In seven days, Arizona State will complete its sixth recruiting cycle under head coach Todd Graham, who during his tenure with the Sun Devils, has helped orchestrate a "Stay True to ASU" campaign that is clearly resonating with local prospects in the Class of 2017.
The "Stay True" campaign launched in Graham's first season with the program, back when four-star running back D.J. Foster out of Saguaro (Scottsdale) turned down opportunities to play for national powerhouses in order to compete for the hometown Sun Devils.
Five full years after Foster committed to ASU, the Sun Devils received more positive news out of Saguaro on Wednesday, when four-star safety K.J. Jarrell became the fourth different Sabercats' player and the ninth different prospect in the state of Arizona to offer a commitment to ASU.
One week from National Signing Day, the Sun Devils are now poised to land Jarrell and his three-star teammates, tight end Jared Poplawski, Devil backer prospect Kyle Soelle and offensive lineman Corey Stephens in what's shaping up to be a historically impressive local recruiting haul.
If all four Saguaro players sign with ASU next Wednesday, it will mark the first time the Sun Devils have signed four different players from the same high school program in one recruiting class.
"A lot of it comes down to what kids are looking for, what's important to them, what's important to the parents, there's so many factors behind the scenes that a lot of times people don't even have any clue of what's going on and why kids choose to do a different thing," Saguaro head coach Jason Mohns said. "For this group, it was just the right thing."
Led by some of the state's most high-profile prospects in recent years, Saguaro has won four consecutive state championships under Mohns and capped off a 14-0 season with a 42-14 victory in the state title game in 2016.
The Sabercats' program has produced several prospects who have drawn national interest in recent years, including Foster, Texas A&M wide receiver Christian Kirk and Washington defensive back Byron Murphy. On Wednesday, Jarrell announced his pledge to follow in the footsteps of other high-profile local players who have recently joined the Sun Devils' program, including four-star Chandler teammates N'Keal Harry and Chase Lucas who headlined ASU's 2016 recruiting class.
"Just overall, the whole aspect of staying home, staying true, being able to go to school with my guys for four more years and our overall goal is just to make a change," Jarrell said after announcing his pledge.
Developing and maintaining a recruiting pipeline at Saguaro, one of the state's football powerhouses, could prove critical for ASU as the Sun Devils look to capitalize on signing a growing amount of in-state talent. Between 2002-2006, the state of Arizona produced an average of 9.6 recruits annually with a three-star rating or higher. However, in the past 10 years, Arizona has produced an average of 19.1 recruits with a three-star rating or higher in a state boasting just two universities with FBS programs.
During the 2017 recruiting cycle, ASU has secured commitments from six local three-star prospects, and with the addition of Jarrell, the Sun Devils now have three four-star prospects on board from the state of Arizona. Four of those recruits, Jarrell, Poplawski, Soelle and Stephens hail from one of the state's most decorated programs, and on Wednesday, Mohns said ASU has capitalized on the deep roots each player's family has locally.
"Corey Stephens grew up a diehard Sun Devil fan, season ticket holder, going to games," Mohns said. "Kyle Soelle, the same thing, he and his grandpa were going to games from the time he was a little kid. Jared Poplawski's grandfather was a Hall of Fame player when he was at Arizona State, so you take those three kids, K.J.'s parents went to Arizona State, so there's a lot of connection there, deep-seated, deep-rooted Sun Devil blood that went a long way with this group."
What type of prospects are the Sun Devils adding this year? Mohns spoke with SunDevilSource following Jarrell's commitment announcement and outlined the skill sets of each Saguaro player committed to ASU.
The Saguaro Four
At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, Jarrell played safety for the Sabercats, but Mohns believes he has the body type to ultimately develop into a linebacker at the next level. On Wednesday, Mohns touted the prospect's ability to step up in the box in run support and said his versatility should help him transition well to the college level.
"I've told people this, I think a great comparison for him (Jarrell) is Deone Bucannon from the Cardinals," Mohns said. "He played safety at Washington State, he's an inside linebacker now. That's kind of where that position is transitioning, you want long, athletic backers that can run, that can cover, that can do those things. I could see K.J. continuing to play the safety position but I wouldn't be surprised to see him roll down and be more of a box type player just because like you said, he's got a tremendous frame."
