ASU Football: Leadership Key to Building a Champion

Osahon Irabor has taken the next step as a leader and was rewarded on Monday. - Jennifer Hilderbrand-US PRESSWIR

The Sun Devils have emphasized the importance of leadership throughout fall camp and Monday marked the second time a player wore a Tillman jersey.

The Arizona State football team has its sights set on a Pac-12 Championship, but Todd Graham isn't going to be the person to lead the Sun Devils to the Rose Bowl.

Instead, Graham wants to take a back seat and watch as his players unite behind their senior leaders this season.

"Everything that you do in the first year is all Coach Graham's," Graham said. "It has to be theirs. Their team, they have to take over their team, take charge of their team."

One of the most vocal leaders throughout Graham's tenure has been safety Alden Darby, who was rewarded for his efforts by donning the camouflage Pat Tillman No. 42 jersey at practice on Sunday. Graham praised Darby's work ethic and commitment to the program, and on Monday, he found him a suitable partner to match jerseys with.

Cornerback Osahon Irabor arrived at Monday's practice donning the camouflage uniform and Graham spoke about the significance of having Irabor in the jersey.

"He's brought it every rep, every day, he's leading by example," Graham said. "There's no question that No. 4 (Darby) does that every day and Irabor has done that to this point."

Two members of the defense have proven that they embody the ideal characteristics of a Sun Devil athlete, but Graham let the media know on Monday that he's looking for an offensive player to step up and display some leadership too.

"Those are not just a defensive deal, that's an offensive and a defensive deal," Graham said. "If I put one on somebody on offense it would probably be Taylor (Kelly) right now."

Graham is high on his starting quarterback for a number of reasons, but he thinks the maturity and attitude that Kelly brings to the field are among his best qualities. Not surprisingly, Kelly isn't the only player in consideration for a Tillman jersey.

"I think Kody Koebensky is pretty close, and Fink's (Evan Finkenberg) over there so you know we just have to make sure that if you look out here and see 11 of them, we've got a chance," Graham said. "Right now you only see two so we've got a ways to go."

Practice Notes From Monday

  • Graham praised wide receiver Kevin Ozier for battling through injuries during camp and helping speed the progress of the newcomers at wide receiver.
  • "I've been really proud of Kevin, what a great story," Graham said. "One of the best things I've done since I got here was give him a scholarship. He's taken great ownership of these freshmen receivers, and the leadership he's provided this spring."
  • Kyle Middlebrooks' return to practice this week has gone over well, but he's still adjusting to the workload after missing significant time with a knee injury. Graham left open the possibility of Middlebrooks redshirting, but he said the Sun Devils would likely need him to contribute this season.
  • With 25 newcomers on the field, the coaching staff has had its hands full getting everyone up to speed. Graham is relying heavily on his senior leaders because they understand the importance of discipline, and Graham does not want to take a step backward this season.
  • The Sun Devils will wear pads at practice on Thursdays this year. The reason? The newcomers are going to be seeing the field a lot, and they need every rep they can get in full pads. Graham consulted with Will Sutton and other key players on the issue and said they supported practicing in pads.
  • The punters practiced coffin corner punts today and Dom Vizzare fared better than freshman Matt Haack. Haack's advantage comes from being a scholarship player, but Vizzare has put together an impressive offseason.
Nick Marek contributed to the Practice Notes section of this report.
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