Arizona State has a chance today to lasso perhaps its finest football recruiting class of the past decade, and it’s not a coincidence that the Sun Devils are coming off one of their finest seasons over the same stretch.
Last year, despite a disappointing finish in the Holiday Bowl, ASU went 10-4, representing the Pac-12 South in the conference championship game. Perhaps as a result, the Sun Devils, entering coach Todd Graham’s third season, have a great chance to wrap up their first Top 25 recruiting class in six years.
Graham “is a guy that’s won at places that are difficult to win at,’’ said Tom Luginbill, recruiting director at ESPN. “He’s won at Rice, he’s won at Tulsa, and then you get a job at Arizona State, where you have resources, you have a lot to sell and then you start winning pretty quickly. Winning and recruiting go hand in hand.”
The four major recruiting services rank ASU anywhere from 12th to 22nd nationally. The Sun Devils might not finish atop the Pac-12, but there’s a good chance they’ll secure their highest conference ranking in several years.
Perhaps most impressive: They’ve lassoed commitments they haven’t gotten in recent years. Four-star linebacker Derik Calhoun, a former USC commit, flipped to ASU after coach Lane Kiffin was fired. Receiver Jalen Harvey, a former California commit, also flipped to the Sun Devils.
“It used to be Arizona State was everyone’s first offer,’’ said J.C. Shurburtt, national recruiting director for 247 Sports. “They were the school that kind of got out in front. They’d get some early commits, then lose them. But this year they came and got some kids that were committed elsewhere. That’s extremely impressive.”
ASU has six players in ESPN’s 300: receiver Tyler Whiley (103) of Scottsdale Chaparral; receiver Nick Alexander of Lancaster, Texas; (198); Harvey (216) of El Cerrito, Calif.; Calhoun (219) of El Cerrito, Calif.; defensive tackle Tashon Smallwood (234) of Fresno, Calif.; and defensive tackle Connor Humphreys (239) of Portland, Ore.
“As I look at this class, they know they have significant departures in the defensive secondary, significant departures in the defensive front, including the linebacking corps,’’ Luginbill said. “And if you look at our rankings for this group, that’s where the bulk of their highest-rated players are. They’ve also done a nice job of bringing in speed and more playmakers at wide receiver.”
Long term, the biggest recruit could be Manny Wilkins, a quarterback from Novato, Calif. ASU didn’t sign a quarterback in Graham’s first two classes, so getting at least one this year was a priority.
Luginbill says he thinks Wilkins ultimately will be a better fit for ASU’s offense than current quarterback Taylor Kelly.
Shurburtt also has high praise for Wilkins.
“As he develops, he will be an outstanding quarterback,’’ he said. “He’s got the ‘it’ factor about him.”
Much could change. Kalen Ballage, a four-star athlete from Falcon, Colo., committed to ASU in January but reportedly is considering UCLA.
According to Shurburtt, Ballage, expected to play running back at ASU, is the steal of this class.
“He could be special,” he said.
Also undecided: Dalvon Stuckey, a four-star defensive tackle from Pearl River Community College in Mississippi who recently visited the Sun Devils. He has yet to announce, but appears to be leaning toward ASU. Kenyon Frison, a four-star offensive tackle from West Valley City, Utah, also is considering the Sun Devils, as are defensive end Darrius Caldwell (a teammate of Stuckey’s) and four-star defensive lineman Deondre Clark, an LSU commit.
“In years past, the previous coaches at Pac-12 schools, they weren’t that aggressive,’’ said Brandon Huffman, recruiting analyst for Fox Sports/Scout.com.
“Everybody just kind of conceded that USC was going to get whoever they wanted, that there was no point in trying to recruit against them.
“Now everybody thinks they’re the alpha male in the conference, and everybody’s recruiting as such. That’s what Graham brought in, the ability to recognize that Arizona State should recruit like they’re a top-three team in the Pac-12. “