Mohns and Max Tabach, a former ASU safety who serves as the Saguaro defensive backs coach, believe Jarrell can easily add 25-to-30 pounds to his frame while maintaining his speed and athleticism, which would allow him to play closer to the line of scrimmage.
"He's not afraid to let you know where he's at, at all times," Tabach said. "He's still skinny right now but last year he put some weight on in the summer and you can start to see the definition and size in his chest and arms. He's going to add 25 pounds, no problem, and be 215 pounds when he's done very easily. He's just going to jump in the weight room and they're going to feed him like crazy."
Tabach said as a defensive back, Jarrell has experience playing a wide range of coverages and is capable of handling assignments ranging from playing closer to the line of scrimmage as a nickel defender or playing as a deep safety in a variety of zone looks.
"He (Jarrell) can really do it all from a safety standpoint," Tabach said. "He can come in the box and play some nickel. He can cover. He can play the deep half, deep third. We play quarters a ton here. As far as Xs and Os standpoint, there's not a lot he can't do."
The other Saguaro commit being recruited as a defensive prospect by the Sun Devils is Soelle, who transferred into Saguaro ahead of his senior season and played outside linebacker for the Sabercats.
Soelle is being recruited as a potential Devil backer and Mohns said even though he may need a redshirt year to adjust his body to the college level, the Sun Devils should be excited about Soelle's athletic range.
"Kyle Soelle, I still have coaches that come in and ask, 'Is he solid?' because he's a tremendous athlete, long, rangy outside linebacker that can really rush the passer, do a lot of things, he's a very versatile athlete," Mohns said. "I think he's probably going to have to redshirt, physically mature and do some of those things, but he's going to be a big time athlete."
On the offensive side of the ball, ASU is looking at Stephens as an interior offensive lineman even though he started at tackle at Saguaro for three seasons.
Mohns said he believes Stephens is flying under the radar as a recruit and thinks he's the type of lineman who can eventually develop into a multi-year starter for the Sun Devils.
"Nobody is really talking about Corey Stephens, I think he's the best offensive lineman," Mohns said. "He doesn't look like Austin Jackson, he's not a left tackle, but when you talk about an offensive lineman that's going to be an impact player, that's going to be a three-year starter, that's going to make your team better, he's that guy."
One of the most important aspects of Stephens' skill set isn't as easily identifiable on film. Mohns said the three-star prospect has as strong of a command for the game of football as any of the coaches on the Saguaro staff and that his situational knowledge makes the players around him better.
"He's (Stephens) just a phenomenal player, his football IQ is off the charts, he's probably a higher football IQ than any of the coaches on our staff," Mohns said. "He's versatile, he makes the players around him better, he can play either guard or center spot, he's been a three-year starter at tackle for me. I think ASU fans should be more excited for him than they are. He's just a great player."
The fourth ASU commit out of Saguaro is Poplawski, the Sun Devils' lone tight end commit in the Class of 2017. Mohns coached at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in early January, and said his team could have used a player like Poplawski, a full-service tight end who can aid an offense in both the run game and the pass game.
"Obviously Jared Poplawski is a special tight end," Mohns said. "I coached in the Army All-American game, I didn't have a tight end like him. We have a highly rated kid that's a great wide receiver and pass catcher and a big body, but if you want to have a kid that's going to be a factor in the run game, put his hand in the ground, line up as an H-back, and create an extra run lane, that's Pop."
Mohns said that like Jarrell, one of the best aspects of Poplawski's game is his physicality. While many safeties at the high school level aren't accustomed to stepping up in the box and playing stout defense against the run like Jarrell is, many tight ends aren't as willing to put their hand in the dirt at the line of scrimmage and block defensive ends and defensive tackles like Poplawski does.
"Pop is physical in the run game, he's athletic enough to go out and run routes, he's got great ball skills, he catches the ball well, he's just that all-around tight end that are hard to find, willing to do it," Mohns said. "A lot of times, they're trying to take those big-bodied wide receivers and teach them how to be physical and hopefully they buy into that and hopefully they have the want to, but you're not going to have to pull any strings with Jared. He's going to come in and get in there and mix it up with defensive ends and take on defensive tackles, he likes being involved in the run game."
Though time will tell as to whether the four Saguaro prospects will be able to reach their potential at ASU, the Sun Devils' intense focus on fencing off the state of Arizona and landing the top local players paid dividends once again Wednesday, as Jarrell's desire to stay home gave increasing credibility to the program's "Stay True" movement.