A look at rewards given during practice for Pac-12 teams


When it comes to rewarding in-practice results and efforts, Pac-12 coaches are split on the matter.

While one coach might believe that playing time is or should be enough to fuel a player, others, such as Arizona State's Todd Graham -- who employs ample in-practice rewards for the Sun Devils -- believes that there's no such thing as bad additional motivation.

"I'm big on the visualization of that," Graham said. "We like to evaluate each day and have performance grades that are visual."

Graham leads the pack of Pac-12 programs in how and how often he motivates his players in practice.

During this past spring season, fans might've noticed a few players sporting a very unique looking uniform during the spring game.

The Pat Tillman jersey is the ultimate honor for any ASU football player, according to Graham. In order to earn it, a player must be excelling on the field, in the classroom and as a volunteer.

"That's like the ultimate deal -- to wear the Pat Tillman jersey. And you have to earn it every day," Graham said. "It's very hard to earn. It's very prestigious. It just speaks to what we think being the best is all about."

Leading up to this spring, only two players had worn the Pat Tillman jersey during Graham's tenure -- safety Alden Darby (one day) and cornerback Osahon Irabor (two days).

However, this past spring, Graham -- who decided the jersey could be earned by both offensive and defensive players -- saw a few other players earning the right, on and off the field, to wear the Pat Tillman uniform. Quarterback Mike Bercovici, defensive back Lloyd Carrington and safety James Johnson wore it for the full spring season while Jordan Simone wore the Pat Tillman uniform during sections of spring ball.

In addition to the Pat Tillman uniform, during the regular season, players wear differing colors of practice uniforms (black, maroon or white) depending on their level of effort the previous day. Hammer decals for helmets are given out to the most physical players and fork decals are given out to players who've had exceptional effort and made exceptional plays.

"Those kids want that flame helmet, they want that Pat Tillman jersey, they want that hammer award," Graham said. "In sports, you get bowl rings, you get trophies when you win and we just try to create that on a daily basis."

Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre is on board with Graham, though not quite to the same extreme. At different times during his Colorado tenure he too has awarded a special uniform (the Uncommon uniform) for players who've made exemplary plays on the field.

"We want the kids to recognize an example of going above and beyond the call of duty, so to speak," MacIntyre said. "And that it's important that you do that, and that you want to be one of those guys who gets that jersey and wears it around, that it's important to go the extra step, to go the extra mile consistently."

And like at Arizona State, there were players who earned that jersey consistently -- quarterback Sefo Liufau, defensive back Chidobe Awuzie and outside lineback Ken Olugbode were three players who stood out to MacIntyre.

"We make it really, really hard it has to be something that really sticks out," MacIntyre said. "Everybody can tell, it's not just a coach picking out a guy who made a good effort play like you're supposed to every time."

Past Arizona State and Colorado, the in-practice rewards steeply drop off. Arizona gives out candy bars for players of the day while the Washington State Cougars have their players of the day from each respective position group break down the huddle at the end of practice. Oregon might have the entire offense or defense wear a different colored uniform at practice if it won a competition during the previous day's practice.

Sonny Dykes hasn't done anything at Cal, but has considered instating an in-practice reward for the 2015 season.

And the remaining programs -- Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah and Washington -- don't have visible in-practice rewards, or if they do, it's announced internally during team meetings.

It's definitely a "to each their own" mentality, as it should be as there's no right or wrong way to do this.

But one fact is certain: By leading the conference in the ways in which they reward their players, Graham and MacIntyre are -- like what they say about their players -- quite uncommon.