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September 14, 2012Backed by two easy victories to begin the year, the early impressions of the Todd Graham era at Arizona State have been complimentary to say the least.
Well on Thursday, the first-year Sun Devil coach received another ringing endorsement, this time from the likes of a high-profile ASU alum doing big things at the Major League level.
Stopping by practice at Sun Devil Stadium with an invite from Graham, Arizona Diamondbacks veteran infielder Willie Bloomquist met with members of the ASU coaching staff along with players Thursday, discussing how much he has liked what he is seeing from the program recently.
"They are playing the game a bit different than they did in the past," Bloomquist said. "They do things the right way and that's how you start, with discipline. It's very noticeable from an outsider looking in. It's not all about 'me.' It's about the team. They hand the ball to the official when they score instead of running over to the student section and celebrating. It's fun to watch."
The high praise from Bloomquist was a welcomed voice to hear for ASU senior linebacker Brandon Magee, who knows a little something about baseball, signing with the Boston Red Sox over the summer.
"That's huge," he said. "As a professional, you pay attention to discipline, so for him to see that after just two games, that's big time. We have to keep proving that to people."
Using Bloomquist as an example, Graham hoped to show what being a Sun Devil can mean to the community after his players' time in Tempe is done.
"He's a great Sun Devil, that's what I want our kids to see," Graham said. "Here is a guy that benefited from this great university, and he's coming back. I want our players to know that when they're done, they are still a part of this."
Attending ASU from 1996-99, Bloomquist's time as a Sun Devil coincided with the football team's last run to the Rose Bowl, a memory the veteran big leaguer still relishes.
"It was the best place on earth, you couldn't beat it," he said. "That's what college is all about, the atmosphere that team brought. Everyone fell in love with ASU."
Back again on campus, Bloomquist relished the opportunity to walk onto the field Thursday through the Tillman Tunnel, named after the late Pat Tillman. Pat's brother, Kevin, played baseball with Bloomquist at ASU and the D-backs shortstop became friends with both as a student.
"Anytime you say the name 'Pat Tillman,' you can't help but get a few chills and goosebumps," Bloomquist said. "To be privileged to know him when he was here and to see the tunnel, it's great. The very first time I met him, he was sitting outside the tunnel before a game, just seeing him focus. That's kind of what I thought of when I was walking through it. He was obviously a very special human being."
Garoutte staying fresh
With the Sun Devils scoring 15 touchdowns in their first two games of the season, ASU sophomore kicker Alex Garoutte hasn't been given many opportunities to prove himself after a subpar freshman campaign.
Even though he is perfect in point after attempts, Garoutte has only kicked one field goal so far this season, a pressure-free 35 yarder in the fourth quarter against Illinois.
But despite the lack of kicks, Garoutte feels confident about where he stands heading into Saturday's game in Missouri.
"I'm really happy with where I'm at, I'm happy with how I've been kicking the ball," Garoutte said. "I've gotten a ton of action, I'm on the field every five minutes kicking an extra point. Every kick is the same whether it is an extra point or a 50 yard field goal. I'm still getting reps but we're scoring points so that's a good thing."
While Garoutte would've liked to get more field goals under his belt in the first two games, he certainly isn't disappointed with the number of points his offense has put up without him.
"How can I wish that they didn't score touchdowns?" he said. "Obviously if there is a field goal opportunity, I'm ready to take it but by no means am I rooting for them not to score so I can kick."
Connecting on just 6-of-11 field goals last season on the road, Garoutte isn't worried about possible situations in hostile territory this week, he's trying to keep things as normal as possible.
"You just have to find your zone, anywhere you are at, you are in your one little world when you're kicking," Garoutte said. "Good or bad, you don't want to get too high or low. I'm excited to go to the SEC and show them what's up. It's the same size of field and yard markers."
All about business
Graham doesn't like to call this weekend's trek to Missouri a roadtrip, he prefers a more pragmatic approach.
"It's our first time to go on a business trip, that's why I gave them those blazers," Graham said. "We don't have to play on the road, we're excited to do it. This where our mental maturity has to come out. No excuses. The only team that can beat this team is this team and we're very capable of doing that so we have to guard against it."
The ASU coach described the Tigers as a difficult team to prepare but believes his quarterbacks will handle adversity, if and when they face it for the first time this year, in stride.
"I don't say two words to them because I have all the confidence in the world in them," Graham said. "Take care of the ball and take what the give you. Let the system work for you. I have a lot of confidence in Taylor Kelly, he's my mom's favorite player."