Q&A With Coach Mark Helfrich

The chronicled recruitment of Sam Keller, the effect it had on fellow quarterback recruit Mike Affleck, and the emergence of Andrew Walter last season are just some of the topics we cover in this exclusive DevilsDigest interview with ASU's quarterbacks coach.

DevilsDigest: Let's start with reviewing the two quarterbacks in this recruiting class: Mike Affleck and Sam Keller. What can you tell us about these two?

Mark Helfrich: "Both are great kids, and are very similar as players and in their personality. We're very excited to have both guys. They both fit in with what we try to do - strong-armed guys that can lace it pretty well. Both come from good programs. Sam's numbers are a lot better, just because his team threw the ball a lot more. If Mike were in that system he would have very comparable numbers. Mike played with the best high school offensive line I've ever seen. Four of them ended up signing Division I scholarships. So they just ran the ball more because that was their style. Neither one of them will win a 40-yard dash, but they're not un-athletic."

DD: Saga may be too strong of a word to describe the recruiting story of Sam Keller, but what can you tell us about Affleck's second thoughts about committing here, and Keller's decision to decommit from Michigan and make a surprise commitment to play at ASU? Were their some anxious moments on your part?

MH: "Yes and no. Mike was our guy all along and we made no bones about that. In general, we were very honest with both parties, and we ended up striking gold. I think both guys are competitors and know how this whole thing works. I know they're both excited to be here, and that's the bottom line – they're both happy with their decision. That's really all that matters."

"It was weird a situation no question. But we were upfront with both guys. I think we anticipated Mike having second seconds – that's natural. But it wasn't like he heard it second hand. I sat in his living room and told him ‘this can happen.' If we weren't proactive, I don't think we'd be sitting in this situation we are. I think Mike wants to be here, and he never wavered. He knows that they'll be competition whether it's now or later. I tell all quarterbacks I recruit that we'll try to get someone better next year, because I want to see how they react. If they don't want to get better and don't want to compete, we probably don't want them."

DD: Sam Keller showed a lot of interest in ASU, and out of his own initiative decided to trip here and become a Sun Devil. How flattering is it that a player of such caliber does that, and does it give this program even more validation as one of the best offensive teams in the nation?

MH: "I don't know if it's that so much. Guys just want to be happy where they are. More and more people say that we should recruit nationally, and that's a perfect example of a guy in California that doesn't want to live 2,000 miles away. It's hard to be out of your lifestyle and comfort zone. It's not better or worse, just different. That's what it came down to. We had a good relationship before he committed to Michigan, and we're obviously happy he remembered that (smile). It really came down more to his personal preference, than anything else on our part. But we're obviously excited he thought of that, because we're excited about the direction we're going into."

DD: Do you find that there's a different philosophy recruiting quarterbacks compared to other position players? Are they're different factors involved beside the obvious which is searching for a guy with arm strength versus a guy that can tackle?

MH: "You do have to have a little different relationship with a quarterback, just by the nature of the position that they will play here. You want this guy to be at a certain caliber as a player and a human being. We want that from all those guys. The part that's a little different probably is the parents of the quarterback. By virtue of that position of getting too much credit or too much blame, there's that whole set of issues that go along with it. These guys get a little more notoriety in the group, but there's not a lot different between recruiting a quarterback and other positions."

DD: When you look at the term "quarterback controversy", how much of it is media/fan hype, and how much of it is genuine indecision by the coaching staff? Is it really "controversy" or "competition"?

MH: "There are a lot of different issues that go into that. If you have two guys that are playing well, then that's a good thing. If it's where you don't know who to play or haven't quite figured out what your team's personality is gonna be, or how a guy will play in certain situations, then that presents a whole other set of issues. When you have a lot of good guys, I'll take that any day over not knowing where you're gonna be. That's the situation we were in, and hopefully we will be that way in the future. Sure, sometimes fans hype it up. By nature of the position, they're gonna care a lot more. We rotate at every single other position. But rotating at quarterback has an instant shock value, where if you rotate the guards nobody out of 70,000 fans no one will blink."

DD: Speaking of rotating quarterbacks…Coach Koetter said that he's not a fan of the two-quarterback system. Do you share that notion?

