ASU looks to expand N. California footprint

TEMPE, Ariz. — Since beating rival Arizona on Nov. 23 to reclaim the Territorial Cup, Arizona State has been riding a wave of momentum. There has been excitement about the program’s future, the upcoming Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and defensive tackle Will Sutton’s countless postseason awards.

The biggest long-term boost for the program could be yet to come, with the recruiting implications of playing a bowl game in talent-rich Northern California.

“Northern California is a major recruiting area for Arizona State, and we want to keep it that way,” recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach Chip Long said. “And then just the whole state of California, obviously, is a major recruiting stop for us. So playing a bowl game in that state, and Northern California, is huge for the exposure we’re going to receive.”

Southern California is one of the top recruiting hotbeds in the nation, but northern California has its own impressive crop of talent. The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl is played at AT&T Park in San Francisco. ASU arrives in the Bay Area on Dec. 24 and will hold three practices there before the Dec. 29 game.

The trip offers ASU’s recruiting staff the opportunity to do a couple things. First, it can target individual recruits in the area and sell the program’s trajectory. Second, it can build its presence in the area, making potential future targets aware of the program, how it operates and its style of play.

“You want to have your particular targets, you want to go after them hard, but you also want to have your presence known in that area, in that state and really everywhere out West,” Long said. “And when you walk into those schools and talk to coaches and kids and you’re selling bowl games, that’s a big, big thing to sell for your university.”

Among those who might be expected to drop in during workouts are four three-star junior college recruits who visited Tempe on the first weekend of December: Offensive tackle Desmond Harrison, defensive end Demetrius Cherry and linebacker Eriquel Florence, all from nearby Contra Costa CC; and offensive tackle De’Ondre Wesley of Diablo Valley CC. A fourth Contra Coast prospect, tackle Damien Paris, is also considering ASU.

The Sun Devils already made one trip to the Bay Area this season to take on California in Berkeley. ASU won at Memorial Stadium for the first time since 1997. While that likely made some impression, winning a bowl game in the area would be on a different level.

“Especially going up there and getting a win in front of any recruits that might be there is big,” ASU freshman running back D.J. Foster said. “I remember going to bowl games and also watching bowl games of schools that were interested (in me). Definitely getting a win is important to see because that’s kind of a landmark game.”

Foster was one of Arizona’s most heavily recruited players a year ago, with particular interest from Cal and USC. Foster said getting up-close exposure to a program is an important part of the decision-making process.

“Just seeing the guys and coming to practices and being able to observe up close, you can’t do that at a school far away,” Foster said. “You get more of a hands-on look at it.”

ASU has hosted recruits at its recent bowl practices in Tempe and could do the same in San Francisco. That could offer Bay Area prospects a more extended look at the program than they might typically get.

“Just having our team up there and having Coach (Todd) Graham up there is great exposure for our program,” Long said.

Some current Sun Devils might also be able to assist in the effort. Senior running back Cameron Marshall is from nearby San Jose. Senior receiver Rashad Ross is from Vallejo, about 40 minutes from AT&T Park. And redshirt junior linebacker Grandville Taylor, a former walk-on, is from San Francisco itself.

Having already-established ties in the area is always a bonus, Long said.

“It’s big anywhere you go if you have a guy that’s playing well,” Long said. “You know you’re going to get great exposure in that city. It’s tremendous for us that we have our Northern California guys like Cameron Marshall. … Kids see that and they want to come in and kind of take over where he left off.”

ASU coaches have been hitting the recruiting trails hard during breaks in the team’s bowl practice schedule. Beating UA, Long said has been a nice selling point, particularly in Arizona. A bowl bid and a program on the upswing have even greater sway with recruits.

The recruiting grind won’t stop after bowl game, but the time spent there as ASU goes after its eighth win should prove valuable now and in the future.

“It’s a great location for us because of our recruiting base, to be able to go to the Bay Area,” Graham said. “California is such an important place for us to recruit. … So it’s a perfect situation.”