ARIZONA STATE FOOTBALL

Kenny Dillingham: Arizona State’s 2024 recruiting efforts about honesty, size

Dec 21, 2023, 9:26 AM

Kenny Dillingham, Arizona State head coach at Pac-12 media day...

Head Coach Kenny Dillingham of the Arizona State Sun Devils speaks with the media at Zouk Nightclub at Resorts World Las Vegas on July 21, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Louis Grasse/Getty Images)

(Photo by Louis Grasse/Getty Images)

By the 2024 football recruiting class rankings, Arizona State head coach Kenny Dillingham won’t receive A+ reviews. To him, it’s about keeping to his philosophies about relationship-building with honesty as the backbone.

The 18 players in the class — 17 signed their national letter of intent Wednesday — rank the Sun Devils as the 52nd-best class by 247 Sports’ composite. It’s the middle-rung of the Big 12. ESPN’s judgment of the class is a little better, with ASU ranked 48th.

To Dillingham, the second recruiting class in charge and first with a full year leading the Sun Devils was about targeting size in the trenches. It helped that he could be a little specific with his desires after last year’s high school class ranked 45th.

“Good people who want to be here and that love football,” he said on a Zoom call Thursday. “The football side of it, we wanted to get bigger and longer. I think we addressed a good amount of those needs.”

The rankings don’t account for the transfer portal work put in by ASU. Together, the Sun Devils believe there’s competition to be had at nearly every position group, with roughly half of the high school class having the advantage of arriving to school early.

Dillingham said roles could be won by newcomers everywhere from defensive line, linebacker, cornerback, offensive line, tight end and running back. Even at quarterback, two players who didn’t burn their true freshmen seasons will have to fight for the starting job.

Still, it was about building a physical football team first and foremost.

“We didn’t have enough humans on our team,” Dillingham said of the 2023 class. “This year, it was much more we’re filling needs.”

Dillingham was honest with Jaden Rashada about recruiting, Michigan State transfer Sam Leavitt

Dillingham said that he told presumed 2024 starter, Jaden Rashada, that he would target a quarterback in the transfer portal.

“He was like, ‘I’m not scared of competition.’ Great. It’s what you want,” Dillingham said.

The head coach thought he would land a more experienced player, but Leavitt wanted to leave after playing sparingly at Michigan State last season and upheaval with the firing of head coach Mel Tucker. That changed Dillingham’s mind, and Leavitt’s own desire to compete with Rashada made it easier to take him on.

“I have two freshmen … who aren’t scared to compete against each other. I said, ‘I don’t need a senior,'” Dillingham said. “We’ll take these two guys and I’ll ride or die.”

Rashada appeared in three games last year, passing for 485 yards (53.7%), four touchdowns and three interceptions.

A top-120 player in the 2023 recruiting class, Leavitt played four games as a freshman, throwing for 139 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions while adding 13 carries for 67 yards.

Honesty is Dillingham’s policy

There was less reaching for players this recruiting cycle and more patience considering the foundation has been set, Dillingham said.

In the portal, that meant being able to turn away prospects who were high-profile recruits in past classes. But Dillingham said he helped steer multiple players into situations where they would be taken care of and not lied to.

In the high school recruiting scene, it was the same deal. Dillingham turned away some prospects who asked about a spot the Sun Devils didn’t have open.

“There were two kids this year who called me … (I said) we weren’t taking a (2024 class player at that position),” he said. “Those kids called me and I kind of helped them navigate some rocky situation that is recruiting in college football. I think that relationships are key and the relationships come back to help you when they go back into the portal.”

Raleek Brown a game-changer?

The biggest get in both the transfer portal and the high school class came at running back.

Four-star back Jason Brown out of O’Dea High School was the 207th-best player in the 2024 recruiting class, while USC transfer Raleek Brown was the second-rated back in the portal and a top-30 prospect in the 2022 high school class.

Brown flipped from back to receiver in two years with the Trojans.

“He’s a running back in my mind,” Dillingham said Thursday, comparing him to former Memphis player and current Philadelphia Eagle Kenneth Gainwell.

“He is a running back that you can flex out in the slot and get matchups. We really didn’t have that last year … Getting a guy like Raleek allows us to kind of dictate a little bit to the defense and create plus matchups when he’s out in the slot … but he’s a running back. He’s a ball of muscle. Size is not an issue at all with him playing running back.”

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