Arizona State defensive back Alden Darby arrived at the first day of the Sun Devils' fall camp Friday boasting his usual strut.
The flamboyant junior loosely carried a ball with his left arm while skipping his way toward the practice fields and jawing with teammates.
Little did Darby know, however, first year coach Todd Graham's watchful eye had already focused in on the upperclassman even though practice hadn't even begun.
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"Tuck the ball away son!" Graham said as Darby turned his cocky strides into an obedient jog.
While in previous seasons the first practice of fall camp took a laid back tone for players to get back into the swing of things, Friday's nearly three hour opening day of ASU football was, by all accounts, as fast-paced and upbeat as Graham promised when he took over the program in December.
"I was coming out here hyped up with a little bit of swag so coach told me to own the ball because that's our motto," Darby said. "Today was great though. There's still so much to work on but we were happy just being fast and running everywhere. It was a good productive day like I thought it would be."
Even though Darby, and most of his teammates, seemed to believe the practice ran at a fairly high tempo, Graham came away feeling like his staff eased up on the team a bit.
"Good first day, there was a lot of teaching so it was kind of slow," Graham said. "We're not used to that, that's something different for us, but it was productive. I'll tell you what though, by the third day for us, we'll be going fast."
Aside from the usual firsts that come with practice No. 1 of August, the Sun Devils' unquestioned leader, fifth-year senior linebacker Brandon Magee, was back on the field Friday in his first fall practice since suffering the torn Achilles injury that kept him sidelined for the entire 2011 season.
Magee admitted it took a few plays to shake the rust off but as the practice wore on, he felt more like himself.
"It felt great to be back, I'm ready to get going," Magee said. "I started making more plays later but I've got to get better every day though because there's a lot more running I'll tell you that. We shouldn't get tired during a game, if we get tired, I don't know what's wrong."
On the quarterback front, sophomore Mike Bercovici received the first snaps of the team drills while junior Taylor Kelly also saw action.
"I compete every day I come out here," Bercovici said. "My goal every day is to play like a starter. Knowing I can lead this team is something important to me, I try to get these guys fired up. Those o-linemen feed off the quarterback. I'm a natural leader in everything I do."
The third signal-caller competing for the starting job, redshirt freshman Michael Eubank, didn't dress for the morning practice but Graham said he'd be in action for the evening practice with the freshman and other newcomers.
Like Eubank, a handful of other returning Sun Devils also didn't dress for Friday's morning practice in order to balance out the two groups. Those players, the vast majority of whom were reserves on the depth chart exiting the spring, are expected to participate in the evening with the newcomers.
Among those who weren't in action were senior wide receiver Rashad Ross -- the lone first-teamer exiting the spring -- redshirt sophomore cornerback Devan Spann and junior defensive end Davon Coleman, among others.
Junior college transfer defensive tackle Jake Sheffield was in a walking boot Friday but did participate in walk-throughs alongside his teammates. Sheffield said he pulled a muscle in his calf but expects to get the walking boot off later Friday.
Junior defensive end Junior Onyeali, who Graham previously suspended in the spring, is expected to participate in practice Friday evening for the first time since the coach took over the program. When asked if he was fully reinstated, Graham simply said, "Yes."
Summer workouts pay off
When Mo Latu first stepped on campus last season, the lineman weighed nearly 340 pounds. Now a year later, the redshirt freshman has slimmed down and appears closer to 300 pounds.
Latu credited much of the weight loss to a sinus infection but he and a lot of teammates have benefited greatly from the offseason weightlifting program run by strength and conditioning coach Shawn Griswold.
"I think we look completely different as a team," Graham said. "Most of our kids will say they are in the best shape of their lives. They've all leaned up. The mental and physical training is great. I felt like we've made great progress."
Many of the Sun Devils had never been through a workout program as grueling as Griswold's before he came in.
"We call it the Grizz-sanity workout," Darby said. "He tells us, 'Okay, you're sore, we're going to have a big squat day and we're going to run hard too. Be hurt after the workout.' He taught us a lot in the summer we didn't know we had in us. He taught us to be mentally tough, to perform when we're tired. He's a great strength coach."
When Graham first hired Griswold, he called the coach, "the best strength and conditioning coach in America." Judging from the reactions of the players, Griswold might have lived up to the hype this summer.
"We've never done anything like this before with the conditioning and lifting," sophomore linebacker Carl Bradford said. "It feels like if we had this last year we'd be amazing. Coach Grizz does a great job. He tries to get everybody right. I came out here today and feel way better conditioned than I did in the spring. I feel faster and lighter. I'm around 233 right now and last year I played at like 245 or 250."