolled at the school where he had been watching football games since before he was able to walk. Seven years ago he moved to Tulsa, Okla., where he works in the aerospace industry.

An avid collector of Arizona State memorabilia, Smith stumbled into the business of designing figures after seeing a customized Pat Tillman figure a little over five years ago.

“My brother Mike sent me a link to an eBay auction. It was originally a mass produced figure of another player in an NFL uniform, and someone had taken the time to turn it into the former ASU legend,” Smith said. “As cool as this was, the quality of work wasn’t that great, and they wanted way too much money for it. I then forgot about it.”

Last year, Smith saw more auctions that were offering custom figures and decided to commission a highly-reviewed artist to create two legendary Arizona State signal callers, Jake Plummer and Andrew Walter.

“When I received them, I was disappointed. I felt like this artist didn’t produce the quality I was expecting,” Smith explained. “I took this disappointment and turned it into ‘Hell, I can make these.’ I made model airplanes and cars as a kid, and have better than average artistic ability, or so I have been told for most of my life, and now I am doing it.”

Smith begins each figure when the client selects and sends him the base model.

“The most important step in making a figure look the best is to find a base figure that most closely resembles the player you want to turn it into.  Finding a good match is essential in having a quality end result.”

Kelly's "NASCAR" Uniform with six patches

Kelly’s “NASCAR” Uniform with six patches

After experimenting with his first Sun Devil football figure, Taylor Kelly’s 2013 all-white or “NASCAR” uniform that he wore against UCLA, Smith has perfected his art form.

In the meantime, I learned that my good friend and former classmate, David Spuhler, received the new and improved “NASCAR” Kelly and said it is “off the chart awesome!”

The pricing for the figures range from $50 – $150 depending on the job, but all figures undergo an intensive multi-step process to achieve Sun Devil greatness.

“When I receive the base figure, I disassemble it, prime the entire surface, airbrush the large parts, hand paint the smaller and more difficult surfaces, create a decal package, re-assemble, decal, cut in decals, then clear coat in matte or gloss finish,” Smith told me. “Other jobs require sanding, parts replacement (facemask, arms, pads, etc.) and or molding of original parts not salvaged from another figure.”

If you are a memorabilia collector or are looking for the one of a kind gift for the Sun Devil fan in your life, visit Dave Smith’s Cardboard Sun Devils Facebook page.

“The main thing to remember is that these are all No. 1 of 1. No two Sun Devil Football figures will be exactly the same.”

ASU Head Coach Todd Graham and His Knack for Success

graham KFH

Just two seasons into his tenure at ASU, head football coach Todd Graham has revived a program in dire need of change. In 2012, Graham led the Sun Devils to their first winning season (8-5) in five years. In 2013, his 10-2 regular season record earned him the Pac-12 Coach of the Year.

Graham instills a quiet confidence in his players and coaches and it trickles down to the fans, alumni and community. There has been a lot said about Graham’s affinity to change positions at a moment’s notice but he has said “this is a destination job” about coming to Arizona State.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

His coaching career began in the spectacle of “Friday Night Lights,” coaching for a dozen years in Texas and Oklahoma before being hired by Rich Rodriguez as linebackers coach at West Virginia University.

He would go on to lead the Tulsa Golden Hurricane defense to two bowl games in three seasons as defensive coordinator before he was offered his first head coaching gig at Rice University.

Graham’s impact was immediate at Rice, he took a one-win Owls team to their first bowl game in 45 years, finishing 7-5 and earning Conference USA Coach of the Year.

Graham accepted a significant pay increase and contract extension to stay on with Rice, but Tulsa came right back into the picture. The Golden Hurricane wanted Graham back, offering him the head coaching position. Graham returned to Tulsa in 2007.

Once again, Graham’s culture of success was nearly instantaneous at the helm of Tulsa’s football program. In his four seasons, Graham’s Golden Hurricane collected three 10-win seasons, three Conference USA West Division titles and three convincing Bowl victories.

Former Tulsa and Arizona State head coach John Cooper, who lead the Sun Devils to a Rose Bowl victory in 1987, is one who has recognized Graham’s knowledge and success.

“I don’t think I can say enough good things about Todd Graham,” Cooper told the Tulsa World. “If I was named the head coach of some school tomorrow, I would send my entire coaching staff down to Tulsa to learn a few things.”

