Just about any kid who has ever strapped on a football helmet has thought about someday playing in the National Football League.
So, what better place to get started on that road than Arizona State? The Sun Devils have eight former NFL players or coaches on staff, eager to share their tips on getting to the next level.
And, if that’s not part of their recruiting pitch, it certainly should be.
When Herm Edwards, a former NFL player and coach, was hired three years ago to begin rebuilding a stagnant ASU football program, he had a vision of what could happen if the college and professional games were blended into a single concept. The Pac-12 school became his laboratory for the experiment.
Edwards, who hadn’t coached a college game since 1989, had his doubters. But the improvement in the Sun Devil program over his first two years is turning those doubters into believers. His 2018 team went 7-6, but was followed by an 8-5 finish last year in a season that included a handful of losses decided by fewer than 10 points. Edwards was on the brink of a 10-win season in just his second year.
And his bosses have evidently noticed. In January, they gave the 66-year-old California native a two-year extension on his original five-year contract.
While he’s been enjoying success on the recruiting trail as he continues to build for the future, Edwards has also been quietly adding staff with pro-ball chops.
The addition of Robert Rodriguez back in February was the final piece of the puzzle for next season. Rodriguez, who spent the last five years as the Minnesota Vikings’ assistant defensive line coach, completed Edwards’ defensive staff.
The Vikes have been one of the better defenses in the league in recent years. From 2015 to 2018 they finished among the top five teams in total defense and scoring defense.
Not only is the NFL experience scattered among the various personnel on the ASU staff, it is deeply ingrained at the highest levels. Edwards, who spent almost his entire 30-year career in the pro ranks, has installed Marvin Lewis and Antonio Pierce as his co-defensive coordinators for the coming season.
Lewis is a highly-respected NFL coach who spent 16 years as the Cincinnati Bengals’ head coach and Pierce is a former Pro Bowl linebacker who also serves as recruiting coordinator.
During Lewis’ six seasons as the defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, he built one of the best defenses in the NFL. His 2000 squad set an NFL record for fewest points allowed (165) in a 16-game schedule and was key to winning a Super Bowl that year.
Shawn Slocum, the assistant coach and special teams coordinator, was the special teams coordinator for the Green Bay Packers, helping guide the Pack to five division championships and a Super Bowl win in 2010.
And one of Edwards’ latest additions, Nate Wainwright, spent five years with the New York Jets as executive administrator to the head coach, which is the role he will play in assisting Edwards.
There are seven players from the 2019 squad who will be making their NFL debuts this season. Running back Eno Benjamin was picked by the Arizona Cardinals in the seventh round, and wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk went to the San Francisco 49ers with the 25th overall pick — which made him the highest-drafted Sun Devil in 17 years.
The other five players have signed as undrafted free agents, with the Tennessee Titans scooping up three of those.
And for potential recruits, here’s something else to consider:
ASU is the only football program in the state this year that had a player selected in the NFL draft.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)