Character drives ASU's recruiting philosophy

Cynics will contend that oftentimes a high character prospect will likely result in a below average talent. The dramatic team culture change under Todd Graham at Arizona State which puts a high emphasize on a player's disposition has proved that theory wrong, as the 2014 Sun Devils' recruiting class finished 17th in the nation and 3rd in the Pac-12, while not compromising its core values.

We sat down with Patrick Suddes, who was named Arizona State's Assistant Athletics' Director for Recruiting two months ago. Suddes brings with him a wealth of experience, as he served as the Director of Player Personnel at the University of Texas under head coach Mack Brown during the 2013 season and previously spent six seasons at his alma mater the University of Alabama under head coach Nick Saban from 2007-13.

Suddes began his career in 2004 as a recruiting intern at LSU where he assisted in day-to-day recruiting operations. He spent two seasons under Saban with the Miami Dolphins, including 2005 as a Defensive Assistant and 2006 as an Offensive Assistant.

During our interview with Suddes we examined what guidelines the team follows when it searches for recruiting prospects to join its ranks and how its approach has changed from previous years.

"Before Coach Graham got here, the school would tell recruits that they should come here because we have great weather and good looking girls," Suddes said. "Now that is the last thing we talk about. We talk about you coming here and developing you as a man first and a player second. I feel that ASU is as competitive academically within the team in the classroom as they are on the field. Right now the team has a (collective) 2.8 GPA and we hope to bring it up to 3.0 after this semester.

"So this what we are building here and obviously being Pac-12 South champions in Coach Graham's second year we are ahead of the curve. As a recruit you are coming in a great time because we are building a new stadium, a new (football) facility, and the support from the alumni, the students and the fans is better than it has ever been.

"So if you come here you can be that player that will help build this team that can win a Pac-12 championship and a national championship."

Suddes remarked that the team will recruit players that truly want to be a part of the program and fit the team's culture and the way they go about striving for excellence on and off the field.

"The guys that I saw that were the most successful in the NFL were not only the ones that had the God give talent," Suddes explained, "It was also the guys that put in the time and were there at the facility every day studying film. If we get guys that are intelligent that will translate onto the field."

Programs such as Alabama and Texas, Suddes' previous stops, represent the level of success in recruiting that ASU strives for. Arizona State's Assistant Athletics' Director for Recruiting feels that they are some similarities that his current and former employers share.

"Texas is in its own college town and Alabama is really the NFL team of that state," Suddes said. "Here you have a very NFL-like environment. You got everything here to be successful. You still have the small college town atmosphere of Tempe, but Phoenix is nearby in case you want to watch an NFL or NBA game.

"So this is a combination of both Texas and Alabama where you still have the small college town atmosphere, but Phoenix is just 15 minutes away. And this ties into your life after football. You have the nation's fifth-biggest metropolitan right here and you have a lot of big time companies you can get an internship with and they are picking ASU students."

Proximity to recruits is one factor that ASU differs from that tandem of aforementioned programs, as fewer recruits are located within a five-hour radius compared to other colleges.

"Here we obviously want to keep the in-state guys home," Suddes noted. "That is the number one goal for us. Number two is recruiting California and Texas and showing recruits that this place can be their home away from home.

"We feel that if we can get a kid on campus, to talk to Coach Graham and listen to his philosophy because he will be honest with you, he will see what we are all about. It's not that we are just trying to be a fit for the prospect, we have to see if the prospect is a fit for our system."

Graham mentioned in his 2014 Letter of Intent press conference that ASU's in-state recruiting is still a work in progress and not at a satisfactory level. Suddes commented that he is seeing improvement in that arena based on feedback he and the staff have been getting from local 2015 prospects.

"We open our doors to the high school coaches here," Suddes said, "so they can sit in on our coaches' meetings in the spring, and we will continue and build those relationships. The high school football here is on an upward trend. I enjoyed meeting with the local coaches and they really have a good mind for football and are great coaches."

The "Stay True to ASU" recruiting campaign is one that was instituted last season, and Suddes still sees it today it as a vehicle that will ultimately pay dividends with local recruits.

"You can come here and become a hometown hero," Suddes said. "You look at D.J. Foster today and he had a whole page dedicated to him in the newspaper. When you are a local recruit and go somewhere else, you won't necessarily have that. So we are showing players that it is cool to stay home.

"When you're an in-state legend like Terrell Suggs or Todd Heap that is how you are remembered forever."

Conversely, when trying to attract an out of state recruit, the recruiting methodology does take on a different tone, centered on the playing scheme and once again Todd Graham's philosophy.

