TEMPE — Arizona State entered this recruiting cycle with significant needs on defense, but the Sun Devils also needed a quarterback, something coach Todd Graham had not signed during his first two years on campus.
On Wednesday Graham introduced Manny Wilkins and Coltin Gerhart, two quarterbacks from California who one day soon will compete to run what has been a high-powered ASU offense. Wilkins and Gerhart are part of a 25-player 2014 recruiting class that could shape up as the school’s finest in the recruiting-service era, a stretch that runs through 2002.
By late afternoon on national signing day, the four major recruiting services ranked ASU’s class from 17th to 21st nationally. The Sun Devils haven’t had a
top-25 class since 2008.
“There are a lot of factors that go into it,” Graham said of ASU’s recruiting success. “I think the commitment that our university is making to put this new stadium in is big. It shows commitment that we want to be a top-five program in the country. … The facilities, the commitment that we’re making I think helps, (but) the winning tradition is No. 1. People want to go to places that are winning.”
ASU currently has two scholarship quarterbacks: two-year starter Taylor Kelly, who’s entering his final season, and backup Mike Bercovici. Still, the Sun Devils needed help for the future. Wilkins, from Novato, Calif., is the highest-rated quarterback to sign with ASU since 2005. What stood out about him: “Leadership, athleticism, strong arm and accuracy,” offensive coordinator Mike Norvell wrote in a text message. “Has great potential.”
Norvell said he’s just as excited about Gerhart, a dual threat who played his senior season at Vista Murrieta High in Murrieta, Calif. He is the younger brother of former Stanford standout Toby Gerhart and former ASU center Garth Gerhart.
“One of the toughest quarterbacks I’ve ever evaluated,” Graham said of Gerhart. “It’s going to be exciting to watch him and Manny compete.”
Overall, ASU’s biggest need came on the defensive line, where the Sun Devils lost all four starters from last season, including All-America defensive tackle Will Sutton and second-team All-Pac-12 selection Carl Bradford. ASU got a boost Wednesday when Dalvon Stuckey, who last month de-committed from Auburn, decided to sign with the Sun Devils. A four-star prospect out of Pearl River Community College in Mississippi, Stuckey is the No. 8 junior college prospect as rated by ESPN.com.
Other defensive linemen who signed: Renell Wren of St. Louis, Tashon Smallwood of Fresno, Calif., and Connor Humphreys of Portland, Ore. (Junior college transfer Edmond Boateng was a mid-year signee.) Graham said all have the potential to contribute next season.
More signing-day notes:
ASU signed three from Arizona: Gilbert Higley tackle Quinn Bailey, Goodyear Desert Edge linebacker Ismael Murphy-Richardson and Scottsdale Chaparral receiver Tyler Whiley. A four-star recruit, Whiley starred on both sides at Chaparral, and Graham said he has already talked with him about the possibility of playing defense as well.
Besides Arizona, the Sun Devils signed 10 from California, two from Texas, two from Georgia, two from Virginia and one each from Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon and Pennsylvania.
Including Boateng, the Sun Devils signed six junior college players. Five — Stuckey (No. 8), receiver Eric Lauderdale (No. 23), cornerback Kweishi Brown (No. 24), Boateng (No. 25) and linebacker Darrius Caldwell (No. 40) — are ranked in ESPN.com’s Top 50 junior college rankings.
ASU could add one more today. Four-star athlete Kalen Ballage — expected to play running back — didn’t sign Wednesday because his school in Falcon, Colo., closed because of poor weather. Ballage is expected to make his decision today provided conditions improve.
Graham said being featured on The Pac-12 Networks’ “The Drive,” a weekly television series that followed the Sun Devils throughout the season “really allowed homes to be opened up to the great teachers that we have here.”