ASU off to strong in-state recruiting start with 2019 class
TEMPE, Ariz. — Only 6.9 percent of high school football players will move on to play NCAA college football, according to the NCAA. In Arizona, there are 237 football programs across the state. With an average of 20 players on a varsity football team, that is 4,740 teenagers playing high school football and roughly 327 players moving on to the collegiate game.
It’s tough enough to move onto NCAA football, but playing for a nearby school in your home state is an even greater challenge. While many kids dream of donning their school colors, making it a reality is another story.
Roman DeWys of Basha, Connor Soelle of Saguaro, Andre Johnson of Tolleson and Ricky Pearsall Jr. of Corona del Sol are the four Arizona high schoolers who have already joined Arizona State’s 2019 class and will avoid traveling far from home to play college football.
The 2019 class is still in the early stages, with 11 players having committed to playing for the Sun Devils. But the four recent commitments are already making a statement for head coach Herm Edwards in his first full season with the team working on second recruiting class.
Edwards’ first recruiting class after being hired as a head coach on Dec. 3, 2017, featured the lowest percentage of Arizona high schoolers at 9.1 percent with only two commitments, who came from Safford and Chandler. Nearly six months into the 2019 class and in-state commitments already make up 36 percent.
For the four players already signed as Sun Devils, the recruitment process was a sometimes long, sometimes stressful, but in the end, rewarding journey. The four incoming seniors signed during a two-week period in June, but their recruitment process started back before the end of the 2017 football season.
Offensive lineman Roman DeWys of Basha was the first instate 2019 commitment for ASU. The 6-foot-5, 290-pound senior seemed destined to play for the Sun Devils.
“ASU has always been one of my dream schools,” DeWys said. “We were totally a Sun Devil family. I always wanted to be an ASU player.”
DeWys had family members attend ASU and went to several football games growing up. As a young incoming senior, at 16-and-a-half years old, the process to becoming a Sun Devils was stressful.
“(It was) extremely slow,” DeWys said. “My age played a role in the slowness of the recruiting process as well as previous coaching didn’t help build our teams as much.”
DeWys had a new football coach every year at Basha. Basha’s newest hire, Chris McDonald, previously of Maricopa High School, helped DeWys gain attention from college programs, calling several coaches and offering words of encouragement. He also brought a sense of accountability to the his new football program.
“We can’t rely on everybody else all the time,” DeWys said of McDonald’s mentality. “The first person to hold accountable and trust for our success is ourselves, ultimately.”
DeWys believes his greatest strength is his size and athletic background. Along with football, DeWys is on the track and field team, competing in shot put and discus. At ASU workouts, he ran a 5.1 40-yard dash and said he has quick feet and decent hands.
ASU coaches told DeWys he needs to work on his patience. He’s only played one year of varsity football because of injury, so he said he “tends to get hasty and try and hit someone.”
DeWys made the decision to commit to ASU partly because of Edwards’ approach to the program. DeWys met with Edwards and his family several times before committing to the program.
“Everything about Herm and the coaching staff just really makes me feel like home,” DeWys said.
Since committing, he has received constant support from the coaching staff. They connect with him on a daily basis through a video chat app called Marco Polo. Now with his commitment set, DeWys can focus on his final season at Basha.
“It’s really a big burden taken off my chest,” he said. “My whole family wanted me to stay home. They’ve kind of pushed to me to keep in touch best I can and keep ASU on my mind as best as possible.”
Ricky Pearsall Jr.
Wide receiver Ricky Pearsall Jr. of Tempe Corona del Sol became the second Arizona product and fifth overall player in the 2019 recruiting class.
In his two varsity seasons at Corona del Sol, he boasts over 1,500 yards, including 1,153 yards and 13 touchdowns in his junior season.
The 6-1, 200-pound incoming senior was unavailable for an interview because of a team camp.
Hybrid linebacker/safety Connor Soelle of Saguaro isn’t the first person in his family to go through the recruitment process. His older brother Kyle just finished his first year as a linebacker for the Sun Devils.
“My mom says she has two sons playing for ASU. I don’t know how many moms can say that,” Connor Soelle said.