The big payday loomed for the “Coach du jour,” and the University of Pittsburgh called the loudest. A storied program producing the likes of Dan Marino and Tony Dorsett, the Pitt Panthers would be the school where Graham would make his mark…or so he thought.

With only 24 hours to decide on whether to leave Tulsa, Graham now admits that the move was hasty and ultimately a mistake.

graham Tcup“I take responsibility for being at a place for one year and leaving,” he told Lisa Horne of Fox Sports. “I made a mistake. The mistake was I probably should have never gone to Pittsburgh in the first place.”

“I’m from the South, he explained. “[Pittsburgh] was a different cultural change for me. I did not feel comfortable.”

After a successful high school career, Graham received numerous accolades as a defensive back at East Central University even though he entered college at 5’9”, 132 pounds.

Following ECU, Graham made it as far as NFL training camp with the Arizona Cardinals whose 1987 media guide called him a “ferocious hitter,” so he is more than satisfied to call Arizona home and put down roots.

Welcome home, coach.

Arizona State Scores Big With Scottie Graham Hire


ASU’s Athletic Director Ray Anderson returned to the National Football League Players’ Association, not because he was unhappy at ASU, but to lure away executive Scottie Graham to the desert.

Scottie Graham has become ASU’s Senior Associate Athletics Director.

Graham brings a “breadth of experience” according to Anderson. He served as the NFL’s Director of Player Engagement for the past three and a half years and as a regional director for a dozen years prior to that.

sparky scottie“He will be an asset to Jean Boyd’s national championship-caliber academic staff,” said Anderson in a university press release. “He will also bring his talents to designated sports in operations and program development.”

Scottie Graham will bring a surge of energy to student athlete development at ASU. DieHard Devil caught up with Graham as he settles into his new position.

“I worked closely with (Ray) Anderson at the NFLPA,” Graham told DHD. “He was definitely a mentor for me, and I let him know if there was ever an opportunity for me to further my career, I was available.”

“The main thing that I will show the student-athletes is persistence,” said Graham. “Doing your best every day, not just in their chosen sport, but in their everyday lives. This will not only make them better players but also make them better people.”

The ultimate finished product should be yet another benefit to ASU and its athletes. “We are going to focus on the student in student-athlete. We are going to strive for academic excellence, increased graduation rate—and above all, integrity.”

About James “Scottie” Graham

  • 45 years oldScottie Head
  • Excelled as a Division I running back at Ohio State and was named a team captain in his senior year
  • Went on to be drafted in the seventh round by the New York Jets in 1992
  • Played for the Minnesota Vikings for four seasons, and became the team’s leading rusher in 1993
  • Earned his Master’s degree in Black Studies from Ohio State in the off-season
  • Played his final season in Cincinnati in 1997

Due to his time at tradition-rich Ohio State University, I asked Graham how he would elevate Arizona State to the level of that of the Buckeyes.

“Tradition is developed by strong leaders,” he said. “The leaders set the standards as good citizens, and the rest will fall in to place.”

Ray Anderson is proving to be that type of leader in his short time at the helm of Sun Devil athletics. He is quietly filling the athletics department with several experienced, knowledgeable and dynamic leaders.

“You reach a certain point in your life when it’s no longer about you,” Scottie Graham said. “I am excited about the opportunity to give back to the students.”

Arizona State Football: Your Cheat Sheet for the Newest Members of the Defense

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Much has been made about the Arizona State defense, or lack thereof, since the end of the 2013 season. The team ranked fourth in total defense in the Pac-12, allowing only 372.4 yards per game. They also led the conference with 21 interceptions and an amazing five pick-sixes.

Let’s not forget the two-time Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year in Will Sutton and fourth round NFL pick in linebacker Carl Bradford.

The defense will be replacing a near-devastating nine players. The success of Todd Graham’s third campaign will be predicated on the talent and more importantly, the preparation, of the athletes below.

Many of these newest Devils will be expected to step up and strap on their helmet in just eleven weeks.

Here’s a quick reference for the newest members of ASU’s defense.

Chad Adams

The speedy defensive back from Coach Todd Graham’s old stomping grounds of Allen High School in north Texas comes from a superstar program. The Allen Eagles were ranked as the No. 2 high school team in the country with a perfect 16-0 record. Adams led Allen to back-to-back Texas 5A Division I State Championships. Adams was ranked by Scout.com as the No. 47 cornerback in the country while 24-7 Sports placed him at No. 68.

