Staying home appeals to in-state recruits

Ever since Todd Graham arrived in Tempe 17 or so months ago, he stated that his biggest recruiting priority was to secure the best local prospects and have them join the ranks of the Sun Devils. We talked to several elite 2014 local prospects about their recruitment with ASU, a group that was receptive of the notion of joining forces and playing at college football in their own backyard.

Phoenix Mountain Pointe's two-way lineman Natrell Curtis is one local prospect who whether through interviews or social media has never hid his affinity to Arizona State and being pursued by the Sun Devils.

"It's a blessing to be recruited by them and so many other schools," Curtis said. "One thing I like about Arizona State is that every coach there messages me, checks up and sees what's going on. And they don't even talk to me a about football all the time, and show that they care about your personal life off the field. They want you to succeed there too.

"You want to go to a place where you have a great relationship with your teammates and coaches."

Losing weight is a big challenge that the 6-2 300-pound Curtis is determined to concur. The lineman quipped that he doesn't mind getting in shape with the assistance of his coaches, as long as "I know ahead of time how many miles we're going to run."

Therefore, when one of the lineman's coaches invited Curtis to join him for the 4.2 mile Pat's Run, Curtis obliged and said that the race held on ASU's campus was an experience that left a deep impression on him.

"I ran in a decent time and I was proud of myself," Curtis commented. "It was crazy seeing all the Arizona State fans there who recognized me and they showed me some love."

Playing for the Sun Devils, while being in familiar surroundings, around recognizable faces is a topic that comes up often in Curtis' conversations with his fellow local prospects.

"I pretty much know everybody," Curtis said of the state's 2014 recruits. "We always talk about staying home and playing together, making ASU a national contender. We have a lot of talent here at home to help ASU. So it could work out and it would be great to stay here and play with some of my best friends. That would be a fun experience.

"Being able to see my parents after every practice or every game would be great. It would just be cool to stay close to home."

Curtis noted that a school's academics is one aspect that he will examine before making a decision, and feels that this is another favorable factor the hometown school presents.

"I'm looking to see how may football players graduate from a school," Curtis explained, "and one thing about ASU is that you see that getting an education is the no. 1 thing for them. Having their players get a degree is just as important to the program as being a good football player."

Curtis feels that if a good number of elite recruits remained in their familiar surroundings and signed with the maroon and gold that they would certainly be capable of being a national powerhouse.

"Definitely," Curtis stated. "The talent here in the state is just rising and rising, not only with the 2014 class but also with the 2015 class. We have a lot of talented players here that can play with the best of them."

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Scottsdale Chaparral wide receiver Tyler Whiley, is another four-star prospect that has been receiving a lot of attention from the Sun Devil staff in the last year. Team culture and style of play are two elements that have caught Whiley's attention.

"I've been impressed with how disciplined the team is," Whiley remarked, "and how the coaches get them to play very fast and up tempo. With their passing game they do a good job getting athletes in space and getting them the ball any way they can to make plays."

Consequently, Whiley has been part of those aforementioned conversations that take place among the local prospects.

"Oh yeah, this is something I do think about," Whiley said of the possibility of signing with Arizona State. "Playing close to home, being able to see your family whenever you want to, like go to dinner with them or something like that…if I went out of state it would be different not having them around.

"I want to go to a school where I feel part of a brotherhood and feel like I get along with all the players. I know if some of us (local recruits) played together we would make it a really good team. That's something to think about and if some of them committed to ASU I would be thinking about it a lot more."

The wide receiver added that ASU shares all of the advantages that the other numerous schools pursuing him have.

"They are a team that can compete for a Rose Bowl or a national championship," Whiley said. "They also have good academics. I like how they play their guys early if they feel that a freshman is better than the other players they have. So if you go there you have a chance to play right away.

