The struggles of Arizona State's wide receivers aside, it's impossible to overlook the contributions of one of its own members, last season's junior college transfer Jaelen Strong. In many respects, the anticipation of Eric Lauderdale's arrival is very similar to that of Strong's who lived up to is accolades and ended his first season for ASU as an All-Pac 12 selection.
On the one hand, Strong's meteoric success could have been a deterrent to Lauderdale who would be the headliner of the wide receivers group at probably every school who recruited him in earnest. Naturally, the Saddleback Junior College standout is more than happy to team up with one of the best wide receivers in all of college football in 2014.
"I've had a lot of people ask me questions about that," Lauderdale admitted. "With Florida (the school that was in his final two), I thought I could really showcase myself like Jaelen did here last year but they were struggling so I had to make a wise decision.
"I thought about it and was like, ‘You know how (USC WR's) Robert Woods and Marqise Lee were? That could be us at Arizona State.' I was just thinking that because I know he's going to do what he will do and I'm going to do what I do. But I had to think about it. Do I want to come in and be the number two guy or do I want to play by myself? In the end, I wanted to win games."
Furthermore, Lauderdale knows that his skill set won't be a duplicate of Strong's attributes, but rather a complement to them which will bring a measure of much needed diversity to the wide receivers unit, as Lauderdale can play all three wide receiver positions in ASU's scheme.
"I saw his highlights in junior college when I was a freshman and he was a redshirt freshman because he was one of the top receivers in the state," Lauderdale said of Strong, "and then I watched him a lot this past season. He's aggressive and uses his body a lot. He's more of a jump ball kind of guy. He uses his body to go up and get it. I do that too, but not as much. I'm more of a run after the catch type guy. I like to get out and run after I catch the ball. And I'm not saying he can't do that because I know he can do that as well, but I just think we're a little bit different.
"I know the contact is coming. Sometimes I'll just go and deliver the blow. But as a receiver, I don't want to do that all the time, so I'll just try to make guys miss. The coaches see me stretching the field more. Last year, I was looking at some stats and I think some of their (ASU's) leading receivers were their running back or tight end. They (ASU coaches) want to get all their receivers in the game and making plays. When I talked to Coach Norvell, he said they want to utilize me like Jaelen because he's going to get a lot of attention this year so they want to put me in one-on-one match-ups and let me try to take advantage of whatever I can.
I'm at the height and weight where I can really play every position. They said they want to put me in the slot and then sometimes they'll have me outside. I don't know how they're going to do it yet, but that's what they said they wanted to do"
At Georgia's Fayette County High School high school Lauderdale set the school record in receiving yards and was named a South-Metro All-State First-Team member as a senior. There were however some factors that did hinder his recruitment. His grades did drop during his senior year as he was getting recruited by the likes of Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Tennessee. Lauderdale attempted to get his grades up at Hargrave Military Academy prep school but financial reasons didn't allow him to complete his studies there. With his desire to get away from home, the wide receiver found himself venturing to the West Coast.
"I just wanted to get away from Georgia so I came out to California because I have family out here in Oakland," Lauderdale remarked. "I was with my cousin one day and he asked what I was doing. I told him I was looking for a junior college and so he took me around to some different junior colleges and showed me some stuff in the L.A. area and that ended up working out well."
"At Saddleback things moved faster than high school and prep school. It took me some time to get used to the plays and the speed of the game but I just started getting more reps in practice and started figuring things out and just went along with it. I became a player that goes hard every down. You can't take plays off. I know you get tired at the end of the day but you can't let up."
That approach served the wide receiver well as he registered team-highs of 60 receptions for 916 yards with seven touchdowns as a freshman, and followed that up with 54 passes for 703 yards with nine touchdowns in only seven games as a sophomore. Those gaudy statistics made Lauderdale just one of only four junior college wide receivers in the nation for the 2014 class ranked with a four-star rating or higher by Scout.com, let alone help him attract a bevy of suitors.
"I met (ASU's) Coach Randolph in last year's spring practice," Lauderdale recalled. "He just seemed like a good dude. He just told me about the school so it was planted in the back of my mind and how they were going to play for a Pac-12 championship so I knew they were going to do real well. And as I started to talk to some of the other coaches (at ASU) and staff members and some of the players, I just got real close with them too."
An individual that Lauderdale knows probably better than any other ASU player, is a fellow JC transfer and ironically one who had some very intense battles against as a foe, Grossmont College cornerback Kweishi Brown. What is even more interesting that the tandem officially visited more than one school together during the recruiting process.
"We were actually both on the visit to Nebraska," Lauderdale noted, "and I asked him, ‘Where's your next visit?' and he said Arizona State and the date and I said, ‘Me too.' We talked about it and then after our visit, I cancelled my visit to Oregon and I told him, ‘I'm coming. I don't know what you're gonna do but I'm here,' and he said he was coming too but he waited like a week after I committed. I think he's a cool dude and us going against each other in practice is only going to make us better."
And how instrumental was Jaelen Strong in his recruitment?
"He was low key throughout the process until I started to mention him more on my Twitter," Lauderdale described. "After I mentioned him one day he messaged me and gave me his number and we started texting. He told me about the program and I started to understand more about it and what was going on and just about the coaching staff and all that."
When it came to settling on the school of his choice, it's not that Lauderdale necessarily was hoping to get as far away from Georgia and that is the factor that ultimately has him picking ASU over Florida. After all, he was born in Los Angeles and still has relatives in California, so playing the West Coast could still give him a sense familiarity and comfort. Furthermore, there were some unknowns tied into the Gators which eventually made them the less attractive option.
"With Florida, there was one part where, like, they wanted me to take more classes over the summer," Lauderdale explained, "and then I didn't really know their offense and stuff. It was kind of a mystery to me. And then the head coaching situation, is he going to get fired next year? I don't know. This season I know I'd get to play but next season I don't know. Then with the ASU program, I've seen that they're on the rise, doing well, and ready for a Pac-12 takeover."
"One of the main reasons I chose Arizona State was because of Todd Graham. I think he's a good guy and he wants the best for all his players, just like any other coach would. And him being strict, that's fine. Sometimes you've got to be strict on people. Athletes, kids, whoever. It just makes them better and better as a person too. It's not a problem at all."
True, Lauderdale does have a redshirt year to burn but no one in the program, let alone the wide receiver himself, are entertaining that possibility from the four-star prospect in this upcoming season.
"I want to come blazing out the gate in the first game and be ready," Lauderdale stated. "I might have some jitters but I want to be ready and know my plays. I might make a few mistakes, but I just want to be on track, have everything go great, and be ready.
"I think studying and watching film will make me better. That's something that at Saddleback we watched film, but I wasn't really watching film. I'm not gonna lie. But now it's different. I have to go watch film, study my opponent, get my reps in practice, and put in the extra time after practice working with the quarterbacks."
Place of birth: Los Angeles, Calif.
Nickname growing up: Ezsy
Favorite TV show: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Martin
Favorite Movie: The Wood
Favorite Musical Artist: P.Diddy
Favorite Food: Lasagna
Favorite Drink: Lemonade
Favorite Athlete: Kobe Bryant
Favorite Professional Team: Los Angeles Lakers and Carolina Panthers
Person Most Admire: Mother
First Football Memory: Watching the Titans vs. Rams Super Bowl XXXIV
Something Most People Don't Know About Him: Very talkative off the field but very quiet on the field
The One Reason Why He Chose Arizona State: His relationship with wide receivers Coach DelVaughn Alexander
Where He Sees Himself in 10 Years - Retired from the NFL and starting his own business designing clothes
Byron Kline contributed to this article