A year in, ASU staff sees progress in recruiting

A year ago, the Arizona State coaching staff was still scrambling. Todd Graham was less than two months in to his tenure as the Sun Devils’ new football coach, and National Signing Day was imminent. Graham and his still-incomplete staff were working with very little time to assemble their first recruiting class.

A year later, ASU has made significant strides in recruiting, putting together a strong 2013 class without the added pressures of settling into a new school.

“You’re putting together a class, not really trying to salvage one,” recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach Chip Long said. “It’s been completely different, too, because we’ve got a full staff now. A lot of times last year, it was just a few guys at times.”

ASU’s 2012 recruiting class actually proved rather strong considering the circumstances. Local running back D.J. Foster highlighted the class, and defensive lineman Jaxon Hood wasn’t far behind, as both earned freshman All-American honors.

The Sun Devils also managed to maintain some key commitments from Dennis Erickson’s efforts, including offensive lineman Evan Goodman and linebacker Carlos Mendoza, while also landing important junior college players such as running back Marion Grice and linebacker Chris Young.

At the same time, ASU began working on its 2013 class, on which Long admits the staff was behind. That class has grown much stronger over the last month or so and will be revealed next Wednesday on National Signing Day. Coaches are unable to comment on specific recruits until they have signed their letter of intent.

With a year in Arizona, ASU’s efforts for the coming class have been more nuanced rather than hasty pitches on a tight deadline.

“It’s a lot different,” Long said. “You have your relationships built up with these kids, so it’s not just a head-on-a-swivel, wild-goose-chase-type deal. You can set things up and plan a lot easier. And you know the lay of the land, too.”

From the very beginning, Graham made it known Arizona would be his first priority in recruiting. Though four of the top five Arizona prospects, as rated by Scout.com, have committed elsewhere — four-star Blue Ridge linebacker Chans Cox being the exception — ASU has still forged strong relationships with local programs.

While coaches and players at Arizona high schools are getting to know ASU more and more, Long says there’s still much progress to be made.

“It’s a process,” Long said. “This year it’s been a battle. It’s a constant process getting these high school coaches to trust us, get around us and be around these kids and just elevate ASU’s name locally. It’s going to take time.

“We hit it as hard as we could possibly hit it, and we’re going to continue to do that and see if we can change this or not.”

Perhaps the greatest boost ASU has received in its recruiting efforts has been via a successful 2012 season, as the Sun Devils went 8-5 and captured their first bowl victory since 2005. That gave coaches something tangible with which to recruit as opposed to the prospect of future success.

“Everybody (last year) was just believing what we were saying,” Long said. “Now, we went and proved what we said was true and they can see it, feel it and touch it.”

The tangibles go beyond wins and losses, though. There are also individual selling points that have materialized from the 2012 season, beginning with an explosive offense and exceptional defense, both of which ranked in the top 30 nationally. Both were promises Graham made upon his arrival and delivered on immediately.

Individual players’ successes within the system have proved a selling point as well. In ASU’s attacking defense, defensive tackle Will Sutton became a consensus All-American and the Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year. First-year starting quarterback Taylor Kelly broke school records for efficiency, and tight end Chris Coyle set a position record for receptions.

“You want to be able to show those things on film (to recruits), and now we can,” Long said. “That’s what’s been so good about having two explosive, high-profile units.”

The progress ASU has made in recruiting perhaps shows up best in evaluations of the strength of its 2013 class. Scout.com ranks the class, which is still not complete, 28th in the nation after ranking last year’s class No. 43. Rivals.com has ASU ranked 30th, up from 38th in 2012.

Still, Long stresses ASU’s staff has a ways to go in recruiting. They want to get stronger locally and have yet to make significant inroads in recruiting hotbeds Texas and Southern California. They want to sell double-digit winning seasons and BCS bowls. They want to be a national recruiting power with the pull of schools such as Oregon, Texas, Notre Dame and Michigan.

Those might seem like pretty lofty goals for a staff with one season under its belt, but Long says ASU approaches recruiting with a no-fear mentality.

“It’s all a state of mind: We’re not below anybody,” Long said. “We think ASU is just as good as any one of those schools, so we’re going to compete against them and we’re going to bloody our nose against them. We’ve got a lot to sell here.”

Long says he can’t truly evaluate the recruiting progress ASU has made in one year until the players from the first and second classes are a couple years into their ASU careers. But as for the process side, it’s clear now much has changed in a year.

“Just the roots we’re setting down, we’re so much further ahead,” Long said. “We’re even so much further ahead for next year’s class. It’s really exciting.”