TEMPE, Ariz. — Receiver Eric Lauderdale has a photo of his late parents, his grandmother and sister attached to his locker. Defensive back Damarious Randall has one of his mother. Offensive lineman Jamil Douglas has his mother and sister.
The photos go around the room, on the lockers of Arizona State players and coaches alike. Mothers and fathers, grandparents and siblings, coaches and guardians.
Each one is a reminder, of the people who made sacrifices so they could become Division I football players, that they’re not just playing for themselves or their teammates.
“Every morning we wake up at 5 a.m. and there’s some mornings where you really don’t feel like doing stuff,” Randall said. “You can just look at your locker and see how many sacrifices that person made for you, and you want to make sacrifices for that person to honor them.”
Football coaches — coaches in any sport, really — are constantly searching for ways to motivate their players, to wring out every last drop of effort from them. Team bonding is a big focus; the tighter the group, the more they’ll want to give their best effort and not let each other down.
Arizona State coach Todd Graham has had his hand on the motivational wheel since arriving in the desert in 2011, bringing with him ideas that he had during previous stops in his coaching career.
Like many coaches, Graham has decorated Arizona State’s facilities with inspirational phrases and photos, including pictures of the national championship and Pac-12 trophies. He also had the team return to Camp Tontozona for fall camp as a bonding experience and, since last season, Arizona State’s players have entered the field for games through a tunnel that has a life-sized image of Pat Tillman at the end of it.
This year, Graham added decals with an image of the Pac-12 trophy on the backs of the players’ helmets and came up with the photo idea, hoping it would provide an extra dose of inspiration every day before the players go to work.
“I look at it for every day we get dressed, we blow the whistle, we’re looking at that picture every day and every day we honor that,” Graham said. “If I can get them to care about their teammates and each other one one-hundredth of like they care about that person in that picture, we’ve got something special.”
It seems to be working.
The photos have allowed different parts of the team to connect with others instead of staying on their own side of the locker room. Players walk through, see the photos and ask who the person is, what they mean to them.
It’s given the players a deeper understanding of who their teammates are and where they come from, strengthening their bond.
“You see guys in the locker room all the time asking who’s this on your locker, what happened if it is someone who passed away,” Douglas said. “I think it brings you closer, brings more conversation to different parts of the team.”
Most of the photos are all deeply personal.
Graham told the players to put serious thought into who they put up on the lockers, not to just throw a family photo up there.
The majority of photos are of mothers, including Graham’s, and fathers. There are a variety of relatives, from siblings to uncles, photos of family members who died, coaches who helped players along the way, a few girlfriends, one of Jesus Christ.
Lauderdale has four people who helped shape the way he lives his life.
Two are his parents. His father was shot and killed when Lauderdale was 1 and his mother died of cancer when he was 17.
The other two are the people who helped him get through the tough times: his grandmother and sister.
Seeing their pictures helps Lauderdale get through each day.
“It’s bigger than this (football), really,” Lauderdale said. “I do it just to show them that I want to do something with my life. When I get on the field, I do it for them. When I look at the photo, I just try to give it my all.”
Exactly Graham’s intention when he came up with the idea.
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