"I want to start off by saying we had a big loss in the Sun Devil family and our thoughts and prayers go out to Danny White and the White family," said Graham. "Whizzer White will be tremendously missed. He was a first rate Sun Devil. I know personally, being given the opportunity to meet him, was something that was pretty special. That smile he had was infectious and he was one of my favorite people that I've met."
"From the time I walked through the door here he was always so gracious and kind," he added. "So obviously we want to make sure that Danny and his family know that or thoughts and prayers are with them in this time of grief."
White's 1,502 rushing yards in 1950 remain the second-highest single season mark in school history and his 150.2 yards per game that season still rank as the overall top mark. HIs 22 touchdowns and 136 points, including a school-record 30 against Idaho, are both single-season school records.
His number 33 was also retired by the school and is just one of five numbers taken out of use.
Summer Player Development
At 8-5, the Sun Devils capped off their first year under Graham with a winning record for the first time since 2007. ASU also defeated rival Arizona and won a bowl game for the first time in the same season since 2005. That wave of momentum served as a springboard for the Sun Devils as they entered their offseason workouts, first with a strong spring camp before beginning their voluntary summer workouts.
On Friday, Graham commended his team for its commitment to Strength and Conditioning Coach Shawn Griswold's offseason routine, pointing out the noticeable difference in nearly each player's strength development.
"In spring ball, I thought we got a lot of things accomplished but the big step has been over the summer with how hard these guys have worked and the commitment that they've had has been phenomenal," remarked the coach. "Coach Gris is one of the most important components of this program and the things that he does with players, and the mental aspect of it is probably the most significant thing he has done," Graham added. "We believe in relationships and we believe in training. And these guys, if you have an opportunity to talk to them, will tell you that there is not anybody in the country that has worked harder than they have."
It's that same commitment his players have demonstrated over the summer that Graham believes will lead them to accomplishing their goals in 2013.
"I believe in this team. I have a great feeling about where we're at because of the character and how we've developed," he said. "I don't believe there's anybody around that I can look at that hasn't gotten better and that starts with the mental aspects, as well as the physical aspect of it."
"We're a team that I think has great character, is really smart, is a disciplined group, and we've got to continue to do that," he continued. "And obviously these guys are pretty talented. It's the most talented football team I've ever coached and I think we have a chance because it's the best football team that wins the league."
Improving the Offense
The Sun Devils ranked 14th in the nation in 2012 in points per game, averaging 38.4 points per game, led by first year starting quarterback Taylor Kelly. With Kelly back for a second year at starter, flanked with arguably two of the Pac-12 best running back in senior Marion Grice and sophomore D.J. Foster, Graham expects his Arizona State team to turn the corner and challenge for one of the premiere units in all of college football in 2013.
"We have a returning offense that was 14th in the nation in scoring points and I believe we developed and improved our staff and our relationships on that side of the ball and have a chance to be even more explosive," he commented. "I think on offense, we need to do a better job taking care of the football. You look at where we ranked in that regard, there are two things that really stick out to me; negative yardage plays and takeaways."
ASU averaged 464 yards of offense in its first year using Graham's high-octane offensive approach, but still struggled at times to extend drives, especially on the ground, which helped contribute to the team four -game losing streak late in the season, costing them a chance for a division title.
Graham said on Friday that expects the Sun Devils to be much more improved along the offensive line, allowing Kelly more time in the pocket, and Grice and Foster to better equipped to attack opposing defenses on the ground.
"I think we have some competition up front on the offensive line," he stated. "I think there are seven guys who are really competing there. We have some really quality returning starters that showed great leadership. It's probably the group that you look at the leadership of that bunch with Jamil Douglas, Evan Finkenberg, and Kody Koebensky; you can't coach a better group of kids than that. I trust them with everything I have."
"And then you have Vi Teofilo, who has four starts under him, and Sil Ajawara, who's had an incredible spring and has been developing as well," he added. "I think there will be three people probably competing at the guards and three at the tackle spots and I feel good about our depth, but not much. That's probably the thinnest group on the team but I think there's great quality in that group."
