Arizona State coach Todd Graham’s local recruiting message reached enemy territory over the weekend as a billboard of Sun Devil running back D.J. Foster went up at a prominent intersection in Tucson less than four miles from Arizona Stadium, home of theTerritorial Cup rival Wildcats.
Will the message get through to anyone down there? We’ll wait and see on that.
The billboard is part of an aggressive marketing campaign ASU launched over the weekend, emphasizing the success of local players who donned the maroon and gold.
“Over the years our fans have felt that we don’t focus enough on Arizona,” senior associate athletic director for external relations Rocky Harris said. “They felt like it was time for us to plaster something up that was very visible to the public. For us it was a way to visually represent what our fans were already feeling.”
While NCAA rules prohibit ASU from directly targeting recruits with the campaign, it’s clear the that its message seeks to engrain a loyalty to ASU and emphasize its local roots.
About 20 billboards featuring current and former ASU players from the state went up around the metro Phoenix area over the weekend in what is the first phase of the “Stay True” campaign. The signs featuring former players included the phrase “ASU Football Where Arizona Stars Become Legends.” Those featuring Foster read “Stay True.” Both include the Twitter hashtag #StayTrue2ASU.
The campaign prominently features Foster, a former Scottsdale Saguaro High School standout who earned Freshman All-America honors from FOXSportsNext.com last season. Jaxon Hood, a second freshman All-American who starred at local powerhouse Chandler Hamilton, would likely be featured on future billboards.
Former ASU stars featured currently include Todd Heap, Zach Miller and Adam Archuleta, all local products who went on to star in the NFL after prolific ASU careers. Harris said additional billboards featuring other former players with Arizona roots were designed and could be part of future phases of the campaign. Those players must consent to ASU using their images.
“We didn’t want to put out everything in the first phase,” Harris said. “I think it’s more interesting for fans, if we roll out a phase two of this, that they see new people. So we wanted to save some other big-name Arizona kids that grew up here and played here.”
Future phases of the campaign might also extend beyond football to include local talents in other sports, such as basketball star Jahii Carson.
“There’s a lot of homegrown talent here,” Harris said. “Our baseball team, our football, basketball and softball teams all have a lot of Arizona kids. So if we want to grow this we just have to have other donors step up.”
The general idea for the campaign actually came from an ASU fan about a year ago. The fan, Doug King, suggested a “homegrown” campaign. Local advertising firm Owens Harkey approached ASU about working together on a “Stay True” campaign. The firm helped design the billboards and determine locations.
Graham and assistant athletics director for recruiting Sherman Morris, hired away from LSU this offseason, were active in developing the campaign alongside leaders from ASU’s marketing arm and the Sun Devil Club. Gabe Cagwin, associate athletic director for the Sun Devil Club, found a donor to donate the billboards.
When the campaign was brought to Graham, Harris said, the second-year coach suggested changing the Twitter hashtag #StayTrue to #StayTrue2ASU.
“It was a really neat team effort,” Harris said. “This was the combination of a really neat fan idea combined with a donor whop stepped up to help us and some fresh new ideas from people in our building.”
Since arriving before the 2012 season, Graham has put heavy emphasis on local recruiting and preached the virtues of the state’s top talents remaining in Arizona. Foster and Hood were the big local gets in Graham’s first recruiting class and played significant roles in ASU’s 8-5 season. They became the fifth and sixth true freshmen ever to start in the first game of ASU’s season.
The Tucson billboard located on Speedway Boulevard, one of the city’s busiest streets, has ASU fans buzzing more than any other. A picture of it was even sent out from Graham’s Twitter account Tuesday morning.
“A part of it is that’s part of the state, but also it’s just fun to put something in their back yard,” Harris said. “ASU is the largest institution in the state, we have the most graduates in the state, and really in every metric we have shown that we are the state institution.
“They may take it personally down there, but that’s irrelevant because for us it’s about spreading ASU more than anything about UA.”
UA has had billboards in the Phoenix area for a few years, featuring needling slogans like “Head South, Move Ahead” and “Welcome to Arizona, This is Wildcat Country,” though none have been as directly tied to athletics.
The billboard buzz comes about a week after UA generated recruiting buzz of its own — albeit a different kind of buzz — with an Old West-style movie trailer parody that featured the Wildcats coaching staff.
Both campaigns featured a local flavor. UA’s “Hard Edge” video, which has nearly 140,000 views on YouTube, was shot at the Old Tucson Studios theme park and pays homage to the city’s Old West heritage.
Time will tell if either campaign truly reaches the state’s star recruits, but it’s already clear both have got fans talking.