Until this year’s National Signing Day on Wednesday, Todd Graham‘s best recruiting job among local athletes was the four he picked up in the 2013 class.
That was Graham’s second season as head coach of the Arizona State football program and his first opportunity at a full off-season on the recruiting trail. The next three classes, however, yielded just three locals each year.
His 2015 and 2016 compilations were both generally regarded as Top-25 recruiting classes, but he still wasn’t meeting his own personal goals for increasing in-state participation, goals he publicly aired upon arriving in Tempe before the 2012 season.
After that 2013 class – which included Chase Cox from Blue Ridge High School, the No. 1 ranked fullback (Scout) in the country, and the No. 13 linebacker (Rivals), 300-pound offensive lineman Christian Westerman from Hamilton High who transferred back to ASU after two season at Auburn – Graham re-affirmed his commitment to that recruiting philosophy.
“Go from the inside out,” he said at signing day to break down his thoughts on the subject. “It’s to start right here in the Valley and build relationships.” He had to bring in 10 junior college transfers that year, which is about double what he would normally recruit, in order to bring some immediate help to his rebuilding program.
This year, he cast his recruiting nets over in-state high schools and wound up with his biggest catch so far – nine local athletes.
And not just enough bodies to show increasing numbers. He picked up some of the state’s best talent to add quality to quantity.
Tyler Johnson is a defensive lineman from Highland High School in Gilbert who is considered by 24/7 Sports as the No. 3 recruit in the state. K.J. Jarrell, a safety, and linebacker Kyle Soelle, both from Scottsdale’s Saguaro High are No. 4 and No. 5 respectively.
The No. 9-ranked in-stater is a really big prize since Ryan Kelley from Chandler’s Basha High is also considered the state’s top quarterback.
That gives Graham an abundance of incoming talent at the QB position. Blake Barnett is a five-star prospect out of California who played for Alabama last year before deciding to transfer to ASU. Coming out of high school, Barnett was ranked as the No. 1 pocket passer in the nation by ESPN and earned the same distinction from Rivals as a dual-threat QB.
Barnett has been cleared by the NCAA to play when the 2017 season begins. He and Kelley will be competing for the starting job with Manny Wilkins and Dillon Sterling-Cole, both of whom saw considerable playing time last season.
It’s usually Northern Arizona University that loads up its roster with local athletes. As an FCS school playing in the Big Sky Conference, the Lumberjacks don’t have the same drawing power as the Pac-12 programs. But they signed up just one more local than the Sun Devils in their class of 30.
NAU loaded up on Arizona and California prospects, adding another 14 from Cali. But head coach Jerome Souers continues to emphasize the opportunities with local talent: “Our priority is always going to be recruiting the state of Arizona and I think we have proven once again that a lot of the very best Arizona has to offers end up with a Lumberjack jersey on. There are numerous signees that participated and won state championships in Arizona this past season.”
Souers, who just finished his 19th season as head coach at the Flagstaff school, lost 16 seniors from last year’s squad. His immediate needs included some new blood in the receiving corps, which he filled with five new recruits, three of which were 3-star rated.
Cole Beaty is from California, but Chance Brewington and Terrell Brown were standouts at Arizona high schools, Brewington from Hamilton High and Brown from Basha High.
University of Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez says he expects to be announcing additional players to his 2017 class, which so far includes 23 players, five who enrolled at mid-year and 18 who signed their NLI on Wednesday.
But that group included just five locals this year. California contributed five more recruits to the class, but the remainder are spread over five other states.
RichRod went big on linebackers, adding six to that position and 15 on defense overall. The biggest catch on ‘D’ might be Dione Taufahema, a 310-pound defensive tackle who is transferring in from College of the Canyons in California.
The highest-rated recruit in the class is on offense. Nathan Tilford is a four-star running back from Ontario, Calif., who is ranked No. 17 nationally at his position by the 247Sports composite.
But the one with the highest profile, at least locally, is Rhett Rodriguez. The son of the head coach is wrapping up his senior season at Catalina Foothills High School in Tucson where he threw for nearly 3,000 yards as a senior and led his team to the 4A state championship game.
RhettRod will be among five hopefuls challenging for the starting QB job in the fall.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)