TEMPE, Ariz. — Football signing day is the college equivalent of baseball’s spring training: full of hope, hyperbole and happy talk.
Despite all the sweetness and sunshine emanating from college campuses across America on Wednesday, and despite all the recruiting service grades, rankings and analyses, nobody has a clue whether hundreds of now-committed teenagers will pan out physically, mentally and emotionally at the next level.
It’s slightly educated guesswork with hundreds of variables reducing the probabilities. All a program can do is attempt to address its greatest needs, try to land what it feels is the top talent locally and nationally, and then coach ’em up and pray.
There was a decidedly local feel to this year’s Arizona State recruiting class, with nine of the announced 18 recruits hailing from Arizona. Aside from that notable fact, two things became clear when Sun Devils football coach Todd Graham addressed the media on Wednesday at the Carson Student-Athlete Center. The Devils made a concerted effort to improve the nation’s worst-ranked pass defense, and Graham was looking for a certain kind of player.
“This class was mostly about explosiveness and speed and skill,” Graham said. “The main focus was on dynamic playmakers; pass rushers on defense and obviously defensive backs was the No. 1 priority in our entire class.”
ASU signed five defensive backs to shore up a pass defense that allowed an FBS-worst 357.4 yards per game. Headlining that group was Oklahoma City product Evan Fields, a 6-1, 186-pound safety.
“He was probably one of the most dynamic players that we watched,” Graham said of the versatile Fields. “I think he’s going to have a tremendous impact — a guy that can cover, a guy that has got great physicality, can play up around the line of scrimmage as well as play bump-and-run coverage; really a special player.”
Fields was one of four, four-star defensive backs the Sun Devils landed. Redshirt junior Armand Perry’s brother, Alex Perry, and Scottsdale Saguaro product K.J. Jarrell and Langston Frederick were the others. Perry and Frederick are cornerbacks; Jarrell is projected at safety.
Safety Ty Thomas, the nephew of former Dolphins seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Zach Thomas was the fifth player.
“All five of these guys are guys that I really think have an opportunity to play for us next year in a very, very critical year for us because of the amount of guys we had graduate at that position,” Graham said.
Along the defensive front, the Sun Devils went the junior college recruit to land Dougladson Subtyl, whom ESPN ranked the No. 9 overall JUCO prospect and No. 2 JUCO defensive end prospect in the nation. Subtyl started playing football as a teenager after his family moved to the United States from Haiti.
“He has the ability to rush the passer and [is] a guy we think is going to have an immediate impact,” Graham said. “His story is amazing, what he has been able to overcome to get to this point.”
Gilbert Highland’s Tyler Johnson is another potential impact player that Graham projects at Devil backer.
“He’s probably as talented as anybody in our signing class and probably one of the most dynamic players we’ve signed since we’ve been here,” Graham said. “A guy that is a dynamic pass rusher.”
Saguaro linebacker Kyle Soelle and defensive linemen Shannon Forman and D.J. Davidson also joined the defensive front seven.
Late last season, when Sun Devils Vice President for Athletics Ray Anderson told Arizona Sports that Graham would return as head coach this season, he expressed confidence that Graham would address the program’s defensive shortcomings.
With 10 defensive recruits and new defensive coordinator Phil Bennett in the fold, Graham hopes he has done just that.
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