TEMPE, Ariz. –- Call it the game within the game.
When Arizona State faces Texas A&M in the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff on Saturday in Houston, the Sun Devils will see a starting quarterback and wide receiver, not to mention a backup defensive end, from right in their own backyard lined up against them.
Sophomore quarterback Kyle Allen (Desert Mountain) was the top-rated player in the state and the No. 1-ranked pocket passer in the nation by ESPN in 2014, while true freshman receiver Christian Kirk (Saguaro) was the No. 1 player in Arizona and the No. 4 wideout nationally in 2015.
Sophomore defensive end Qualen Cunningham (Hamilton) was rated the fifth-best prospect in 2014.
Now, head coach Todd Graham has made in-state recruiting, specifically keeping the Valley’s best high school players in Arizona, a priority, but ASU — and U of A, for that matter — are not going to be able to sign all the top talent.
Some kids just aren’t a fit for the program and others, quite frankly, want to leave home.
Still, to lose Allen and Kirk, who set a big-schools state record for career touchdowns (103), in back-to-back recruiting classes was a blow.
Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin reminded the Sun Devils of that very fact earlier this summer.
“I’m sure Todd Graham will be real excited to come here (to Texas),” he said at his annual speech at Houston Coach’s Night. “He’s the head coach at Arizona State, and we just snatched the two best players out their state two years in a row.”
The jab, while accurate, fell on deaf ears in Tempe.
“You know, there’s been a lot mentioned about a couple of kids that are going there and playing,” Graham said this week. “Hey, you know what? I wish every kid would end up where he’s supposed to end up.
“It’s a great disservice for us to say that everybody that plays here in the Valley fits in here. That’s not going to be the case. There are a whole bunch of them that do, and we’re going to give them first priority.”
Allen was named Texas A&M’s starter after a strong challenge from true freshman Kyler Murray.
In 2014, Allen started the final five games, passing for 13 touchdowns, including four in a win over West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl.
At Desert Mountain, he threw for 8,201 yards and 86 touchdowns over three varsity seasons.
“Well, he’s exactly what I thought he was when we were recruiting him,” Graham said. “I mean, you can tell he’s a high-character kid, very much in command, very smart quarterback, makes all the throws, executes their offense. Being able to play as a freshman is pretty impressive, and I thought he did a remarkable job.”
Graham compared Allen, listed at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, to Cody Kessler of USC.
“There are a lot of guys that have strong arms, and he can make all the throws,” Graham said, “but he’s really accurate down the field and makes quick decisions and is a guy that is able to buy time in the pocket. He’s not a guy that can’t move. He moves really well. He’s hurt people running quarterback draw. He’s hurt people scrambling and extending plays. So he’s a solid quarterback. I’ve been really impressed with him.”
The pipeline from Arizona to College Station, where Texas A&M is located, doesn’t appear to be drying up anytime soon.
Already, the Aggies have scholarship offers out to Saguaro DB/WR Byron Murphy and Chandler WR N’Keal Harry for 2016, plus Basha quarterback Ryan Kelly and Brophy offensive lineman Austin Jackson in 2017.
All four have been offered by ASU as well.
“Does this game impact recruiting? Well, sure,” Graham said. “You win every big game you’re in, you do pretty good in recruiting. I’m a firm believer in all that in recruiting. I tell you, like I say all the time, I think the best thing we can do for recruiting is win 15 games. That is all you have to do.”
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