MH: "You like to have it where you're rock solid. You have a guy, and everybody else on the team knows that. That's the ideal scenario, because that guy has to take on a different mentality on and off the field, and that makes your team better. Is it possible to do it the other way? Sure it is. But I think it's always much easier when if there's a clear-cut difference between two guys. But in modern football you better have a good #2 guy and sometimes a good #3 as it's been well documented everywhere."

DD: You mention Keller and Affleck fitting into this team by having a strong arm. Would it be fair to say that this attribute is what's mainly prohibiting Chad Christensen from overcoming Andrew Walter and being the #1 quarterback?

MH: "Chad has a strong enough arm. That's not the issue. Could he have a stronger arm? Sure. But anytime a guy doesn't have the arm strength he has to throw on time and know where he's throwing. We seem to forget that Chad is a freshman. I joke with Andrew all the time saying that when he was in those shoes, he wasn't sure where the ball was going either (smile). The one thing that's different between a guy with a strong arm and a guy that has an average or above average arm, is that when the guy with the stronger arm is late it's batted down. When the other guy is late – he's picked. That's kinda put the exclamation point on the weakness, if there is one."

"With Chad, arm strength is not an issue that would hinder him from playing. He just has other things to work on. He was awesome when he wasn't the # 1 guy. He did everything we ask our backup quarterback to do. Chad will definitely be the #2 quarterback in spring practice."

DD: Kellen Bradley is coming off a redshirt year and is naturally unknown to fans. What can we expect of him this season?

MH: "Both Kellen and Chad are coming off surgeries, but they both should be able to participate in all of spring practice. Kellen was also injured all fall. He had some nagging injuries. He needs to get healthy, and like every freshman get stronger and faster. He's still an unknown commodity even to me because he was injured."

DD: Following the departure of Shaun McDonald, how much will that change matters not only for the wide receiver core but also for the quarterback as far as game philosophy?

MH: "In our offense you always like a guy that can go vertical, and Shaun did that very well. But we have some guys that have to step up, and our job is to put players in the position to do what they do best. We just have to plug the holes, and if guys can't do certain things or do more of something else, then that's what we do."

"(ASU's receivers) Coach Jackson does great job identifying which guys run routes better than others, and he spots guys by routes. It's all about asking guys to put them in the position to do something they can do, and practice it all week. In the game, it can get frantic because guys can change from one position to another. You just want to be efficient when you mix things up. We want to make it unpredictable for defenses, so they can't sit back and say that this receiver only runs three types of routes."

DD: When Coach Koetter talked to DevilsDigest he said that having Andrew Walter always puts you in a position to be competitive and win the game. A pretty bold statement, but is it far from the truth?

MH: "Andrew has improved so much in all the exterior things that don't show up to Joe the Sun Devil fan, and that part of it is huge. His charisma and ability in the game are huge. You just have to have a guy like that play quarterback in our type of offense. We're very excited about what he can do. On top of that he wants to be great. That's a huge deal. A lot of guys may have similar talent, or maybe not as much as him, but they're good with that. Andrew wants to be great, and that's all you can ask of him."

DD: Much has been said about Andrew being in the past a bad practice player. What did you see way back when that made him this kind of player?

MH: "I don't know if he was necessarily a bad practice player. He was just learning. He didn't know the whole system, and he's getting 100% better at that. I would venture to say after talking to him, that back in high school there was no progression of what to do when the ball snapped. Like where to a go with the ball? What does the safety orientation mean? As the season progressed, he kept getting more comfortable with that. Towards the end of the season we were able to do a lot more with him because of his development. Practice is experience, and just like most guys he just got better with experience."

DD: Last spring practice the quarterback position was much more uncertain than it is this season. Can we assume that you're sleeping better at night these days compared to this time last year?

MH: "It's exciting that Andrew is special, and like we said he wants to be great on top of it. That's a prefect scenario. I think our team wants to be great. In the bowl game, when we were in the game we had an attitude of ‘we might be able to do this.' versus an attitude of ‘let's do this.' That' the next hurdle our program has to overcome. We can't be satisfied just being there, we have to win it. I think our group mentality is going that direction."

Sun Devil Source Top Stories