TEMPE, Ariz. - Kenny Dillingham has made all the right moves since being hired as Arizona State’s coach, creating enthusiasm around the school and the community.
Now the youngest coach in the FBS has to take it onto the field and try to turn around a program that needed a new direction.
"We have to go out there and try to be the best version of us we can be," he said. "That’s just trying to be successful. How we define success in our program is being the very best at whatever you’re doing all the time."
A Scottsdale native and Arizona State alum, Dillingham returned to his roots after the Sun Devils ended the Herm Edwards experiment after 4 1/2 seasons.
Dillingham has gone through a rapid rise since being an offensive assistant at his alma mater from 2014-15, serving as the offensive coordinator at Memphis, Auburn, Florida State and last season at Oregon.
The 32-year-old overhauled an Arizona State program that went 3-9 last season, bringing in more than 50 new scholarship players, including at least 30 transfers from Division I programs.
Dillingham has infused the Sun Devils with his seemingly boundless energy while adding a dose of discipline to a program that hasn’t played in a major bowl game since the 1996 Rose Bowl.
"How much he loves Arizona State, how much he loves Tempe, it’s genuine, it’s real, the passion that he has for it," defensive back Jordan Clark said. "For me, that’s all you can ask for in a head coach."
The Sun Devils were picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12 preseason media poll for their final season before heading to the Big 12.
Arizona State entered fall camp with a three-way competition at quarterback between returner Trenton Bourguet, Notre Dame transfer Drew Pyne and freshman Jaden Rashada.
Pyne’s hamstring injury during a scrimmage during camp may leave it down to a two-way race — at least for now.
"I got a curveball to say the least," Dillingham said. "Before, I kind of had a plan. I think that plan has officially been derailed a little bit."
Bourguet started five games last season, throwing for 1,490 yards and 11 touchdowns with six interceptions. He was solid in fall camp after having offseason foot surgery.
Rashada arrived in the desert as one of Arizona State’s highest-rated recruits ever after decommitting from Florida. The 6-foot-4, 185-pound freshman has impressed Arizona State’s coaches with his athleticism and quick command of the offense.
Arizona State has two of the top returning pass catchers in the Pac-12 in receiver Elijhah Badger and tight end Jalin Conyers. Xazavian Valladay, the Pac-12’s second-leading rusher last season is gone, but the Sun Devils added Sacramento State transfer Cameron Skattebo, one of the FCS’s best running backs a year ago.
The offensive line could take time to mesh with 10 newcomers, including transfers Cade Briggs (Texas Tech) and Sione Finau (Purdue).
New defensive coordinator Brian Ward plans to play aggressively and has the players to do it up front and in the secondary.
Arizona State’s pass rush should be solid with B.J. Greene returning and transfers Clayton Smith (Oklahoma) and Prince Dorbah (Texas). The secondary will be led by Clark and Ro Torrence, one of the best returning cornerbacks in the Pac-12.
The linebacking corps were already thin before Tennessee transfer Juwan Mitchell was dismissed from the team and the interior line is unproven.
The Sun Devils should feel right at home to start the season, playing their first four games at newly named Mountain America Stadium.
Arizona State has nonconference games against Southern Utah, Oklahoma State and Fresno State before opening Pac-12 play against No. 6 Southern California.
Arizona State has tough road games at No. 10 Washington, No. 14 Utah and UCLA, but will play rival Arizona at home in the regular-season finale.