TEMPE, Ariz. — Four years ago, Todd Graham walked into the Dutson Theater on the third floor of the Carson Student-Athlete Center to address his new team for the first time.
Among those staring back at him with uncertainty in his eyes was quarterback Mike Bercovici.
Just who had Arizona State hired to take over the program, Bercovici thought.
There was much unknown about Graham, who had been tasked to end a run of four straight non-winning seasons at ASU.
“When you’ve got a new coach, whether you’re hearing him or not, it’s just, am I really — am I going to be — am I bleeding maroon and gold the way this guy is,” Bercovici said. “When Coach Graham first stepped in here and he talked about a National Championship, he said, I can look at your faces and I can only see about half of you guys actually believe what I’m talking about.
“It took about one year to realize the next time he stood up here before the year and talked about winning championships, and everybody was on board, and that’s just because of the steady, day-by-day things that he talked about.”
Bercovici did buy in, eventually; as did receiver Gary Chambers, defensive tackle Mo Latu and offensive lineman Vi Teofilo, among a few others who had just spent their first seasons at ASU and already were experiencing a coaching change.
Receiver D.J. Foster had not yet arrived on campus, but he, too, bought in.
One of the top high school recruits in the country out of Scottsdale Saguaro High, Foster had committed to the Sun Devils under former head coach Dennis Erickson. Now with Graham on board, Foster was being recruited all over again.
“D.J. trusted us when we didn’t really have anything, any body of work for him to trust,” Graham said.
What swayed Foster to remain in state all those years ago?
“Winners and heart,” he said. “Coach Graham, the first thing he said to me wasn’t even about football. It was about family and faith. Those are the two most important things to me in my life. Right then, me and him had a connection that I definitely understood what he was trying to bring to this program and try to change the culture around here.
“He’s done an unbelievable job throughout his four years here to change that, to get our guys to realize it’s about family, it’s about brotherhood and I think that’s how we play.”
In total, 21 seniors will be honored before Saturday’s game against rival-Arizona.
“It’s going to be unbelievable,” Foster said. “I’ll never forget last year seeing T.K. (Taylor Kelly) on his Senior Day go out there and stuff. I was fighting back the tears watching him go out there.
“It means a lot to a lot of these seniors, guys that put in years and years of work here and just being a part of this community. It’s a tremendous honor, and it’s a great deal.”
Added cornerback Lloyd Carrington, “How close we’ve gotten as a group is amazing.”
Carrington is yet another piece to this senior class puzzle. He played for Graham at Pittsburgh before following the coach to ASU as a transfer.
They were a roomful of individuals, the class of 2015, when Graham first addressed them four years ago. Saturday, they unite for one final time inside Sun Devil Stadium.
“There’s two parts to it,” Graham said of this year’s seniors. “It’s the last of the guys that were here when I got here. Those guys are every bit as much my guys as the guys I’ve recruited, I can tell you that, because I can remember sitting here and talking to them about what we were going to do and how we were going to change the culture and what kind of culture we were going to bring here. You look at those guys, they conformed and were transformed, and obviously that didn’t happen overnight, but just really proud of them.
“That’s a group that’s really special to me, and then obviously guys like D.J. Foster…it’s a really special group there, as well. And how they’ve blended and just how close those guys are, you know, we’ve really sown really close relationships. No one knows that really but us, really just how strong those bonds are.
“So this is — every year it’s special, but this is one — this is my fourth season, and so it’s been a long time since I’ve had a group that I feel as close to as this one. It’s a special group, so big, big day for us for Senior Day.”
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