MESQUITE, Texas — Carol Graham doesn’t know how her son does it. He never slows. When he comes home and takes her out to dinner, she tells herself not to talk too much because she knows he will finish quickly and want to get moving.
Always somewhere to go, always someone to see.
“That’s just the way he is,” Carol said.
It’s worked out well for Todd Graham.
Today the second-year Arizona State coach returns home.
The Sun Devils, ranked No. 22 in this week’s AP Top-25, will face Notre Dame today. It’s a signature moment not only for the program but also for the coach.
Todd was raised about 30 miles from Arlington. He grew up a Cowboys fan, idolizing legendary coach Tom Landry. During high school, Todd worked as a security guard during Cowboys games at Texas Stadium, watching former ASU star Danny White, among others. He also worked for a company that painted parts of the old NFL stadium.
Later, Todd’s coaching career blossomed in Texas. He took over at Allen High in 1995, building the school into a perennial playoff contender over his six years as head coach.
“That was probably where I experienced the most growth,’’ Todd said. “It was big, big for me. I started coaching because coaches made the difference in my life because I didn’t have a dad in my life. That’s where I thought I’d be my whole career. I’ll always be an Allen Eagle. It was a very, very important place to me. It was a great experience.”
Growing up in Mesquite, Todd developed a passion for sports, and for doing things a certain way.
“He’s always been picky about himself,” Carol said as she sat Thursday in her living room. “… He was a kid that would go to school and come home, change his clothes. And I mean, he might change his clothes three or four times a day.”
Carol, 70, has lived in the same house for 52 years. She raised three boys and a daughter here, mostly by herself. She worked for AT&T and Hallmark, and at a uniform company and nursing home, doing whatever needed to provide for her family.
“She’s the inspiration of my life,’’ Todd said. “But don’t let her fool you. She’s tough as nails.”
Growing up, Todd shared a room with a brother. The neighborhood was their playground. The Graham brothers played football and baseball at a field out back. They made a go-kart and hung out at a place they called “Motorcycle Hill.”
They fished in a creek three blocks from their house, using a bacon strip or biscuit for bait. And if it rained?
“They used to make these little things — they’d call ’em paper footballs,” Carol said.
“They would get in the hall and play that, and with all of them in there it would just drive me nuts. Fighting. Always fighting.”
Yes, the Graham brothers got rough at times. Carol just recently ran into one of the old neighborhood kids who told her it was never fun starting trouble with one of her boys, because that meant you had to fight them all.
“They were always doing something,” Carol said. “They could run all day.”
She recognizes the same energy in Todd today.
“He’s aggressive, all right,” Carol said. “As you can see, that didn’t come from me.”
Other qualities — a disciplined nature and work ethic — might have.
Carol worries about the pressure to win, especially because the family has a history of heart trouble.
“There’s a lot of stress,” she said.