Although his voice was hoarse from the previous day's practice, the excitement radiating from the words that head Coach Todd Graham had to say about the progression of his team was almost palpable in Saturday's media day presser.
But when asked if it would might take a considerable amount of time to get the Arizona State program where he wanted, his tone changed. Perhaps it had to do with the eight pounds he's lost in the past few days due to his patented high-octane practices or the fact that he had to sleep on his office couch because his legs were too sore to make it to his car. Regardless, it was evident that he isn't a fan of the philosophy that his lofty aspirations aren't attainable this year.
"I think that's a complete cop-out," Graham said. "We're in some big time recruiting battles right now. If I just sat here and said 'well you know, it's just going to take time,' I don't think they'd want to hear that."
To Graham though, it's more than just about getting the next wave of high school athletes to buy in. The man truly believes that his team is capable of reaching the highest peaks as soon as this season despite inheriting a team that is returning just ten starters, the fewest in the Pac-12.
"I just believe you're going to get what you expect," Graham said. "Is it going to be easy? No. Are we going to face a lot of adversity? Yes. Can when a championship this year? Yes we can; and that's what our mission is going to be."
Bold statement, especially for a team that is still undecided on who their starting quarterback will be.
Yet even though Graham strongly believes that "if you don't have a quarterback, you're not winning," there's still an overriding formula that he knows will make his team successful no matter who is under center.
"We have one mission: own the football. If we lead the Pac-12 in taking care of the ball and we lead the Pac-12 in takeways then we'll win the league."
Easier said than done obviously but Graham has always believed "success breeds success." And that's exactly why he has had his players carrying around their own footballs since practice started. Yes, you read that correctly. They sleep, eat, watch film, attend meetings and share their feelings with a personal pigskin inscribed with their name. Well, maybe not that last part but Graham is rewarding any linemen who can strip away a player's ball with food because, as he puts it, "our guys like to eat."
As you might have guessed too, ball security has been a large aspect of evaluating Mike Bercovici, Michael Eubank and Taylor Kelly as the fight to be the point guard of Graham's fast paced offense. For that reason, Graham has been "scripting adversity" for his quarterbacks by deliberately choosing bad plays and seeing how they respond their designed reads break down.
"The one that's going to play isn't the one who has the best physical skills," Graham said. "It's going to be the one that will take care of the ball."
Luckily for whoever does get the job, they'll have their fair share of safety valves.
Graham plans to spend about 70% of their snaps in a two-back formation due to their incredible depth at the running back position. With "home run hitters" like D.J. Foster, Marion Grice, Deantre Lewis and Kyle Middlebrooks behind a workhorse Cameron Marshall, Graham has been preaching "don't think plays, think players" to offensive coordinator Mike Norvell.
"I like one play touchdowns," Graham said. "It's too difficult to go 14 plays and score. Plus the crowd likes to see that too."
Unfortunately, even with all that speed in the backfield, Graham admits that the Sun Devils are only 10% of the way to mastering the tempo of his offense. Conditioning-wise, he feels they're functioning at about 75% of his ideal level but that's perfectly fine with the first year head coach at this point. In fact, Graham doesn't plan on pushing them any harder than that.
"The key factor in the tempo is that it can work against you," Graham said. "You'll go fast as heck and it will seem like it's working good. Then you get into week eight, nine and 10 and you have a fatigued, mentally and physically, football team."
While Graham admits that it could take up to two and a half years before his players are running at the level he wants them to in his no huddle offense, he still refuses to make any excuses. Because to coach Graham, excuses are just a barrier on the road to success.
"How can I have the highest expectations on these players and ask them to do anything less than win? I don't know how to function any other way but win."