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Graham: New facility will impact football program ‘in a big way’

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE, Ariz. — When Vice President for University Athletics Ray Anderson told Arizona Sports in November that Sun Devils football coach Todd Graham would return for the 2017 season, he cited a reason too often overlooked: Graham’s fund-raising prowess.

It was hard to overlook that skill when program officials took media members on a tour of the new Student-Athlete Facility at the north end of Sun Devil Stadium. There is a 118,669-square-foot weight room, upgraded training areas, impressive team meeting rooms, a vastly upgraded dining facility and myriad other amenities.

“I think we’ve created something special here,” Graham said at a press conference Thursday to kick off 2017 training camp. “I think it’s going to impact our program moving forward in a big way.”

The tour of the new facility actually starts earlier for recruits and players. ASU intentionally created curb appeal for its new digs.

“We started on the drive up,” Graham said. “You can see the weight room from Rio Salado. “The first thing you’re going to see when you walk in the door is the Rose Bowl championship trophy (from 1987).”

The ground level also displays the Lombardi Trophy that Terrell Suggs won in 2002, the hall of fame, and the second level displays all of the Sun Devil alumni that have gone on to the NFL, along with the program’s deep ties to the military, most notably Pat Tillman.

There are greater plans ahead.

Sun Devil alumnus and Houston Texans defensive back Robert Nelson has promised to donate funds for a hyperbaric chamber and the school is considering moving the Verde Dickey Dome to the north end, but Graham noted that Sun Devils Athletics plans are not extravagant: a philosophy touted by university president Michael Crow.

“We haven’t tried to go over the top, lavishly with stuff. We wanted to build a facility that fit who we are,” Graham said. “Who we are as a university is we’re No. 1 in the country in innovation.”

To that end, technology and functional design are big components of the new facility. The meeting rooms build off the handheld devices players now carry to learn the playbook and study opponents.

“Meeting rooms become simulators so [players are] doing step-throughs instead of sitting and listening to a lecture,” Graham said. “We’ve got to maximize our time and technology allows you to do that.

“We pushed the seats back and stair-stepped them so we could create spaces where we could do step-throughs in the meeting room.”

In the never-ending facilities war that is college football, Graham believes the Sun Devils are finally keeping pace with, or exceeding most of their opponents. He believes that commitment will help the program.

“I think it’s going to have a huge impact — it already has in recruiting,” he said. “When you’re building something and you’re showing somebody pictures that’s one thing. Five years ago or six years ago, we were very far behind when it came to our facilities and our ability to teach and train our players.”

“I don’t know if you all watched the tour our players took. Did you see their reaction? That’s the reaction that recruits will have. It’s brick and mortar but it fits who we are and how it was designed and how it’s going to operate and help our players is far more important than the wow factor.

“Yes, it’s going to impact recruiting. I don’t see how it couldn’t. Young people are pretty impressionable with that, but the biggest thing that it’s going to do is it’s going to impact our ability to win games on the field and that’s the No. 1 thing that impacts recruiting and improving your personnel.”

Graham’s future at ASU is uncertain coming off back-to-back losing seasons. While Anderson provided a vote of confidence for this season, the Arizona Board of Regents, in June, declined to extend Graham’s contract by one year, after approving one-year extensions every prior year of his five-year tenure.

However this season pans out, Sun Devil Stadium’s renovations will be a lasting part of Graham’s ASU legacy because he had a major hand in making them happen.

“I’m 52 years old. I’m not old. I’ve got a lot left in me, but it’s just been a passion to get this done,” Graham said. “In my life, I’m sure that I’ll never get to do this again.”

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