TEMPE, Ariz. — National Signing Day got off to probably the worst start possible for Arizona State on Wednesday when committed Alpharetta, Ga., quarterback Joshua Dobbs flipped his pledge and signed a Letter of Intent with Tennessee.
Despite the loss, coach Todd Graham and his staff managed to bolster what turned out to be a recruiting class of 27 players, including 17 freshmen, with a few surprises and junior college players on Wednesday.
“I’ve got great confidence in the young men that we’ve brought here,” Graham said. “I think the key in this recruiting class is about bringing in the right people.”
Dobbs, one of just two four-star prospects ASU expected to sign, was certainly among the group Graham wanted to bring in. The Sun Devils landed Dobbs’ commitment last June, but Tennessee made a hard push for him and may have offered a better chance to get on the field sooner.
The decommitment leaves ASU without a quarterback recruit in Graham’s first two signing classes.
“Obviously that wasn’t the plan,” Graham said. “You don’t win every battle. … We’re sitting great at quarterback.”
ASU is indeed deep at the position in the short term with Taylor Kelly, Michael Eubank and Mike Bercovici but now lacks a young passer to develop. Reports Wednesday indicated that ASU circled back to Brophy Prep quarterback Tyler Bruggman, a Washington State commit, when learning of Dobbs’ reversal. Bruggman stuck with the Cougars, though.
Graham said ASU will put a high priority on bringing a quarterback in with next year’s signing class but could still add one to this class since a scholarship is still available.
“It is something we’ll look at to bring somebody in here,” Graham said. “Whether it’s next year or in the meantime, I don’t know yet.”
While the loss of Dobbs’ commitment was the biggest development of the day, ASU did sign a few players not previously expected to be a part of the class.
Chief among the last minute additions was Westerville-South (Ohio) athlete Marcus Ball, who had previously made a verbal pledge to Wisconsin. Ranked a three-star prospect by Scout.com, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Ball will play safety at ASU.
“We think Marcus is going to be a big time, impact player,” Graham said. “Marcus’ brother (Ray Ball) plays at Wisconsin, so that was a huge deal for us to be able to attract him to come here, and he is a great fit.”
Graham said Ball’s National Letter of Intent was actually the first to roll through the fax machine at ASU’s football office’s Wednesday, but the staff did not reveal the commitment until Ball had made his own announcement.
Another surprise came in via New Orleans defensive lineman Corey Smith, a three-star prospect previously committed to Tulane. Graham said Smith, 6-foot-7 and 270 pounds, will play on the interior of the defensive line.
“Corey Smith is one of the guys that’s probably a jewel in this class that we’re just ecstatic to have,” Graham said. “He’s going to be a great one.”
Those two defensive additions helped make up for the hit the signing class took with Dobbs’ change of heart. Scout ranked ASU’s class No. 31 in the nation, up from 43rd last season.
The highest-ranked player ASU added for the 2013 season — other than Auburn offensive line transfer Christian Westerman — was Lakeside Blue Ridge linebacker Chans Cox, a four-star prospect who is already enrolled and will participate in spring practice.
“I think we signed the best player in this state that fits us,” Graham said of Cox.
Linebacker was a position of particular strength in this year’s recruiting class, as ASU also signed Rancho Cucamonga linebacker twins Alani and Viliami Latu, both three-star prospects, and added juco linebackers Antonio Longino of Hutchinson (Ohio) Community College and Eriquel Florence of Contra Costa (Calif.) College. Longino will have three years to play at ASU and could replace graduated weakside linebacker Brandon Magee.
ASU signed 10 junior college players, which tied for third most in the FBS. The group features a number of highly rated prospects, though, and Graham said the quantity came as a result of losses from the 2011 signing class and a high number of players graduating after the 2013 season.
The junior-college group included highly regarded defensive linemen Marcus Hardison of Contra Costa College and Demetrius Cherry Dodge City (Kan.) Community College, both of whom could have an immediate impact.
“Marcus is of on the top defensive ends in America,” Graham said. “He’s a guy our fans are going to like early.”
Also coming in from the juco ranks is Mesa Community College safety Damarious Randall, who ASU also likes as a kick returner.
The signing class was also heavy on wide receivers, with five in total, including Ronald Lewis of Harvey, La., whom Graham said can also play running back.
“When the ball’s in his hands, he’s electrifying,” Graham said. “Ronald Lewis is going to be a dynamic playmaker.”
Graham said ASU still has strides to make in local recruiting — the Sun Devils signed just two players from Arizona on Wednesday — after losing out on a number of top Valley recruits.