"D.J. Foster was a freshman last year and he ended up playing more than other seniors on the team did. I did talk to him about how the recruiting process was for him and why he chose Arizona State. I've also talked to Mike Bercovici who's a great guy and he also told me stuff about the program. He told me that I should look at them (ASU) as an option because they will be contending."

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Not only is ASU making a strong impression with players in Maricopa County, but also with prospects such as Tucson Sabino's offensive lineman Andrew Mike, who has been just as receptive to ASU's overtures as his fellow prospects residing closer to Tempe.

"Things are going great with Arizona State," Mike commented. "I love the family atmosphere and the ability to attend the Barrett Honors College to pursue a degree. So it's great having an academic career there and also play Pac-12 football. I really like the fast pace they have and how their offense always mixes it up.

"Getting a good degree so I can start my career after football is over and playing at the highest level in college so I can play at the professional level, are the things that are the most important to me when looking at schools.

"Arizona State is a school that can definitely offer me this opportunity."

Throughout the recruiting process, Mike has been able to obtain a unique perspective from fellow offensive lineman Christian Westerman, who prepped locally at Chandler Hamilton, signed with Auburn out of high school and transferred to ASU a few months ago.

"He told me that he definitely loved coming back home," Mike said. "He loved living back here and playing in a fast paced offense. I like the idea of staying close to home and being near family would be nice."

Mike is fully aware of ASU's efforts in landing the elite local prospects and sees obvious advantages to it.

"If you keep all the local players here you can really have a good team," Mike explained. "The coaches said that it would be great to have the players that grew up here and lived here, stay here.

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Speaking of Chandler Hamilton, the Sun Devils are heavily pursuing a tandem of prospects from that school. One of them is offensive lineman, Casey Tucker, one of only two five-star 2014 in-state recruits, who committed to USC last year but a few weeks ago decommitted from the Trojans.

Casey said that "things happen for a reason" and he as he explores other opportunities these days, the Huskies' standout realizes the advantages that ASU can offer.

"Being close to home and having your family easily accessible is a great thing," Tucker admitted. "There's great opportunity there. It's a great community, my dad knows a lot about the school…really being my backyard school is the biggest thing and I'm looking at them closely.

"I talked to Christian (Westerman) about ASU and he told me what I can expect once I get there so that helps. If I went there being back together with an old teammate would be cool."

Tucker mentioned that aside from the proximity factor, being in familiar surroundings when your college career is over is just as important.

"When you stay home you get your name out there," Tucker said, "and that is important when you go out there in the business world. If people know you a little better they will support you more, along with the support of your family and friends who can come to your practices and games."

ASU's style of play is also appealing to Tucker.

"They mix it up a lot and keep everything balanced and equal," Tucker explained. "It's very dynamic and their offensive tackles do a lot of different stuff. It's a good offense."

The lineman characterized the ASU staff as "energetic" throughout the recruiting process and noted that they have a created a very welcoming environment for him. This notion has been echoed by several other local prospects, a group of players Tucker would love to be part of.

"It's been a conversation we had and it's a good thing if it happens," he stated.

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The other Hamilton standout among the state's elite 2014 recruits is defensive lineman Qualen Cunningham, who's also intrigued by ASU's scheme, albeit on the other side of the ball.

"Arizona State is a great school and the Devil backer position they want me to line up at is great," Cunningham said, "and if I went there I think I could make a lot of plays from that position. That's one position that the defense there is built around. So I know it will be a good fit."

Being a four-star recruit Cunningham naturally hears numerous recruiting pitches from various schools, but ASU is one program, he said is able to differentiate itself from the pack.

"I like all the love ASU shows me in recruiting," Cunningham said. "Everytime I talk to a coach, it's real and honest and I like that a lot about them. I love going up to ASU and visiting there and seeing a lot of my friends from Hamilton that are at ASU now, and seeing the other local players that they're recruiting. We talk about playing together all the time. Staying at home could be a good fit.

"ASU is always a school that's on my mind. I wouldn't mind being a Sun Devil."


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