TEMPE, Ariz. — Todd Graham loves Texas barbecue, but Arizona State’s football coach has more practical reasons for scheduling games in the Lone Star State, and/or against Texas schools.
Of the top states for Arizona State University alumni, Texas ranks third at 11,904 alumni living there, according to ASU’s sports information department. Of the states Graham has recruited in his five seasons in Tempe, Texas has produced 14 players for Sun Devil football, topped only by California (49) and Arizona (24), according to Chris Karpman of SunDevilSource.com, who broke down ASU’s last five recruiting classes, state-by-state, for Today’s U on Wednesday.
“Being in the state of Texas, the population of Dallas, San Antonio and especially Houston, there’s a lot of players to go around,” Graham told reporters Wednesday. “They’ve got really quality players.”
Graham still considers Arizona and California his “home base” for recruiting, but Texas is the next priority.
“We recruit all over — west Texas — all over in there,” Graham said. “It’s not one area or another. We’ve got to go in there and compete with the Big 12 and the SEC, and that’s a challenge so we’ve got to be very careful because it’s not our home recruiting base.
“We have to win in our home recruiting base of Arizona, first and foremost, then a gas tank away there in southern California. We’ve done well, and we continue to do well there.”
Before Graham arrived at ASU, the Sun Devils had not played a regular-season game in Texas in 31 years, but since his first season in Tempe, Graham has played Notre Dame at Dallas’ AT&T Stadium in 2013 (scheduled before he arrived), Texas A&M at Houston’s NRG Stadium in 2015, and Texas-San Antonio at the Alamodome this Friday. After playing Texas Tech at Sun Devil Stadium last Saturday, he’ll face Tech next season in Lubbock. UTSA will also play at Sun Devil Stadium in 2018, and the Sun Devils also faced Texas Tech in the 2013 Holiday Bowl.
Graham’s staff is littered with Texas veterans. Special teams coach Shawn Slocum attended Texas A&M, where his father, R.C. Slocum, was head coach from 1989 to 2002 and is the winningest coach in A&M football history. Shawn Slocum served two stints as an assistant at A&M (1990-1997 and 2000-2002).
Offensive line coach Chris Thomsen played at Texas Christian. He spent seven seasons as head coach of Division II Abilene Christian, and he spent the 2012 season as the offensive line coach at Texas Tech.
ASU receivers coach Jay Norvell was also the receivers coach at Texas in 2015. Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson served two stints as an assistant at Allen High School, and running backs coach John Simon spent five years (2008-2012) in a variety of roles at Franklin D. Roosevelt High School in Dallas, including position coach, coordinator, head coach and athletic director.
Graham is a Mesquite, Texas native who coached at Poteet and Allen high schools, as well as Rice University. He said it’s important to establish regular ties in the state in order to bear recruiting fruit.
“[If] we’re going to go to Texas and beat the Big 12 or the SEC on a guy, that’s going to be because of a relationship, because they like something unique about Arizona State. We’ve been pretty fortunate to get two or three a year, but you might not get any. You’ve got to compete with the right people there. It’s very, very competitive and very, very heavily recruited.”
Winning games against Texas schools, or in Texas, also helps. While ASU defeated Texas Tech on Saturday, it lost (in past seasons) to Notre Dame in Dallas, 37-34; to A&M in Houston, 38-17; and to Tech in the Holiday Bowl, 37-23. Graham understands that wins will only aid his cause, but he’ll keep banging away for one simple reason.
“It’s hard to recruit a place you don’t play,” he said. “We always have great turnouts and support when we go there.”
TOP STATES FOR ASU ALUMNI
(source: ASU media relations)
The top four recruiting states for Todd Graham in his five seasons in Tempe
California: 49 enrolled players
Arizona: 24 enrolled players
Texas: 14 enrolled players
Louisiana: 8 enrolled players
* — Numbers reflect state in which players were playing when recruited, whether high school or junior college