TEMPE, Ariz. — Just the mention of what UCLA is dealing with this week in the wake of receiver Nick Pasquale’s death made Arizona State coach Todd Graham’s heart sink. It was obvious in his voice that what ASU’s conference rival is experiencing has brought back painful memories.
UCLA prepares for its game against Nebraska with a heavy heart following the loss of Pasquale, who has struck by a vehicle Sunday morning while walking in a neighborhood in his hometown of San Clemente.
Graham can relate to what the Bruins are feeling, having dealt with a similar loss in his first year as a head coach at Rice in 2006. That season, freshman Dale Lloyd collapsed during a practice and died the next day from what was later determined to be sickle cell trait.
“Dale Lloyd’s picture still sits on my desk,” Graham said. “It totally changes you as a coach, puts things in perspective. My heart goes out to (UCLA). There’s nothing like that. It completely devastates you as a team and a coach.”
In light of Pasquale’s death, UCLA coach Jim Mora closed practices this week. UCLA players will wear a No. 36 patch on their jerseys this week to remember Pasquale, a walk-on who had played in his first game a week before his death.
“You don’t move on from moments like this,” Mora told the Los Angeles Times. “You can move through them. I can never forget this kid. I can never forget that there is family out there that lost a son.”
Graham said when Lloyd died, his initial reaction was to cancel the team’s next game against Army. Army coach Bobby Ross, other coaches and Lloyd’s father all offered advice, and Rice ended up playing the game to honor Lloyd.
“I didn’t want to coach again,” Graham said. “I was like ‘How do I coach?’ … But his dad said ‘Get up and go coach those kids.’
“I can’t explain what that’s like. It’s something you never want to experience, losing one of your own players. My heart goes out to them. Obviously my thoughts and prayers are with them. That’s a tough, tough deal. It’s something that never goes away.”
FORMER ASU COACH UNDER FIRE
Sports Illustrated published the first part of a series Tuesday morning detailing improprieties within the Oklahoma State football program between 2001 and 2011. In the story, former ASU running backs coach Larry Porter is alleged to have provided money to players on more than one occasion in violation of NCAA rules.
Porter, Oklahoma State’s running backs coach under Les Miles from 2002 to to 2004, denied the allegations. In the story, a former Oklahoma State player said Porter gave him $100 “four or five times,” telling him to get something to eat. Another former player said Porter gave him money before fall camp in 2003 to house a pair of incoming freshmen who were not yet allowed to receive room and board under NCAA rules.
Porter only briefly coached at ASU, joining Graham’s staff before the 2012 season and leaving after it to take the same position at Texas. The previous two seasons, Porter was the head coach at Memphis. Graham declined to offer reaction to the allegations against Porter but offered a defense of Porter’s character.
“I wouldn’t have any reaction to that,” Graham said. “Obviously I’ve got a great relationship with Larry, tremendous person. In my dealings (with Porter), nothing but integrity. That’s all I would say about that.”
Graham, dating to his previous coaching stops, has been proactive in educating players, coaches and boosters about NCAA rules to prevent violations. He said the allegations against Porter do not make him worry about the operation of his own program.
“I know everything is done right in our program,” Graham said.
Safety Damarious Randall missed most of fall camp recovering from a groin strain and sat out ASU’s season opener against Sacramento State on Thursday. Graham said Tuesday it was still unclear if or how much Randall might play against Wisconsin on Saturday.
“He’s got a long way to go,” Graham said. “We’re very, very impressed with his athleticism, but he’s missed a lot of time, and Laiu (Moeakiola) has been pretty steady.”
Graham expects Moeakiola to start again. He stressed that Randall still has a ways to go in learning ASU’s complex defensive system.
Randall said he feels about 95 percent healthy and is working to get the strained muscle to a point where he feels less fatigue later in practices. He isn’t sure if he’ll get in the game Saturday but plans to be prepared.
“I talked to (safeties) Coach (Chris) Ball and Coach Graham, and they were just telling me to get ready because I’m supposed to play this week,” Randall said.
Randall said he feels up to speed with the defense, having taken mental reps as he recovered.
“I feel like I know everything with the defense,” Randall said. “I was taking thousands of reps through camp and all that.”
— Safety Marcus Ball, out since Aug. 17 with a shoulder injury, attended practice without a sling on his arm for the first time Tuesday. He did not participate, and Graham characterized Ball’s recovery as slow. Ball, initially expected to be out three to five weeks, should have an X-ray soon to evaluate his progress.
— Linebacker Carlos Mendoza (knee) participated in practice Tuesday without limitation, but Graham said Mendoza was a little sluggish and was not sure if the redshirt freshman would play Saturday.
— Graham said he felt ASU’s tempo was the worst part about its winning performance against Sacramento State. He said he wants to see the ball consistently snapped with 20-25 seconds left on the play clock, running a play about every 15 seconds.
— According to an ASU spokesman, fewer than 6,000 tickets remain for Saturday’s game. The student section sold out Monday.