Todd Graham was proud of the big fish that he and his coaching staff snared in their latest recruiting catch. But he was especially proud that most came from his own little backyard pond.
The first-year head football coach at Arizona State just announced the addition of five new players that have signed scholarship agreements – and three of them are locals. He plucked two of those right out of Arizona high schools. For the other, he had to wait until the youngster decided he made a mistake two years ago when choosing to play at Auburn.
But that one was worth the wait.
Christian Westerman is one of the best high school football players to come out of the state of Arizona. He’s an offensive lineman that can bench press over 500 pounds and helped Chandler’s Hamilton High School to back-to-back state titles; the Huskies were undefeated during his junior and senior years there.
“We’re excited to add Christian, who is one of the best players to have come out of this state in a while,” says Graham in a moment of understatement while turning cartwheels all the way down the halls of the athletic department offices at ASU.
Westerman was the top recruit in Arizona his senior year at Hamilton. One major rating service had him listed as the No. 2 offensive tackle in the nation his senior year and another put him as the No. 1 offensive guard.
He got one start as an offensive guard at Auburn last year, one of just two games he played for the Tigers, a result of an injury-riddled season. The 19-year-old committed to Auburn after high school and was redshirted for the 2011 season.
Westerman, who just may be the highest-ranked recruit in ASU history, is not only the gem of this recruiting class, but he can also be the poster boy now for Graham’s campaign to put a new emphasis on local recruiting.
“When it comes to recruiting, the one thing that you cannot replace is family and what it means,” he likes to point out. “What our program stands for now – character and class – you can stay right here at home and do everything you want to do.” And that includes competing, he says, for a Pac-12 title, as well as on the national level.
“We’re thrilled to bring one of the best in the state back home.”
The other two locals out of this group of five aren’t too shabby, either. They are coming to the Sun Devil program directly out of high school, so it may take some time before they get their chance to make an impact on the program. But there’s a good chance that will eventually happen.
Chans Cox spent his prep career playing for one of the most dominant programs in small-school competition in Arizona. Cox was a running back on offense and played linebacker for Blue Ridge High School, a small school located in the White Mountains town of Lakeside.
He helped Blue Ridge earn spots in three state championship games that resulted in a state title in 2011 when the Yellowjackets compiled a 14-0 record.
Cox is a four-star recruit that is considered the No. 3 overall prospect in Arizona and ranked by Scout.com as the top national recruit at fullback.
“Chans had an opportunity to go anywhere in the country and he came here,” Graham points out. “He’s a guy that will be impactful to our program in a hurry.”
The youngster is just as eager to get started with the program. He plans to graduate early and hit the ASU campus in time to participate in spring drills.
And the third local recruit will also arrive in Tempe early enough for spring drills, after sitting out a year. Kisima Jagne is a 2012 graduate of Chandler High School and had signed to play for Colorado. Fortunately for Graham, he decided to delay his enrollment and has since opted to come back home to play for the Sun Devils.
Jagne will help provide some depth to the defense and is expected to get a chance at defensive end for the Devils. Ranked as one of the top prospects in the state his senior year at Chandler, he was ranked No. 6 in the state by ESPN.com, which also slotted him at No. 52 nationally as a defensive end.
“Kisima…is a guy that fits our hybrid system because of, among other things, his great ability to rush the passer,” says Graham about the 6’5″, 275-pound athlete. He averaged over 10 tackles a game as a senior and posted 10 quarterback sacks for the Wolves.
“Our (recruiting) plan for here is inside out – that’s from the Phoenix Valley and out across the rest of the state,” explains Graham in announcing his high-profile local catches. “Being close to home is important for these local guys, but we understand that, at the same time, we have to provide a program that offers what they young people want.”
That would include a winning program, which Graham has provided in his first year at the helm.
A 7-5 record, the first winning season in four years, is a good start. But a win next weekend in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl would really help to keep that momentum going out on the recruiting trail.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)