EL PASO, Texas — Eagle Stadium in Allen, Texas and Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona may seem like worlds apart from each other. In fact, 1,086 miles separates the two stadiums.
But even as the great distance separates them, the powerhouse program in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex has proven to be a pipeline of high-level talent that can be found at the collegiate level.
Those roots have extended into the Sonoran Desert at Arizona State under head coach Todd Graham. A Mesquite, Texas native, Graham has spent the last six seasons as the Sun Devils head coach and spoke fondly of Texas and the high quality of talent that the state churns out.
“When you truly have a program built on values, a lot of it comes from being around Texas high school football coaches,” Graham said, “Where I grew up and where I’m from, that’s what we’re about.”
That talent manifests itself at a place like Allen, the largest high school in the state with more than 6,660 students according to the latest enrollment numbers from the UIL. Two of those Allen Eagles found their way to Tempe four years ago in redshirt junior linebacker Christian Sam and senior defensive back Chad Adams.
The two standout defensive players for the Sun Devils credit the program for helping them find their footing quickly once they got to Arizona State.
“They do a lot of things that models a college program,” Sam said, “From the practices to weightlifting to meetings and film; there just wasn’t a lot of change when we got here (to Arizona State).”
“Playing at Allen was a great experience because it’s just like a college program,” Adams said, “In a lot of ways. it makes you prepared and very detail-oriented.”
Both Adams and Sam attended Saturday’s Class 6A Division I state championship at AT&T Stadium that saw their alma mater claim their fifth state title in a decade and we’re both pleased with what they saw from the younger group of Eagles.
It was exciting to be back and to interact with everyone in the program,” Adams said on Saturday’s game, “And to see the joy on their faces after all the hard work they put in was exciting. I’m happy for them.”
Even as the Eagles continue their run of success, players know that playing at a program like Allen breeds a culture of high expectations.
“We’re happy for them but it’s somewhere that they’re supposed to be,” Sam said of the Eagles 35-33 win over Lake Travis, “The standard at Allen is to win a state championship. It was good to see them win it again.”
Graham shared a similar excited sentiment of his players about the Eagles’ latest state title. He oversaw the program as the head coach from 1995 to 2000 and has been pleased with the strides that the program has seen since his time there.
“When I took the job, I was the 11th person offered the job,” Graham said of his time in Allen, “They hadn’t won a 5A game in three years and nobody wanted the job. Now, it’s the biggest high school in the state. What’s great about going to a place like that, it’s not just about football. There’s a commitment to excellence there that goes beyond football and athletics.”
Even with Graham departing following Friday’s Hyundai Sun Bowl, the pipeline will still live on for some time. Star running back Brock Sturges inked his commitment during the early signing period and he’s seen as one of Arizona State’s most highly touted prospects heading into the 2018 season.
Despite not having the opportunity to coach players like Sturges next year with the Sun Devils, Graham still takes pride in being part of one of the most prominent high school programs in the country.
“Winning breeds winning and that’s why we have several guys on our roster from there and others who are coming in next year,” Graham said, “My son graduated from there and I’ll always be proud to be an Allen Eagle.”
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