TEMPE, Ariz. — When Todd Graham left Pittsburgh after one season to become the coach at Arizona State, many of his players lashed out, criticizing the coach on social media or in print.
Lloyd Carrington, a cornerback back who had played as a true freshman, was not among them. He took a more measured approach to Graham’s departure.
“At first I was kind of iffy about it,” said Carrington, now a redshirt sophomore. “But I just had to try to look at it from both sides and understand what he has to do for his family and what his best interests are. It wasn’t at Pitt.”
Carrington maintained his trust in Graham when others didn’t and eventually followed him to Tempe, a decision that is paying off with an opportunity to start in his first season of eligibility at ASU.
Carrington’s history with Graham went beyond their one season together at Pitt. Graham had recruited Carrington while still at Tulsa, and they established a bond that Carrington didn’t forget when Graham left Tulsa for Pitt or amid the national uproar when Graham came to ASU.
“I saw him as a coach I should take seriously, unlike some other ones who are just out to play the game with you,” Carrington said. “He’s someone that’s genuine and really cares about you as a player.”
Graham and Carrington also have shared Texas roots. Carrington is from Dallas while Graham is from nearby Mesquite and coached at Allen High, about 30 minutes from where Carrington played at Lincoln High.
“Obviously he and I have a very close relationship,” Graham said. “He’s a guy that likes how we do things, and he and I are very similar people.”
Carrington liked Graham’s way of doing things enough that he decided he’d be best off transferring to ASU. Primary in that decision was how he fits in Graham’s aggressive, playmaking defense.
Carrington was a little hesitant about having to sit out a season, he said, but still went through with the move. Now, his decision is paying dividends. After being tried out at various positions in the secondary during spring practice, Carrington has locked down the field cornerback position vacated when Deveron Carr graduated.
From the first day of fall camp, Carrington has run with the first team at the position, giving ASU an immediate answer at one of its question spots entering the preseason.
“He’s been the guy that’s been very impressive through the spring and then somewhat dominant out here,” Graham said.
Cornerbacks coach Joe Lorig stops short of saying field cornerback is now a position of confidence, though. He wants to see Carrington in a game first.
“I think any time you lose a senior starter that’s in the NFL like Deveron Carr, that’s an obvious question you have to fill,” Lorig said. “There are question marks at (field cornerback) until the guy steps up and does it, but I’m confident going into Week 1 that Lloyd will do a great job.”
Lorig says Carrington is beating out redshirt sophomore Rashad Wadood and senior Robert Nelson for the cornerback job opposite senior Osahon Irabor because he’s put a premium on technique. Carrington may not be as fast or athletic as Nelson, but he’s fundamentally sound and solid in coverage.
In taking over at field cornerback, Carrington has become part of a starting secondary that will try to duplicate the success of the 2012 unit. Last season, ASU led the Pac-12 and ranked third nationally in pass defense, so the bar is set high. But if Graham believed Carrington was ready and talented enough to play in seven games as a freshman in 2011, he undoubtedly has even greater confidence in him now.
“There’s a reason coach Graham knew him and knew what his capabilities were,” Lorig said. “We wouldn’t have brought him in unless we thought he was a guy that could start here and be an All-Pac-12 type of player.”
Carrington, too, is getting what he expected out of his move to ASU: an opportunity. The next step is performing.
“I knew I would get a fair shot even though they had other talented players here,” Carrington said. “Everything’s coming together, and the team’s looking good too. That’s all that matters in the end.”