Local juniors rave about unofficial visit

The extensive recruiting efforts of head coach Todd Graham and his staff have been well documented in recent weeks, yet they have not been limited to the 2012 class. On Saturday afternoon, the Sun Devil coaches welcomed over a handful of some of the top in-state 2013 prospects for an unofficial visit on the Tempe campus. It was an event that drew glowing reviews from its participants.

"It was great to sit down with all the new staff," said Lakeside Blue Ridge High School linebacker Chans Cox. "It was great getting to know them. "I really liked that coach Graham and a lot of the coaching staff was around us all day doing everything with us. I also liked that it wasn't a junior day (event), but he invited the few juniors he has offered in-state.

"They showed me that they want to keep the top kids in Arizona."

The 6-3 220-pound linebacker, who was already awarded a four-star ranking by Scout.com, collected 61 tackles as Blue Ridge recorded a 14-0 mark and captured the Division IV title last season. The Yellow Jackets' standout talked to Arizona State linebackers coach Joe Loring and discussed the defensive scheme that the Sun Devils will run and how it can complement Cox's skill set.

"We went over my sophomore and junior film," Cox remarked, "and he said how much my game can fit what they will run over there. It was really cool to see how well I would fit in the program. They said that they like how I can blitz well from an outside linebacker spot and getting into the backfield."

Cox, much like each and every prospect in attendance Cox had a one-on-one meeting with Graham. It was a chance for Cox to further enhance his already strong rapport with ASU's head coach.

"I've been staying in contact with coach Graham, calling him every week," Cox stated. "We have built a really great relationship. What I liked about coach Graham is that even before he looks at how athletic someone is, he looks to see if they have character and discipline, seeing how they are off the field as well.

"When I'm looking at a college that it the type of stuff I'm looking for and they are really trying to do that at ASU. Faith and relationships is what the coaches care about the most. Out of anything on the visit that stuck out the most for me."

Cox mentioned Arizona, Michigan State, Oregon State, Boise State and USC are some of the schools that have been recruiting the linebackers in earnest for the last several weeks and months. Cox mentioned a few of the schools he plans to take unofficial to.

"We might try and go out to the USC and Boise State junior day," Cox said. "I'm sure I'll be at ASU's junior day and some of their spring practices."

Aside from building a relationship with the Sun Devil staff, Cox was looking forward to doing the same with the top local prospects who were on the visit with him.

"It was special being with those guys," Cox admitted. "It would be cool if all went to ASU because we know each other. I think, like me, they were all surprised to see all the changes that were going on at ASU and were real happy with what they were hearing."

Tempe Marcos de Niza defensive back, Priest Willis (pictured), was also impressed with his Saturday afternoon experience.

"I got there a little late because was taking my SAT," Willis said. "But when I got there they welcomed me and I was touring the football facilities with everyone. They treated me like I was home, like I was a player there already. It was real nice.

"The campus was even more beautiful when I toured it with them. I think there is no campus like it. Every time I see it I'm more amazed by it. The academic person explained a lot of stuff to me and I got a lot of understanding for ASU."

Willis added that he and his parents will visit ASU on Sunday as well, to get more in-depth knowledge of the academic aspect of the school.

In 2011 Willis posted 56 tackles, eight passes defended, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries for the 9-3 Padres who were eliminated in the second round of the Division II playoffs. His junior season film was evaluated by new ASU defensive backs coach, Chris Ball, who offered Willis a scholarship earlier this month. Their persona; meting during the visit has a profound effect on Willis.

"Coach Ball was telling me about all the players he has coached that went on the NFL," Willis recalled, "Players like Marcus Trufant and Roman Harper. He said that with my talent in the secondary I can be just as good as those players. I was very humbled by what he said and that made me want to work that much harder. I'm glad he told me that."

The message conveyed to him by coach Graham may have been different in nature, but carried a deep impact as well.

"He told me that he wanted to keep the in-state players with good character who want to go far in life besides football," Willis remarked. "He said how important it was not only to play football but also get your college degree. He said that there is no place like ASU ,that I should stay here at home and that ASU should be your number one priority. He said for home state players there is no better opportunity.

"Coach said that a lot of your fan base is here in your hometown and they can come and support you at your games. He said that he can't wait to continue and recruit me along with the other coaches on the staff."

Willis said that he also relished being with some of the best in-state players in his class and was hoping to be their teammate at the college level.

"We all already have a good chemistry off the field," Willis explained. "It would be cool if we could play for one team and fighting for the one thing ASU needs and that is a national championship.

"Some players (on the visit) said that they were counting ASU off before they visited today and this visit put ASU at the top of their list. I can speak for each and every one of us and tell you that we like the changes at ASU and we all loved the visit."

Peoria Centennial running back Jalen Ortiz (pictured) also arrived a bit late for the event because of his SAT test, but that didn't come close to damper his unofficial visit.

"I got to spend like four hours there," Ortiz said. "I really liked touring the campus, seeing the Hall of fame area with the Terrell Suggs display and all the trophies. It was really cool hanging out with all the in-state juniors and all the coaches were really laid back. I just had a real good time."

As a junior, the 5-10 185-pound Ortiz rushed for 1,106 yards and 14 TDs, as well as catching 14 passes for 255 yards and more 5 TDs for the Coyotes. He also played cornerback for Centennial and that could ultimately be the position he will assume at the college level.

"They (ASU) haven't really decided yet if they want me at corner or safety," Ortiz said. "I was looking at film with coach Ball, seeing the coverages that they run. They like to jam a lot at corner and coach liked seeing that on my highlights because I was very aggressive. He also liked my speed.

"To be honest, I haven't decided what position I want to play in college."

Ortiz said that much like the rest of the unofficial visitors on Saturday, he received the same message from ASU's head coach.

"Coach Graham said that he wanted to build the program around the local players," Ortiz stated. "He also said that he liked my skills and thought I was a very dynamic playmaker."

Taking in the visit with several of the top junior in-state players, made Ortiz's experience that much more enjoyable.

"I did get there late but when I saw everyone, we were all excited to see each other," Ortiz commented. "It was really cool sharing this visit with all of them."

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