Doors open for ASU to fight for recruits

BY foxsports • February 4, 2015

TEMPE, Ariz. -- There's no shot at going to battle if you can't get in the door.

Todd Graham and the Arizona State football program don't take that for granted these days. They've won on the field of late and in turn received a little more exposure. Sure, ASU lost a few recruits to powerhouse USC on decision day, but several high-profile recruits who picked the Trojans on Wednesday had hats with pitchfork logos on their tables and in front of them as they announced their college choices.

"What we do, we really branded ourself," Graham said. "Our offense is very exciting, very attractive to play in. If you get on ESPN and say, 'Guys, tell us who is No. 1 in the country in attacking defense?' There's not any of those analysts who is not going to list Arizona State."

"We're getting in some battles," he added. "Because of the success we've had on the field, those doors have been opened to us."

Many of those doors weren't open before. Graham must be proud of the steps ASU is taking, even if the battles he's found himself in haven't led to wins on the recruiting front. But like a real game on the gridiron, being in those battles until the final buzzer says something.

"You're not going to win every one of those," Graham said. "We're going to do that. Where we are right now and where we were three years ago, it is completely different recruiting."

Graham spent the majority of an hour and five minutes on Wednesday afternoon going through his recruiting class of 22 -- one-by-one, position by position. He pointed out the other schools recruiting each player, their measurables and their high school achievements. It sounded like a lot of other coaches during National Signing Day.

But did any other coach spend so much time talking about their 2015 haul? Probably not. Graham seemed proud, even if there were a few whiffs.

The first nitpick of the class: ASU doesn't have a receiver, but Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell didn't rule out adding one down the road -- Terrell Chatman from Baton Rouge, La., is making his decision Thursday after taking extra time to give it additional thought. The Sun Devils will be quick to point out only one wideout, Jaelen Strong, is leaving. D.J. Foster's move from running back to receiver helps soften the blow.

"That's a pretty good trade there," Norvell said. "We're looking for the right guys. We weren't going to go out and just sign a body just to say we did."

Outside of the wideouts, Graham said every position group in this recruiting class can be considered the best since he arrived. The 2015 class, as it stands on the evening of signing day, includes eight players ranked by Scout as 4-star or 5-star prospects. It's the 19th-best class in the nation, per Scout.

Another minor quibble: The Sun Devils still haven't done a great job holding down their own state, and a Wednesday morning flip by Mountain Pointe High running back Paul Lucas to Oregon State didn't help that perception.

"Our plan is to win and get the best and the brightest," Graham said. "We're going to win this Valley, win this state. I'm not going to tell you it's frustrating. You're a top-12 team, the success we've had, we ought to be able to keep them here."

Still, ASU pulled in two local offensive linemen in Gilbert High's Steve Miller and Williams Field High's Cade Cote, two 3-star prospects whom Scout.com director of recruiting Brandon Huffman said could be under-the-radar additions. They also pulled in a commitment from quarterback Bryce Perkins of Chandler High.

Sticking to the local theme, it's important to remember perspective.

Arizona isn't as rich in talent as Southern California. ASU pulled in 11 prospects from the entirety of California, where very good talent doesn't exactly stick out like a sore thumb playing next to or behind 5-star recruits.

ASU's most surprising and maybe the most talented commitment, defensive tackle Joseph Wicker, is a 4-star prospect from Long Beach Poly. Four of the Sun Devils' seven 4-star recruits are from the Los Angeles area.

"We have to win inside-out, with a gas tank away," Graham said. "So Southern California is vital to us and we do well there."

Overall, the Sun Devils picked up commitments from players representing eight home states. Four-star running back Jaason Lewis, a high school All-American, is from Virginia, and 5-star junior college transfer Davon Durant, signed in December, is from Butler Community College in Kansas.

Graham sees a number of players from the 2015 class competing for snaps right away.

The overall depth could use some help -- ASU's injuries in the Arizona game very well could have cost it a Pac-12 Championship berth. And physically, Graham has sought more length on the lines and more strength across the board.

With so many returning players on both sides of the ball, the Sun Devils have the problem no college coach sees as a burden.

"Guys see that they come to Arizona State, they're going to be developed," Norvell said. "When they get here, they're going to be coached. We play a lot of guys.

"You look at Ohio State, you look at their situation," he added. "When the season started, there's a lot of people who probably weren't talking about their third quarterback. It came down to the end of the season and he's the one to help them win a championship."

ASU made an educated decision not to burn roster spots with receivers they didn't want. The emphasis on the offensive end, then, went toward running back and especially the line.

"We're want to stockpile and overstock both sides of the line of scrimmage," Graham said.

Graham expects some of the five offensive linemen in the class -- Dillon Faamatau, Zach Robertson, Mason Walter, Steve Miller and Cade Cote -- to immediately compete on the two-deep rotation.

The running back position, despite the returns of Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage, added depth with Foster moving to receiver. Jaason Lewis adds gerth as a 241-pound back who can also catch out of the backfield.

Graham is also searching for options at tight end. De'Marieya Nelson is gone and though Chris Coyle showed promise, the Sun Devils also expect 4-star recruit JayJay Wilson, listed by most recruiting services as a linebacker, to see time at 3-back. He, junior college transfer Raymond Epps and Thomas Hudson could fight for tight end/h-back snaps.

And with quarterback Mike Bercovici having one more year, the Sun Devils added to next year's competition with Hart High School's Brady White and Chandler High School's Bryce Perkins.

Bryce Perkins to FOX Sports Arizona's Jody Jackson on the news that Mountain Pointe High School running back Paul Lucas flipped to attend Oregon State: "I guess he'll find out he made the wrong decision later."  

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