Pac-12 All-Conference Awards: Todd Graham, Will Sutton react to honors

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Two of the highest honors bestowed upon players and coaches in the Pac-12 Conference were awarded to Arizona State's finest.

Picture Will Sutton winning the Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year award for the second year in a row. Now picture Sutton waking up on Christmas morning after Santa Claus visited his house.

You probably don't have the same image of Sutton in your mind for both settings, but the Sun Devil defensive tackle maintains his emotions to winning the conference's highest honor for a defensive player are the exact same he felt on Christmas Day as a child.

"When he (Todd Graham) told me, I sounded like a kid on Christmas, you know my voice got all high-pitched and I was excited," Sutton said.

Graham called Sutton on Sunday evening when the Pac-12 conference notified him of the honor. Sutton said it was out of the ordinary to receive a call from his coach on a Sunday, and he wasn't sure what to expect.

"Coach Graham called me last night and I thought I was in trouble," Sutton admitted.

Instead, Sutton was filled with joy as he felt his decision to come back to Arizona State and forego an opportunity to pursue his NFL dreams was partially validated.

Graham has always commended Sutton for his team-first attitude, and the 2012 Consensus All-American said that he would have been perfectly happy without winning individual awards this year. That's because the Sun Devils are winning, and Sutton has a chance to win a Pac-12 Championship and earn a berth in the Rose Bowl.

The award took many folks by surprise, as Stanford's Trent Murphy and UCLA's Anthony Barr were also leading candidates to receive the Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year award. Sutton said the award was unexpected because his statistics are not as impressive this season.

"I didn't think that I would get the Defensive Player of the Year because my numbers are down and everything, but we're winning so it didn't matter to me," Sutton said. "But winning it, it's crazy."

Even though Sutton has just 10.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks this season, it's impossible to deny the impact he's had on the Sun Devils' success. The senior routinely faces double teams and forces offensive lines to game plan around his presence. While the same argument could be made for Murphy and Barr, the voters also likely recognized Sutton's outstanding leadership capabilities.

Sutton's honor hit home for Todd Graham, who said he was thrilled to keep the Defensive Player of the Year award at Arizona State. Graham believes there's many defensive players on his team who deserved the honor, and he's happy to see Sutton win it for a second straight year.

"We're very thrilled to keep the Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year right here at Arizona State," Graham said. "That's one of our main goals every year. That's one that bears the name of a great Sun Devil and we want that to be a trophy won by one of our players every year."

Like Sutton, Graham received one of the conference's top honors in winning the Pac-12 Coach of the Year award. Graham was the obvious choice for the recognition after leading the Sun Devils to the Pac-12 South division title and a 10-2 record in the regular season.

"Coach of the year, I'm obviously extremely honored to receive that but I can tell you that's another deal that's very reflective of our staff," Graham said. "To me, that's a coaching staff recognition and I'm very proud of our guys and what we've been able to accomplish."

One of the main staff members who played a role in the Sun Devils' success is offensive coordinator Mike Norvell. The Sun Devils have scored 50 points on six different occasions this season and Norvell has guided the offense into becoming one of the most productive units in the country.

"When I found that out, the first thing I did was congratulate Mike (Norvell) because Mike's up for the Frank Broyles Award and very deservingly so," Graham said.

Graham also credits strength and conditioning coach Shawn Griswold for the Sun Devils' stability this season. Arizona State has been among the healthiest teams in the country this year and Graham says Griswold's training program is a major reason why.

"Gris (Shawn Griswold) is a big part of us being able to accomplish something like that," Graham said. "We've got a team of great people here that are doing great things."

Now that two of the conference's top individual awards will call Tempe home, the Sun Devils are ready to tackle team honors. Arizona State will host Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship game on Saturday, and the Sun Devils will look to clinch a berth in the Rose Bowl with a win. As much as the awards doled out Monday mean to Graham and Sutton, the two honors still to play for mean much more.

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