Kweishi Brown


The El Cajon, Calif. native comes to Arizona State played two years at Grossmont Community College and will have three years to play two in Tempe. A four-star recruit according to ESPN, Brown is ranked as the No. 3 junior college cornerback in the country and No. 24 overall junior college prospect. Brown will most likely battle redshirt freshman William Earley for the boundary corner position left vacant by Rashad Wadood.

Darrius Caldwell

Hailing from the southeast corner of the country, Caldwell hails from Atlanta, Ga., and played at the University of Illinois and junior college ball at Pearl River Community College in Hattiesburg, Miss. The big, bruising linebacker in similar to Carl Bradford in his size, speed and physicality. Caldwell can also play at the defensive end position and was ranked the No. 4 junior college defensive end in the country by ESPN and the No. 26 weak side defensive end prospect in the country.

Connor Humphreys

The monster defensive lineman out of Portland, Ore., had multiple offers including nearly every Pac-12 school, Boise State, Wisconsin and Tennessee. Humphreys led Central Catholic to an undefeated 14-0 record and the Oregon Class 6A State Championship. Ranked as one of the top defensive end prospects in the country, the four-star recruit was rated at No. 8 in his position by Rivals.com. 24-7 Sports also ranks Humphreys as the No. 2 overall prospect in the state of Oregon. The second team All-American from USA Today participated in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.


Ismael Murphy-Richardson

Ismael Murphy-Richardson

The local boy made good, Murphy-Richardson from Desert Edge High School in Goodyear, Ariz., has it all. He lines up on both sides of the ball at wideout as well as linebacker. The 6-foot-4 linebacker was heavily recruited nationwide with offers from powerhouse programs including Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas A&M. Murphy-Richardson was ranked as high as No. 21 at his position by Rivals.com while Scout.com rated him as the No. 65 overall prospect in the region.

Armand Perry

Perry comes to the Valley from Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, Nev., and can make an immediate impact in the secondary at either the cornerback or safety position. At just under six feet tall, Perry has good size to go along with his blistering speed. Perry received rankings as both a corner (No. 91 by Scout.com) and a safety (No. 101 by 24-7 Sports.) Perry earned All-West Regional honors after his senior season at Bishop Gorman High.


Christian Sam

A teammate of Chad Adams at Allen High School, Sam was a defensive leader, earning the Defensive MVP of the 2013 State Championship Game. Everybody knows how big high school football is in Texas and Sam was the defensive star of the best team in the state. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound linebacker will mesh nicely with a veteran corps of linebackers looking to make a big noise. Sam was rated the No. 27 linebacker in the country by Rivals.com and Scout.com ranked him at No. 47.


DeAndre Scott

The quick and nimble defensive back comes to Arizona State all the way from Imhotep Charter High School in Philadelphia, Pa. The name might not sound familiar to most, but it is also the same high school that produced wide receiver Jaelen Strong. The three-way athlete excelled in the secondary but also played offense, scoring four touchdowns in his senior season as well as trying his hand at kicking and punting. Scott was ranked the No. 49 defensive back in the nation by Rivals.com while 24-7 Sports ranked him as the No. 57 safety prospect.

Tashon Smallwood

A big-time get for Coach Graham, Smallwood is anything but small. At 6-foot-1 and 292 pounds, the Fresno, Calif., product was heavily recruited by big-time programs like Alabama, Miami (Fla.) and Wisconsin. Smallwood will be an amazing addition to the defensive line along with Jaxon Hood and Marcus Hardison. The four-star recruit was ranked as high as No. 19 at the defensive tackle position by Scout.com and the No. 38 overall prospect in the West region.


Dalvon Stuckey

Dalvon Stuckey

Heading back to the junior college ranks, Stuckey also played at Pearl River Community College in Hattiesburg, Miss., with Darrius Caldwell. A huge player with amazing size and strength, tipping the scales at 308 pounds on a 6-foot-3 frame. Stuckey, out of DeFuniak Springs, Fla., originally signed with Florida State out of high school but instead played at Pearl River. Rivals.com named Stuckey the No. 1 junior college defensive tackle prospect in the country and the eight-best overall prospect. Another hot commodity, Stuckey had myriad offers from SEC and ACC schools including Alabama, Florida, Clemson and Miami (Fla.)