The Sun Devils also expect to be significantly improved at the wide recover position in 2013. Tight end Chris Coyle led the team in receptions last season with 60, a school-record for tight ends, followed by running backs Grice and Foster with 41 and 38, respectively. Despite the fact that the leading returning wide receiver only had 21 catches last year, Kevin Ozier, Graham applauded their hard work over the summer and looks forward to the incoming freshman class who will be lining up for their first action on Tuesday.
"I'm pretty excited about the receiver core," he commented. "I think Richard Smith and Kevin Ozier are guys that have really, really improved," he said. "Obviously we've got Chris Coyle, who had 60 receptions last year, and then we have De'Marieya Nelson coming in at that position that I'm really excited about. And our number one receiver, really, was D.J. Foster. Obviously he's a tailback but a guy we'll utilize. He's one of the most versatile players in our league."
"And then with the newcomers coming, guys like Jaelen Strong, Joe Morris, and Cameron Smith is a freshman and I haven't seen anyone who can run like that in a while," he added. "So I'm excited about him. And then Ronald Lewis and E.J. Jefferson. I'm pretty excited about that group of guys. That's going to be a position that I think will be really upgraded."
Stopping the Run
Graham pointed out again that one of the keys for the Sun Devils in 2013 will be their ability to stop the run. ASU allowed nearly 183 rushing yards per contest last season, which ranked 10th in the conference and 81st nationally. The Sun Devils will be put to the test again this season, as their schedule features a number of teams with run first offenses, including both Wisconsin and Notre Dame. However, improved depth and stronger players have given Graham hope that this year his Devils will fare better against the run.
"There are a lot of combinations but the number one thing is depth. The other thing is just size," he said. "One of the things that I'm excited about is we are bigger. All of the guys that are here are bigger, faster, and stronger. We use Will Sutton as an example; he's 305 pounds. And it's night and day in the weight room. I don't even know how many guys can power clean over 300 pounds now. We've never had a group like this that has developed like they have. "
"Obviously the key is there are some things that we've got to adapt at, but we're playing a very different animal this season," he continued. "There are teams on our schedule that are more of the power, I-formation with multiple tight ends that we've got cover. But we're getting bigger and stronger and have more depth. And then obviously correcting mental errors and things like that."
Lights, Camera, Action
On Thursday it was announced that Arizona State will be one of two teams to be featured on the Pac-12 Network's newest all-access show, The Drive, which will follow the team from the start of fall camp next week through the end of the regular season. The documentary-style television show will provide Sun Devil fans with an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at the team, both on and off the field, in their quest for a conference championship.
The 14 episode show will feature Arizona State players and coaches using sit-down interviews, wireless microphones, locker room access and more, allowing fans to explore the relationship between the team, the university, and the Arizona State community. Graham, who participated in similar all-access shows at both Tulsa and Pitt in previous head coaching positions, admitted that he's excited to showcase his team and looks forward to the unique opportunity.
"We've got great people here. We've got a great staff and great players. Having a 30 minute show each week about our players and this program is a no-brainer," he said. "But it won't be a distraction. We can't disrupt our routine. There are great stories on this team, we've got great team unity, and I think it's neat."
At last week's Pac-12 Media day, it was revealed the Sun Devils were picked to finish second in the conference's South division and fourth overall. While the head coach admits that he doesn't put much stock into preseason polls or individual player watch lists, he's optimistic about his team's chances heading into the season, as they look to dethrone the defending South champs, UCLA.
"I tell people, I'm very lucky to get to do it but I don't play, so my expectations for me is to do everything that I can to give these guys the opportunity to win every game and I believe this team can win every game. So it's our job to make sure we don't mess that up," he said. "For me personally, I tell these players all the time, I remember growing up and watching the Rose Bowl on a little black and white TV and I'm excited. This is the closest I've ever been to something like that and that's why I made the moves that I made because I wanted to the opportunity to be in this situation."
"I'm very grateful to have this team, to have these players," he added. "I'm very lucky to have this staff. It's just exciting. We have an opportunity to do something great and our guys have worked hard."