Graham defends his junior college recruiting philosophy

Todd Graham has signed 25 junior college players in his three recruiting classes at ASU.

Kelvin Kuo/Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

After losing high profile junior college recruits Darrius Caldwell and Dalvon Stuckey for academic reasons, Arizona State coach Todd Graham was sure to get some questions about the players and his junior college recruiting philosophy at Pac-12 Media Days in Hollywood.

As much consternation as losing Caldwell and Stuckey has created over the past week, Graham seems to have already turned the page.

"Obviously, we’d have loved to have a different outcome, but we’re going to be fine," Graham told reporters. "We’re excited about the guys we have and we’ll get it done with the guys we have."

Caldwell and Stuckey, teammates at Pearl River Community College in Poplarville, Miss., last season, were expected to compete for starting jobs at Devil-backer and defensive tackle, respectively. They were widely considered the favorites to win those jobs and be key pieces to ASU’s defensive rebuilding efforts.

While those losses could prove significant, Graham minimized them within the big picture.

"It’s disappointing we had a couple of guys that didn’t make it, but if you’re depending on a couple of guys, you’re in trouble," Graham said.

ASU has had a few junior college recruits deal with academic qualification issues before, including star receiver Jaelen Strong, who missed the start of fall camp last season as he awaited academic clearance. But this was the first time under Graham a junior college player hasn’t enrolled.

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Still, Graham defended his philosophy on junior college recruiting and said it won’t change because of a couple of players. ASU has signed 25 junior college players in Graham’s three signing classes.

"I really think it’s got to be a blend or a balance," Graham said. "I’ll take all the Marion Grices, all the Jaelen Strongs, all the Chris Youngs I can get, and it’s not just because of their talent. Those guys have great heart, great work ethic (and) really bought into how we do things."

Graham noted ASU’s three biggest junior college successes. Grice was drafted by the San Diego Chargers, Young signed with the Houston Texans and Strong is expected to be one of the Pac-12’s best receivers this season after tallying more than 1,000 receiving yards in his first season at ASU.

But for as many notable success stories, there are typically as many failures. Mike Pennell was expected to contribute on the defensive line in 2012 but had recurring discipline issues and eventually left the program. Receiver Joseph Morris never played a snap because of an eligibility discrepancy rooted in a previous junior college stop.

Graham is willing to risk those failures if it means a few successes as big as Grice, Young and Strong. This year, ASU’s offense could feature three junior college starters, with De’Marieya Nelson at tight end, Nick Kelly at center and Eric Lauderdale at receiver. The defense could have as many as five former junior college players starting.

Graham also said he’s bothered by the fact some view junior college recruits in a negative light. Though he never attended junior college himself, he said he relates to junior college recruits because he was not a good student in high school and needed someone to give him an opportunity, which East Central (Okla.) University did.

"That’s what to me this should be all about — giving people those opportunities," Graham said. "I don’t want to discriminate against a group of kids because somebody thinks it’s a negative connotation, but they have to meet our standards of what we’re about."

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