Soelle was highly recruited before committing to ASU. He received offers from Army, Southern Methodist, Nevada, New Mexico State and Vanderbilt.
Part of Soelle’s success stems from the success of his high school football program. Saguaro set a state record last season with five state championships in a row. Soelle hopes to add a sixth in his senior season.
“I think one of the greatest strengths about the program is how well it prepares you for college,” Soelle said. “Just because we’ve had so many guys go Division I already. All the kids at Saguaro all put in a lot of really hard work. All our coaches are really amazing.”
Soelle believes his greatest strength is in playing in the run and in the box as a linebacker. In his junior season, Soelle boasted 35 tackles and four sacks. This will be Soelle’s third season on varsity after transferring from Notre Dame Preparatory.
Soelle received the most offers of the four 2019 ASU commitments, but ASU wasn’t his top priority until he started considering the different schools and seeking advice from his brother.
“I wasn’t thinking about it too much just because I felt like I had a lot of time,” Soelle said. “Once I started thinking about every aspect of going to a school for four or five years, it was just something you can’t get anywhere else.”
His older brother Kyle offered the advice to choose a school based on the football program, not the coaches. Kyle saw that firsthand when former coach Todd Graham was fired and Edwards replaced him.
Connor believes he will adjust well into ASU’s defensive scheme. In December 2017, ASU hired former San Diego State coach Danny Gonzales as its new defensive coordinator. San Diego State’s defensive scheme feature many similarities to Saguaro’s defense.
“They’re running more of a fast, quick everyone get to the ball, make a play kind of defense. That’s the kind of defense we play at Saguaro, so I’m used to that,” Soelle said. “Also they have a specific position that’s kind of a safety/linebacker hybrid, which is exactly what I think I fit.”
The luxury of being 15-20 minutes from home and playing with his older brother was a big factor in his ultimate decision to become a Sun Devil. In his final year at Saguaro football, he hopes to improve on man-to-man coverage, but his journey to college football is still sinking in.
“Growing up, I hoped and dreamed of playing ASU football,” Soelle said. “Now that it’s a reality, it’s something that is still a little surreal to me.”
Wide receiver Andre Johnson of Tolleson did not have a dream college in his recruitment process. He just wanted to sign a letter of intent and see where football would take him.
After an unofficial visit to ASU and talking with the coaches, everything seemed to line up as the perfect fit for the 6-foot-3 incoming senior.
“I would say it was pretty fun,” Johnson said of the recruitment process. “It was a little bit stressful at the beginning because I wasn’t getting any looks. It started getting better as time went on. I just had to be patient and just keep waiting for my opportunity to come.”
In his junior season, Johnson averaged 19.5 yards per carry, earning 33 receptions for 642 yards and seven touchdowns. He believes his greatest strength as he prepares for college football is his coachability, but his weakness is just experience. The 2017 season was his first playing wide receiver.
Choosing ASU was a decision based not just on the football program.
“I liked the area around it. I liked the campus and everything. It’s all basically brand new,” Johnson said. “They keep rebuilding stuff. It’s grown a lot.”
Specifically, Johnson referenced the coaching staff and new facilities. ASU football added a new weight room and remodeled the locker room, in order to, as Johnson said, “accommodate for the new ways of football.”
When Johnson attended the ASU camp, he said the coaches were straightforward in helping him work toward an ASU offer. He worked predominantly with wide receivers coach Charlie Fisher and tight ends coach Donnie Yantis.
“I remember Coach Fisher was telling me to work on explosion off the ball, getting those first five yards, so the defender doesn’t know where I’m going at first,” Johnson said. “He just told me that I need to learn how to control my body.”
Johnson received looks from UNLV, UCLA and Wyoming and got another offer from Bemidji State in Minnesota before committing to ASU.
Johnson will redshirt his first year to get acclimated to the program and Tempe campus. From there, he’s excited to have his support system to watch him play Sun Devils football.
“Having my friends be able to come to my games and coaches and everything,” Johnson said. “Just to play for the state I grew up in I think is a cool thing to do.”