As of Wednesday night Arizona State’s recruiting class is ranked by Scout.com 9th in the Pac-12 and 43rd overall nationally. Their average player ranking is 7th in the conference at 2.87 stars per player.
“One of the things I tell our players is that I want our players, when recruits come on campus, I want to be exact tell them honestly what it is like,” Graham explained. “We’re looking for young men that are unique. We’re looking for young men that have great character. We’re looking for guys that see themselves as smart and understand that what they do academically is going to last them a lifetime and see that we want to put the smartest team on the field in the Pac-12.”
“Don’t put much stock in recruiting rankings. I don’t know exactly where we came out but I can tell you that we were very excited. We didn’t win every single battle but we won a majority of them. My deal is I always tell parents that it is in my prayers that they end up where they are supposed to and we feel like we got the ones we were supposed to today.”
The 2012 class includes 12 defensive players, 11 offensive players and one specialist. The position breakdown reveals four defensive linemen, four linebackers, three defensive backs, three offensive linemen, three running backs, three wide receivers, two tight ends and one long snapper.
Graham believed that for the most part the areas of needs on the squad have been addressed with this group of signees, and didn't fill like his staff was pressured to satisfy a certain quota of newcomers.
“Linebacker was a big sense of urgency,” Graham admitted. “Secondly on defense would be depth at the safety position. We really wanted to get a big corner and we wanted to get a pass rusher. That was the pecking order on defense.
“On offense, it never changes – playmakers. Explosive playmakers. People pay good money to come out here and sit (in the stands) and they want to see those big plays. I talk about them everyday. So playmakers are first and foremost, but offensive line is an area where we really wanted to help ourselves, but you know what? We only took three guys and we would have taken five. But we took the three and made sure we got the right ones and we were patient.
“That’s one thing I told our coaches, we’re not just going to fill out a class. We are going to get the right kids and with the right fit.”
A high number of junior college players signed in a class usually raises the proverbial red flag, and ASU has nine players from those ranks. Graham acknowledged that he would prefer to have players that will be at ASU for four and not two years.
Nonetheless, Graham stated that when he does recruit a junior college prospect, he looks for a combination of best talent and best character, as well as someone who can make an immediate impact in an area of need. In that sense, the ASU head coach feels that all the junior college players in this class does address that criteria.
“Obviously if we are going to take guy from junior college, they have to be ready to come in and play,” Graham explained. “Obviously we had some specific needs and we were very fortunate…you look at the guys we were able to pick up. We’re very excited about them.
“Each one of them we handled individually and I can put my stamp on every one of those kids. Every one of them are guys that fit our program.”
There is little doubt that Graham’s first order of business when he arrived in Tempe was to evaluate the recruiting class, preserve those commits he and his staff wished to keep as well as clearly and honestly communicate to some of the former Sun Devil pledges that they would be a better fit elsewhere.
“We told them: ‘This is what we are about. This how we see you fit or not.,’ Graham said. “There was lot of work to be done and anytime you have a change like that it really can cause a lot of unrest but I credit our staff for being honest.
“I was just honest and straight forward and making sure that they have a clear understanding of what our program is all about.”
In general, Graham confessed that have a later start in the recruiting cycle is naturally very challenging when trying to convince commits to stay put. Ultimately, recruiting is rooted in relationships which is a time consuming process.
“The thing that we try to remind the kid, is that there is reason why you committed to Arizona State,” Graham commented. “This is a great place and it should be more than just a coach. It was very difficult because when you have a change there is some newness to it and some positives, but mostly it makes it very difficult.
“I think some of the landscape of the conference helped us a little bit, because there was a lot of change and a lot of new coaches. I think you have to fit a place. Every coach has an ego and he thinks he can win wherever he goes and you have to be a good fit for a place. I think our staff is a great fit here at Arizona State and I think this is why we were able to pull this thing together.”
Despite the relatively short time he has been at ASU, the tireless efforts of Graham and his staff on the recruiting trail have been well documented and they are going to continue in full swing for the next recruiting class.
“We’re extremely excited and I am very proud of this bunch of guys,” Graham declared. “In any year, I’d be happy with the group of men we just signed. I’m excited about 2013 and looking forward to getting out there.
“Those big time playmakers with big time character – we are coming after you.”