ASU still working to keep in-state recruits in state

ASU was able to land Chaparral's Tyler Whiley (fourth from left), while some of the Valley's other top recruits -- Mark Andrews (Oklahoma), Kyle Allen (Texas A&M), Luke Rubenzer (Cal) and Travis Wood (Arizona) -- left town.

Todd Graham made it priority No. 1 in recruiting to keep Arizona’s best talents in state

So far, the results are mixed.

ASU landed a few of the state’s top players in the past three recruiting classes but it’s clear the programs still has significant strides to make in recruiting Arizona, and Graham isn’t afraid to admit it.

"I want to get the best and the brightest first and foremost, the best football players and the best character from this Valley, and we are bound and determined to do that," Graham said Wednesday. "You look at the Pac-12 Conference, I think there are 191 players from Los Angeles County and there are 78 from Maricopa County playing in the Pac-12. I want a larger percentage of those guys.

"We’re going to keep working on that."

ASU’s 2014 signing class of 26 players includes just three from Arizona: Gilbert Higley offensive lineman Quinn Bailey, Scottsdale Chaparral receiver Tyler Whiley and Goodyear Desert Edge linebacker/defensive end Ismael Murphy-Richardson. Of those three, only Whiley ranks among the state’s top 10 recruits, according to Scout.com.

Arizona also landed one of the top 10 recruits, while the rest were split between Texas A&M, Oregon, Oklahoma and Stanford.

ASU’s in-state recruiting successes the previous two seasons include running back D.J. Foster and defensive tackle Jaxon Hood, who were both freshman All-Americans in 2012, as well as linebacker Chans Cox and tight end Grant Martinez last season.

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While ASU takes pride in landing 10 signees from California and two each from Texas, Florida and Virginia, Graham would certainly like to see more than three recruits signed out of the Sun Devils’ backyard.

So why the slow progress to get there? That seems to boil down to a few things.

First, the ASU coaching staff’s presence in Arizona is still relatively new, and some of the top 2014 recruits were targeted by other schools since before this staff arrived.

"Top guys like Mark Andrews and Kyle Allen have been looking kind of big picture, big time for a couple years," Scout.com national analyst Brandon Huffman explained.

Allen and Andrews, teammates at Scottsdale Desert Mountain and the state’s first- and fourth-ranked prospects, signed with Texas A&M and Oklahoma, respectively.

Huffman also says while ASU got its "share" of the in-state talent, it’s still not able to match up to schools like Stanford, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas A&M, which combined had 11 BCS bowl game appearances and a Heisman Trophy winner in the past five seasons.

"So it wasn’t like ASU was losing them to Cal or Washington State," Huffman said. "They were losing them to legitimate programs."

Graham seemed to acknowledge as much Wednesday.

"You can tell that we’re competing with the people that we should be competing with for personnel," he said.

ASU beat the rest of the Pac-12 on Whiley, and most notably beat USC, Texas A&M and Oklahoma on Murphy-Richardson — players Huffman says ASU would not likely have gotten under previous coaching staffs — but couldn’t best such schools on the most elite talent.

There are, however, signs of progress. Chandler Hamilton offensive lineman Casey Tucker, Arizona’s No. 2 recruit, narrowly chose Stanford over ASU, citing Stanford’s academic reputation. Hamilton defensive lineman Qualen Cunnigham also strongly considered ASU but stuck with Texas A&M, where his father played.

Graham also believes ASU will benefit in the coming years from the inroads made with local high school coaches and the community since arriving in Tempe — an objective neglected by the previous coaching staff.

"We do the Devil walk, we do all the kids’ camps, and as we’re winning and kids are coming to our games and we’re filling up the stadium and putting guys in that conference championship game," Graham said. "When you go out here and all those kids are hanging over the rail, I think those guys are growing up wanting to be Sun Devils, and we’ll see those dividends as those eighth graders start getting into high school."

Desert Mountain coach Tony Tabor understands why much of the Arizona’s top talent leaves the state. An Oklahoma native, Tabor recognizes the allure of a tradition-rich football school is hard to match.

Still, Tabor believes the longer Graham and Rich Rodriguez at Arizona are here, the easier it will become to keep top talent from leaving.

"I think you’ve just got to keep plugging like they’re doing, and eventually you will get more kids to stay," Tabor said. "They both are on the upswing, they both are winning. There’s been some very positive things on both sides, and I think that will continue to make kids want to stay home."

While the 2015 recruiting class in Arizona is not expected to be as strong as this year’s, it does feature a handful of players ASU would love to sign, including Scottsdale Saguaro receiver Christian Kirk, Phoenix Mountain Pointe running back Paul Lucas and Phoenix Pinnacle quarterback Brian Lewerke. It will be over the next 365 days that ASU takes its swing at such recruits.

Whether or not ASU can break through further with in-state recruiting next season or the one after will be significant. Considering it landed a top 25 class this year, ASU isn’t exactly striking out.

Regardless, Graham remains determined to make in-state prospects a priority.

"There’s not a lot of quick fixes when it comes to those things, but we definitely took a major step forward," Graham said. "I think this class is indicative of that."

As expected, ASU on Thursday added the final piece to its 2014 signing class when Falcon (Colo.) High School athlete Kalen Ballage sent in his National Letter of Intent. Ballage, a four-star recruit in Scout.com’s rankings, did not sign Wednesday because his high school closed due to weather. UCLA also made a late push to land Ballage.

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