December 27, 2004
EL PASO, Texas - One minute, ASU football coach Dirk Koetter was walking through the terminal at El Paso International Airport, accepting the usual welcome and congratulatory handshakes from members of the Vitalis Sun Bowl Committee.
The next minute, he found himself in the middle of a traditional mariachi celebration and — after some urging from his oldest daughter, Kaylee, and others around him Sunday — taking part in a dance that included some of his Sun Devil football players and the Sun Bowl Queen and her court.
“As a former coach at UTEP (an offensive coordinator from 1986-88), I knew we'd get a great welcome. It's what El Paso is known for,” Koetter said. “I worked up a pretty good sweat, so I guess that passes for today's workout.”
But that's the last easy day this week for the Sun Devils. After taking three days off for the Christmas holiday — with players scattered across the map to be home with their families — the ASU family reported to the team hotel for a late-afternoon roll call and begins the final preparations for Friday's matchup with Purdue with a practice today at Sun Bowl Stadium.
“Some of the players came on our charter, some are on different flights and some are even driving,” Koetter said. “Whatever mode of transportation, everyone had to be here by 4 p.m. We'll have some meetings (Sunday) night and get back to work.”
The Devils haven't played since losing to Arizona 34-27 a month ago today. But with the recruiting visits, interviews with defensive coordinator candidates to replace the departing Brent Guy (the new coach at Utah State) and a dozen practices focused on younger players, ASU now zeroes in on ending 2004 on a good note with a win over the Boilermakers, who also arrived on Sunday.
“We've worked hard, the young guys have gotten better, we're healthy for the most part other than, of course, (senior quarterback) Andrew Walter and (senior safety) Riccardo Stewart, and now you get to the reason you worked so hard all season,” Koetter said. “We spent three, four practices last week on Purdue, and now we'll get another shot at it.”
The Sun Devils have had some discipline problems over the course of the season — running back Loren Wade was suspended for the season after three games (an internal investigation is continuing) and Stewart was among three defensive starters who sat out part of the Arizona game for undisclosed infractions. Koetter expects his traveling party to be on its best behavior this week but knows it will take young players making the right decisions in a new place.
“We're traveling with 105 guys, aged 18 to 22,'' Koetter said. “And there are temptations that come across those guys. If you took a group of 105 doctors, lawyers and reporters to El Paso for a week there is a chance you're going to have issues.
“We work with our guys. We talk about it every single day. Hopefully, we will be able to enjoy ourselves and have a good time without having any brushes with the dark side. I trust our guys a lot, I trust our guys with my life, so we'll see.”
The Boilermakers are right at home in El Paso. This is the third time in four years the Boilermakers have played in the Sun Bowl. They lost to Washington State 33-27 here in 2001 and beat Washington 34-24 in 2002.
EXTRA POINT: Koetter got an extra Christmas present Saturday, an oral commitment from Vista (Calif.) High School offensive lineman Thomas Altierei, a 6-foot-2, 280-pounder who is rated the top center in the West region by the recruiting Web site Rivals.com. It's the 11th oral commitment to date for the Sun Devils and the second offensive lineman in a week — joining 6-3, 280-pound J.D. Walton from Allen, Texas.