TEMPE, Ariz. -- While most of the college football world was reaching for their pitchforks and torches, Lloyd Carrington was searching for understanding.
While the uproar demonizing Todd Graham’s decision grew, Carrington was putting himself in his former coach’s shoes.
When Graham landed in Tempe, Carrington knew he wanted to follow.
Carrington’s path first crossed with Graham in 2011, when the latter was the head coach at Pittsburgh.
As a three-star cornerback prospect from Lincoln High School in Texas, Carrington had managed to attract a number of scholarship offers. That feat was rather remarkable, considering Carrington did not take up the sport until his senior year. Despite offers from schools like Baylor, Houston and Oklahoma State, it was the offer from Graham’s Panthers that stood out.
“I just wanted to get out of Texas and be in a different environment,” said Carrington. “I wanted a culture change, but also a different culture of football as well. Plus, I really liked the system that Todd Graham ran. The defensive scheme was really aggressive. It gives cornerbacks a lot of chances to make plays. He’s also a standup guy and full of integrity.”
It’s that last part that has become so divisive to many to this day.
Carrington played in seven games as a true freshman for Graham in 2011 making two tackles, but that December, Graham abruptly left Pitt to take the head coaching job at Arizona State. Many around the nation attacked Graham for a perceived lack of character, yet that sentiment was not shared by many close to the situation, including Carrington.
“I tried to look at it from a different standpoint than others,” Carrington said. “I tried to understand his family situation, and then the jump in income. I thought about what I would do myself. In the end, he has to make the best decision for him and his family.”
His familiarity with Graham allowed him to cut through the furor to see the coach—and man—underneath.
“Being around him every day and knowing what he is about, you can’t rely on what the media puts out,” Carrington said. “Watching how he coaches and interacts with his players speaks volumes.”
Despite the loss of the man who brought him to Pittsburgh, Carrington initially made the decision to stay in Pennsylvania. However, he soon realized he needed a change and immediately looked westward.
“It happened in the spring right after he left,” Carrington remembers. “I ended up telling him (Graham) that I wanted to stick it out with the new coaches at Pitt. But after coming back in the fall, I just realized it wasn’t a good fit for me.
“I wanted to be somewhat closer to my family back home. I also have family in Arizona. Plus, I really love the system that Todd Graham runs, and he being a Texas guy, we can relate. I made the decision to come to ASU, even though I had a lot of schools from my high school recruiting list that still wanted me.”
With his transfer, Carrington sat out the 2012 per NCAA regulations. That gave him time to take in and appreciate the many differences that football in Tempe brings.
“The atmosphere of the Pac-12 is a big difference coming from the Big East,” Carrington said. “The new schemes and the new things he incorporated into the playbook. The different mindset he (Graham) brought to ASU.”
That mindset includes an approach Graham instills in his players to be the best they can be, on and off the field.
“It’s to be a player that is tough, full of integrity, and willing to make any sacrifice to be a champion.”
On the field, Carrington brings a lot of intriguing tools. He has excellent size for the cornerback position at 6-foot, 185 pounds. That allows him to get physical with opposing wide receivers, and his fluid movement and speed in the mid 4.4s give him the ability to blanket them downfield.
“My size, my length, and my coverage,” said Carrington of his best traits. “I have really good cover skills, and I’m also physical and aggressive too at the point of attack. I believe that corner size and aggressiveness as a defense go hand-in-hand.”
That fits perfectly into how Carrington sees the Sun Devils’ philosophy and demands on cornerback play.
“We are tough, and we often come down to be a force against the run,” said Carrington. “We also cover at the same time. It is all around. I feel that my game, as much as I’ve been working, has gotten a lot better. I’m more physical, better at being able to cover, and being smarter as a student of the game.”
Finally able to compete fully, Carrington was one of the standout performers during spring practice this past March and April. He saw meaningful reps, including some with the first-team defense, which he feels provided him a major lift.
“I got better, day in and day out. Knowing how the coaches operate during practice, and working harder and knowing the different techniques and what to use in certain situations was big.”
The Sun Devil cornerbacks appear to be in a much better place than they were a year ago, despite the departure of three-year starter Deveron Carr.
Osahon Irabor is one of the Pac-12’s most underrated players, and Robert Nelson, Rashad Wadood and Marlon Pollard are all competing to time in the secondary. Such depth provides a luxury, but also fosters competition.
“We are in a good position,” Carrington said of the cornerbacks. “We have depth this year, which we didn’t have last year. We have some talented guys, so it’s going to be an interesting fall camp.”
Following spring ball, Carrington found himself listed along with Wadood as the backup to Nelson at the field corner position opposite Irabor. While Nelson has the edge in experience—having served as the team’s nickelback last season—and Wadood arguably was spring’s biggest star, Carrington feels confident that his skillset and football IQ will serve him well in the upcoming position battle.
“I believe I have a good chance at a starting spot,” Carrington said. “What I bring to the team is a lot of what they are looking for as far as the size and speed of a corner, along with me being smart. That translates over into the game.”
His time away from game action has done nothing to dull the lofty nature of Carrington’s goals for 2013, both for himself and for the program.
“I believe we can get pretty far as far as a Rose Bowl or even a national championship. That is what our minds and our goals are set on this year. As for me, I want to separate myself from the other corners in our league and in the country. I want to prove I can compete and play at this level.”
With fall camp set to open in just over a month, Carrington has a simple message for those fans that will be seeing him in action for the first time.
“Look for a talented guy who is working hard and looking to make a big impact for the team this year.”