ASU refining recruiting tactics in California

After signing no high school recruit from the state of California in the 2017 recruiting cycle, Arizona State is refining its approach and making a more concerted effort in the region with 2018 prospects.

As spring rapidly approaches and offseason football workouts ramp up, the rays of sunshine splashing across Southern California won't be the only shades of gold appearing on football fields throughout the region.

According to Arizona State's assistant athletic director for recruiting Donnie Yantis, local prospects should see plenty of coaches donning maroon and gold apparel combing the region for talent in the coming months. 

After failing to sign a single high school player from California during the 2017 recruiting cycle, ASU is renewing its commitment to the state this offseason and sending every one of its assistant coaches west in pursuit of the region's top prospects.

According to Yantis, the Sun Devils are reshaping their recruiting operation and creating a narrowly tailored approach in pursuit of difference-makers in one of the nation's most talent-rich locales.

"We're going to put nine coaches in California," Yantis told SunDevilSource. "So we're putting all nine in Arizona and we're putting all nine in California which is something we haven't done. So in the past two weeks, which my assistants have done an outstanding job of taking these maps and these schools and manipulating them with all of our staff to make sure we're covering the whole state of California."

Between 2002 and 2016, ASU signed an average of more than 10 players annually from the Golden State, often bringing in the majority of its recruiting classes from California. However, after signing just two high school prospects from California in 2016, three-star recruits Kyle Williams and Cohl Cabral, Yantis and head coach Todd Graham are determined to make the southern part of the state a greater priority moving forward. 

"We'll hit Arizona and we'll hit California before we go to any other territory, that will be our focus," Yantis said. "And then we've got, obviously coach Graham is from the state of Texas, we'll still have a few coaches in Texas, but that will be after we hit the Arizona and the California schools and also the junior colleges."

In 2017, ASU signed a Graham era record nine high school recruits from the state of Arizona, more than double any total the Sun Devils had amassed during Graham's first five recruiting cycles with the program. 

At his press conference on National Signing Day, Graham said the Sun Devils would prefer to sign nine players from the program's home state on an annual basis, but also acknowledged the idea that ASU has to remain diligent in recruiting California to remain competitive in the Pac-12. 

"That's the way it fell," Graham said of the lack of signees from California in 2017. "I think a lot of that is, we signed nine guys in Arizona. So it's just the way it fell. My deal is, we're getting the guys that best fit what we're about. Gas tank a way is the most critical area for us, it's our recruiting base. If you look at that gas tank away, we did pretty good. It's not that we weren't competing. And some of it had to do with positions (of need)."

Yantis said the Sun Devils' inability to lure recruits from Southern California to Tempe this year wasn't due to a lack of effort on ASU's part. The former Arizona Christian head coach turned ASU recruiting coordinator said the Sun Devils hosted plenty of California's top prospects and were able to get many high-profile players on campus prior to Signing Day.

"I think signing all of those kids from Arizona had an impact on us not signing as many from California, but it wasn't from lack of effort in terms of the number of kids we had come on our campus since the summer all the way up until Signing Day," Yantis said. "A number of the top prospects in California visited our campus so we did do that, it just didn't work out. We were in it until the end on a lot of kids, but we're going to do a little bit different approach."

Yantis said one of the reasons ASU is taking a different, more concentrated approach to recruiting in Southern California during the 2018 cycle is because of the staff turnover the Sun Devils have experienced in recent seasons. 

With such a broad region to cover and a wide range of prospects to foster relationships with, Yantis said that in the past, an assistant coach's decision to depart ASU made it difficult for the Sun Devils to recover with various prospects. With the Sun Devils' new recruiting strategy, all of the program's assistant coaches will have a presence in Southern California and each coach will be responsible for a smaller area to cover.

In the past few weeks, Yantis and the Sun Devils have devised an approach that will keep ASU's coaches heavily invested in Southern California-based prospects and ensure that those prospects have an opportunity to develop relationships with multiple ASU staffers. In the event that a coach should leave the program, the Sun Devils now have a strategy in place to ensure that ASU doesn't lose as much momentum in the region. 

"So what we've done is we're going to reduce those areas and put everybody in there, and if someone were to get promoted and those types of things, it's a smaller area and then we can have someone, we also have a backup for each one of those areas. That can be a recruiting staffer, that can be a coordinator backing it up, so we're going to make sure we're diligent with our recruiting strategy and make sure that just because a coach leaves, that we're not losing that relationship."

Though Yantis spent 14 seasons coaching locally at Paradise Valley High followed by two seasons building the program at Arizona Christian, he wants his work with the Sun Devils to stretch well beyond his and the program's home state. By building a more thorough strategy for attracting prospects to ASU in a critical secondary hotbed like Southern California, Yantis believes the Sun Devils will begin to reap the benefits in the 2018 recruiting cycle.

"Donnie has just been absolutely phenomenal," Graham said on Signing Day. "We couldn't have hired a better person and he's just getting started. Recruiting is about diligence. It's about passion, it's about being diligent. It's not about having some great salesman, because you reap what you sow. You're not hiding from how you do things. Donnie has been tremendous. I couldn't say enough about him."

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