It took Zeke Jones just 70 days to settle into his new job as the Arizona State head wrestling coach and reel in the first additions to his program, scoring a huge recruiting coup in the process.
And he got a two-for-one deal to boot!
Jones, who was named the new ASU coach following the resignation of Shawn Charles in the first week of April, has secured the commitments of Zahid and Anthony Valencia, the high-profile brother tandem from St. John Bosco High school in California who finished the 2014 season ranked No. 1 in the nation in their respective weight classes.
Jones will have to wait another year before getting the brothers on an ASU mat since both just wrapped up their junior seasons. But the announcement that they have committed to the Sun Devil program will have a huge immediate impact on recruiting efforts.
They are both highly-prized recruits that were wooed by top college wrestling programs like those at Nebraska and Minnesota. Their final choices actually came down to a decision between ASU and Penn State, the No. 1 program in the country that has won the last four NCAA team titles.
Let that last sentence sink in a little. Penn State, the No. 1 program in the country. Or Arizona State. Kinda takes your breath away.
Considerations such as Arizona’s closeness to home and the fact that there is a USA Wrestling regional training center in Tempe helped put ASU on the short list. But it was the selection of Jones to take over the Sun Devil program that was likely the deciding factor. Jones has been so involved in amateur wrestling over the years that he is widely recognized by just his first name. His reputation is impeccable.
After a stellar career wrestling for ASU during the ’90s, during which he won Pac-12 championships at 118 pounds twice and was a three-time All-American, he became widely acknowledged as one of the premier coaches in the sport. After winning a silver medal at the 1992 Olympics, he went on to coach at the 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2012 Olympic Games and entered the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Jones left USA Wrestling, where he was the national freestyle coach, to take the ASU job.
His hire was the first by the new athletic director, Ray Anderson, and it is already looking like a decision that will pay big dividends. The acquisition of the Valencia brothers should have an immediate impact on the program. Their high school coach has even told the media he feels they will turn ASU into an immediate title contender.
Although both are in the same class in school, Anthony is a year older. He wrestles in the 170 weight class and just won his second state championship. Zahid competes at 132 and also owns two state championships.
Both brothers won as freshmen, fell short of titles in stunning upsets their sophomore year, but committed to taking bath their titles this season. Zahid went undefeated in 36 matches and pinned his opponent in this year’s title match to lock down his second crown, while Anthony finished the season 33-0 and dominated in his title match, winning 14-4.
Jones is taking over a tradition-rich program that has fallen on tough times in recent years. The Devils haven’t had a top-50 finish nationally since the 2011 season.
Next season will be a big test for Jones as he still needs to fill that roster with some fresh talent and show some upward movement for the program. But he has begun laying a solid foundation for the future with the recruitment of the Valencia brothers.
And don’t think recruiting prospects all across the country aren’t taking notice.