In his three years in Tempe, Todd Graham has certainly become known as someone who does not pull punches with anyone he deals with. Whether it be the fan base, the media, potential recruits or his own players, the head coach will voice his opinion and call it like he sees it.
This straightforward approach has helped him win over many of his critics and motivate his players to perform to the best of their ability. Case in point this spring, when Graham put a challenge to his defense, stating they were under-performing and criticized the lack of competition. He also singled out the defensive line, calling them “out of shape,” and challenged Mo Latu to drop weight and raise his game. The unit responded in a big way in last Saturday’s scrimmage, forcing a couple turnovers and shutting down an offense that had beaten them up for much of the spring, with Latu leading the way.
“One reason why you say whatever you think is because kids read it,” Graham said with a smile after practice last week. “The D-line was a little p.o.’d and came out here and responded. I like how they responded.”
“Came out with a purpose,” Latu said, adding he took Graham’s words to heart, saying he wanted to, “go out there and blow up everybody. If the whistle was blown, the whistle was blown. I was making sure I got my point across.”
The redshirt sophomore has certainly gotten his point across with his work off the field as well, dropping 20 pounds since the end of last season, with the goal of getting to 330-335 by the fall.
Graham’s motivation “scope” has also fallen on running back Deantre Lewis, who has struggled to get back to form, despite showing flashes last season. However, for the coach, that is not enough.
“He shows signs. I tell him, ‘You (have to) quit showing signs. We got to get you up there consistently.’ You can’t come out here and practice in whatever mood you’re in for that day. Champions bring it every single day. He’s gotten better. If he came out here with a passion every day, the guy would be unstoppable. You couldn’t keep him off the field. And that’s what I try to explain to him.”
Graham has one more week of spring sessions before the fall and, with nine defensive starters and several key offensive weapons to replace, coaching up players to move them up the depth chart is top priority. With his track record, Todd Graham has everyone’s ear to what he will say next and how it will be reflected on the field.