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Building Character Through Strength

Jul 17, 2013



By Maggie Emmons, Sun Devil Athletics 

In 2002, Sports Illustrated touted Arizona State’s new 16,000 square-foot strength facility in the basement of Sun Devil Stadium as the mecca of sports performance and a tipping point for many of the nation’s top prospects to pledge maroon and gold.

Now, 11 years later, spearheaded by head football coach Todd Graham, strength coach Shawn Griswold and financed by a generous donation from Cathy and Verde Dickey, Sun Devil Athletics initiated a revival of this standout facility to return it to the glory and grandiose status of which SI spoke.

“When they redid the weight room in the 2000’s it was the best in the country and [featured in] Sports Illustrated,” said Griswold. “But as the equipment gets older, it needs to be refurbished.”

The Dickey Family has afforded Sun Devil Athletics the opportunity, in multiple capacities, to establish itself as an elite Athletic Department with top-tier facilities.

“We are privileged as a University for a family like the Dickeys to invest such passion and commitment into Sun Devil Athletics,” said Steve Patterson, Vice President for University Athletics. “With Verde, it’s more than just a monetary donation, he understands his investment is building upon the continuous athletic success and academic excellence of our student-athletes at Arizona State.”

The Dickey name has changed the Arizona State landscape metaphorically with the family’s financial contributions and exactly with the construction of the iconic Dickey Dome practice facility in 2008 that graces the Sun Devil Athletics Village east of Rural Road.

[The Dickey’s support] is unbelievable,” said Griswold. “We wouldn’t have been able to do any of this [renovation] if they hadn’t stepped up. They want us to be great at what we do. It’s very unique to have someone make that level of commitment, especially in today’s financial setting. Their gift goes a lot further than the renovation itself.”

In another true expression of the enthusiasm for Arizona State, the Dickeys once again graciously invested in the infrastructure of Sun Devil Athletics; infrastructure that puts ASU one step closer to championship-level competition.

"We are blessed to have a friend of the university in Verde Dickey,” said Graham. “His generosity and love for the University and Sun Devil Athletics is very much appreciated.”

Completed in late June, the weight room renovation featured custom power racks that were designed for functionality and efficiency for the student-athletes with 16 pulley systems between them, brand new flooring throughout the 16,000 square-foot space and many detailed touches such as the ‘PT42’ mantra Griswold added to the equipment to help Arizona State not only motivate its players but to maintain its strong hold on housing a premiere performance facility.

“We put the ‘Iron Sun Devil’ on the inside of the rack, which is something new that we haven’t done [before],” said Griswold. “This allows the kids to see who they are and that they are a part of a family. Once you’re a Sun Devil, you’re always a Sun Devil.”

Graham and Griswold met with the president of Power Lift, the strength and lifting equipment company Sun Devil Athletics partnered with for the new install, to help design the strength room to ASU’s particular specifications. With beams and structural elements running through the facility to reinforce the room from Phoenix’s Light Rail system running past Sun Devil Stadium, the specificity of measurements were crucial to maximize the efficiency and use of the state-of-the-art equipment in the space.

“There is no doubt we have one of the premier weight rooms in the country,” said Graham. “Our room is complete with the latest technology and equipment.  This will help us develop into one of the fastest and most explosive teams in the nation.  This is what it is all about.”

The focus on the weight room was not just remanded to aesthetics, the renovation of the facility plays into a higher philosophy of both life and coaching for Graham and Griswold.

Investing in strength training “has a lot to do with discipline,” said Griswold, who has been a member of Graham’s staff since his days at Tulsa. “Coach Graham talks about the strength and condition as the foundation of the football program. As the head strength coach, you don’t have it very often that they put that much value and stock into what you do. We get the players nearly year round. So the weight room is crucial to the competition side of it.”

Echoing his long-term strength coach’s sentiments, “Shawn Griswold is singularly the most important person in our program,” Graham said of ASU’s director of strength and conditioning. “Gris is the key to what we do.”

Interestingly, linebacker Carl Bradford power lifted 400 pounds just after the installation of the new equipment in the weight room, an accomplishment Griswold has only seen twice in his 17-year career. However, the long-time strength coach humbly conceded the feat had more to do with Bradford’s innate athleticism and buying into Griswold’s staff’s message.

“We will help make [Bradford] better and help him but that kid has it because he has it,” said Griswold. “Just like all the other kids, we’re trying to do the best we can to put the best product we can out there for the football coaches to have, the best athlete they can have, to mold them to be the best in their position.”

One could argue there might not be a better facility and staff in the nation to get the most out of these players.

However, “once in a while you get kids like Carl that can do very unique things,” said Griswold. And with this new overhaul of Sun Devil Athletics weight room, a return to the mecca Sports Illustrated touted over 10 years ago, these unique athletes might be little bit more common place around Tempe.

The hard work and dedication of the Sun Devil Club helps facilitate projects like the weight room renovation, which benefit student-athletes and the future success of Sun Devil Athletics. Membership in the Sun Devil Club not only pledges die hard commitment to Arizona State and is tied to season tickets but the organization also helps fund resources from capital projects for Sun Devil Athletics to tuition and books for student-athletes.