The commitment of Chandler High School four-star wide receiver prospect N'Keal Harry to Arizona State Monday is a major shot of adrenaline in the arm for understandably irritable fans of the program who have been dismayed by the Sun Devils' 4-4 start to the season.
After his program won 10 games in each of its last two seasons, hyperbolically-inclined ASU coach Todd Graham set the success bar extremely high for the Sun Devils in 2015 and called this his best team in four years in Tempe. It hasn't turned out that way from a results standpoint and perhaps fans came to expect a continuation of the status quo in local recruiting as a result. Considerably more four and five star prospects have left the state than stay and play for ASU and there's been mounting frustration as a result.
A widely held perception has been that recruiting success locally hasn't matched the quality of the product ASU has put on the field. Given the fact that no four or five star prospect -- as evaluated by Scout.com -- from Arizona signed with the program in the 2015 class, and only one did in the 2014 class, that sentiment is understandable even though it's flawed. There are a lot of variables and randomness in recruiting and often it takes years of infrastructural groundwork at a place with ASU's inherent challenges before results are visibly realized. It can take a lot longer to clear and prepare the landscape and set the foundation than to erect the actual framework, and even then there are no guarantees.
Harry's commitment to the Sun Devils on Monday is evidence of this. It's the work that's been done by an ASU staff that has been grinding behind the scenes for years on Harry and recruits like him that is starting to be observed. This is really the first recruiting class in which the Sun Devils were able to be well ahead of their peers in local recruiting. That wasn't even totally the case in the 2015 class, as Christian Kirk's sensational freshman season at Saguaro was already over before Graham had even set foot in the state, as an example.
Coaches across the country were flying in to watch D.J. Foster and others at Saguaro in droves that year and Kirk was getting a ton of early interest even before Graham was established. The ASU staff meanwhile had to immediately get up to speed on its transitional 2012 class and ramp up on the 2013 class which it was also completely behind the curve on. ASU didn't get a head start over its competitors for Kirk in that 2015 class, nevermind Kyle Allen, Casey Tucker, Jalen Brown, Mark Andrews and others in the loaded 2014 in-state class, which is when ASU was just starting to get fully up to speed.
But take a closer look at Harry's recruitment and you'll see ASU was the first school to extend a scholarship offer, and did so after watching him very closely from the outset of his high school career at Marcos de Niza, when Priest Willis was getting a lot of attention at the school. That kind of stuff matters a great deal in recruiting, and it also certainly helps that Chandler coach Shawn Aguano and assistant Chris Chick and others at the school are very ASU-friendly, with relationships that have been cultivated by Graham and his staff over a four year period. That contributed to former Chandler star and current ASU freshman quarterback Bryce Perkins signing with the school. ASU assistant coach Chip Long's wife even works as a teacher at Chandler.
It takes years and a lot of sweat equity for these types of roots to take hold, and certainly back-to-back 10 win seasons that includes a lot of individual accolades and corresponding NFL Draft success, as well as record breaking football student-athlete grade point averages and graduation rates help. Then there's also a big element of luck and randomness at play with each individual recruitment being unique to itself. ASU was never going to get a lot of the top talent in Arizona in recent years, including Allen, Andrews, Tucker, Brown, Devon Allen and others, no matter what it did, regardless of what Graham said or accomplished save for a virtual miracle.
N'Keal Harry? He happens to be a guy who is very close to his grandmother and others in his immediate circle locally and wants to study at the Cronkite School which is among the best of its kind in the world, and also the Sun Devils have three seniors graduating at his position and just put a player he's somewhat like -- Jaelen Strong -- into the NFL after an enormously successful two-season career.
ASU's staff hasn't been that lucky in recent years with local recruiting in terms of how the top individual prospects set up for it. A lot of the kids were never seriously interested in staying local. Others had familial connections to other programs or rival programs, or had longstanding infatuations with such programs. Contrarily, this year is perhaps setting up to be fortuitous for the Sun Devils. Harry wants to stay local and just happens to be very close friends with arguably the two other top prospects in Arizona's 2016 class, teammate Chase Lucas and Saguaro's Byron Murphy. All three prospects are members of the Scout300 and maybe all three will wind up in Tempe.
Signing three in-state Scout300 recruits would be unpredicted for the Sun Devils. They haven't even signed two since the 2008 class when they landed Gerell Robinson and Zach Schlink.
In recruiting, there can easily be a delayed impact in recruiting that follows on-field success, and other stars-aligned factors certainly play more of a role than probably any fan would want to admit. Then there's the stadium overhaul, the uniform and other branding updates and more that come into play, however subconsciously or unquantifiable. Regardless, N'Keal Harry committed to ASU Monday and Lucas, a four-star teammate, is set to make his announcement exactly a week thereafter, with the Sun Devils a prohibitive favorite. After that, Sun Devils could be hoping for a trifecta of titillation.
It could even be enough to temporarily ease or even perhaps eliminate the deep angst that many no doubt expected they'd carry through the winter.