"You have an attacking offense and an attacking defense," Suddes stated. "Everyone today wants to play an aggressive style of football. You have a head coach who is also very involved in the defense, and he matches his defense to his offense. He will put players in position, like a Will Sutton, to be an All-American. Obviously Sutton has talent, but Coach Graham does the best job pulling that talent out and you see that with all the stats Sutton has put up. That sells itself right there.

"Offensively, Coach Norvell is one of the greatest minds on this side of the ball. Coach Graham puts all his trust in him and obviously the stats speak for themselves. You come into an offense that puts its playmakers in position to be successful.

"We tell our recruits that they will work hard here and whatever they put into it that is what they will get out of it. California kids will see the California atmosphere here, and with Coach Graham's connections to Texas he can show these kids how this place can be a home away from home."

Simply put, Suddes says that his duty is to communicate Graham's message out to recruits by various means, and needless to say that these days social media is the most popular manner in which those communications take place. Like any technology, it's evolving rather than stagnant and changes in this aspect are always a matter of when, not if.

"They are new technologies that are coming out," Suddes noted. "So we always stay ahead of the curve and make sure with our up to date with any technology. I can't give away what we have planned here in the future, but they will be compliance friendly and something we can use before the season starts.

"Now every kid is different. Some kids like receiving 100 letters at once, but you talk to their parents and they tell you that they don't know which piece of mail is important and which isn't. So it's difficult sending something important in the mail that you want them to read. So this is where social media comes in because now the player sees what he wants to see. Everything that we send players (mail and social media) we make sure that the pitchfork logo is there.

"We don't overwhelm them with how much stuff we send because we want to make that they know that everything we send is important."

Suddes added that communication methods, even within social media, are identified when a recruiting process commences so if a recruit prefers to receive direct messages via Twitter versus Instagram messages, for example, then this is the vehicle ASU will utilize. NCAA rules obviously govern the allowed manners in which a school can communicate.

"NCAA has a done a good job figuring out what the coaches want and what compliance wants and mesh the two together," Suddes commented. "Football coaches cannot text a player, but they can send a direct message in Twitter or email them in Facebook so it's just as effective."

There is obviously no better communication that an in-person one, and the Sun Devils wasted no time inviting dozens of 2015 and 2016 prospects for unofficial visits in the months following National Letter of Intent day. Even though Suddes worked at schools that are quite known for loading up on early commitments, he couldn't but be impressed with the response ASU was getting from recruits in the last several weeks.

"That was huge," Suddes said of those spring visits, "and that was the most guys I have even seen compared to Alabama and Texas. We had guys here on a day to day basis. It was great. And what is great here in the West is that the spring breaks rotate, so guys from California had their spring break at different times and that helped us getting different players on different days.

"Everyone has their perception of ASU and we are trying to change it. When they come on campus they see what we are all about. We are a straight forward program and that starts with Coach Graham and trickles down to the whole staff. They see how great the campus is. Our Honors College is one of the top in the nation. Our Business school is off the charts. So they see what the reality is, not the perception. That clears a lot of the negative recruiting out there."

The achievements of the 2014 recruiting class point to a productive and proven recruiting approach. Suddes' goal is to take that next step to enhance that methodology starting with the current recruiting cycle, yet not veer from some core principles vital to an effective recruiting philosophy.

"I don't think we need to reinvent the wheel," Suddes claimed. "Every recruiting site is putting up their own rankings, but you need to always get your hands on what you are really looking for in a kid and sticking to your guns. The biggest mistake you can make in recruiting is not getting enough information.

"We get information on character, academics, what kind of player he is on the field. We talk to his teachers and counselors. We don't only talk to his coaches, but we also talk to coaches who coached against him. Just looking at a highlight reel isn't enough, you have to look at a whole game film. You really have to become an NFL-like department when you evaluate players. Obviously those teams have more resources, but that is what we are trying to do here – to get as much background on a kid."

Suddes added that when you target players at a younger age, you have to keep in mind that they are far from being the finished product not only talent wise, but also maturity wise.

Recruiting sites, such as, certainly play a significant part in the information gathering process. Being subjected to fewer restrictions when evaluating prospects is where, for example, is able to be a valuable resource and one more piece of the information puzzle that coaches will examine when pursuing a recruit.

"What is great about recruiting sites is that they can be on the road the whole time evaluating players," Suddes explained. "We are limited to when and where we can go. So it's a huge resource. I don't think the stars are as big, but covering the recruits out there helps us evaluate them. So that is huge.

"We are not looking for the same type of kid as other programs. We aren't always looking at the same skills that are schools are looking at. But it's good to have a list of guys we can look at and see who we want to be part of the Sun Devil brotherhood."

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