Sun Devil football head coach Todd Graham:
Well, first of all, just want to take the opportunity to thank the 2013 football team, especially those seniors. The group the last two years really put a tremendous amount of work into a program that's won 18 football games, and coming off the Pac‑12 South Championship has afforded us to have today, and I think this is the best recruiting class I think we've had in what Mark says is the internet era, which I don't know what that is, from the '90s, I guess.
But it's better than that. You know, we really obviously want to wish all the players ‑‑ I actually love recruiting. I love getting the opportunity to go into a lot of different homes, and I want to wish the guys that went elsewhere the very, very best of luck, as well. Got to meet a lot of great people, and it's something that I really am very blessed to get the opportunity to do.
Really want to thank our players. Our players are very, very involved in the recruiting process. One of the things that we're just not looking at film and offering scholarships, we're looking for young people that fit the Sun Devil way and how we go about doing things, and we're looking for young men that are givers, that have great character. Obviously you know how disciplined our program is, and you have to have a tremendous passion for working, because we actually love to work.
So really want to thank our existing players and the work that they've put in to put this recruiting class together, and really, really grateful to them.
All the professors, the professors that have volunteered their time to meet with our young people. We've got a top‑100 academic institution in the world, and to be able to have these professors that donate their time and come up on the weekend, it's a special place. It's a great time to be a Sun Devil, and I want to thank the professors and the staff involved.
And then my staff, our coaching staff, I'm very blessed to have tremendous teachers, men of great character that do a tremendous job out there on the road in identifying the finding the right players, and so we're really, really excited about this group. I think we put obviously the needs ‑‑ when it went into putting this group together, that's kind of how this Power Point will kind of flow.
We graduate nine guys from a defense that if you look at conference play, I'd take non‑conference play but conference play, we're the No. 1 defense in the conference, just in conference play. We had the No. 1 scoring offense just in conference play, and that's really what matters to us. Our goal is to be conference champions, Rose Bowl champions and national champions and graduate 100 percent of our guys.
You know, when we look at what our needs were in this class, we graduate nine guys on defense. Obviously that's the way we want every year to be. We want our guys to graduate, and come draft day, we're going to have Sun Devils going and playing on Sunday and playing in Super Bowls, and that's what it's all about. It's the ultimate goal for them to get the opportunity to graduate and fulfill their dreams.
We've got guys like Will Sutton, Carl Bradford and Chris Young, Alden Darby and Irabor, those are a bunch of all‑conference players there to replace. I've got all the confidence in the world in, one, the players we have here that can do it. I know our staff can develop, and I think we met our needs.
Our big need was up front in the interior of the defensive line. Basically defensively it's very simple. I want guys that can cover. We're a team that challenges people at the line of scrimmage and is a pressure‑oriented defense. We wanted to obviously build it from the inside out and from the front back, and we felt like we met our needs from a defensive standpoint.
Offensively we wanted to add some playmakers to an already electrifying offense with Taylor Kelly returning. I think you're going to see some exciting, explosive players. Obviously character, discipline, work ethic, toughness are the things that mold a Sun Devil, and that's the criteria for the young men that are in this class. I'll take you through the guys that we signed.
Start off with up front, a guy I'm really excited about, identified this young man, he could have went just about anywhere, I think the best defensive lineman probably in California, on the West Coast, Tashon Smallwood, a guy that you know how we are up front, we're very explosive up front on the defensive line in attacking. You will get to know and really be excited about this guy. This guy is going to be a guy that's going to be very disruptive. Very, very similar on film to No. 90, who is just graduated from here. He's one of the top rated players. Again, you see his accolades up there on the board. Again, he's a young man that really wanted to be a part of what we're doing, and I think the prowess of our defense and what we've been able to do having the back‑to‑back Defensive Player of the Year playing defensive tackle for us helped us land Tashon Smallwood, so he's a guy that's going to be very disruptive and do great things for us. Again, one of the top rated defensive tackles in the nation.
Now we have Connor Humphreys. Connor is the No. 1 player out of Oregon. Again, you're going to see a lot of these guys are all winners. They come from winning programs and successful programs, but you're going to see a lot of these guys are from state championship teams. It's something we really put a high regard on. So Connor, again, you can see the U.S. Army All‑American game. He's from a state championship football program. He's a guy that'll play nose tackle for us, big, physical, inside guy, and a guy that we think can come in and be impactful for us. Both Tashon and Connor side by side are a pretty good looking pair there, and they'll be getting to know quarterbacks in the Pac‑12 pretty well here in the next few years. So we're excited about Connor, as well.
Obviously one of the great traditions we have here is we're looking for young men with great character that have a burning desire for an opportunity, and one tradition that we've started that I'm very proud of, and we don't make no bones about it, is I'm proud of how well our staff transitions junior college players to the Pac‑12 and to being able to compete and perform on a national level, guys like Jaelen Strong and Marion Grice and Chris Young. Those guys are guys that are tremendous, and I love the junior college player because they take the path least traveled, and it's something that they're very appreciative about the opportunity, and I think our staff does a great job developing them.
A young man we had an opportunity to sign today I think is a big‑time playmaker. You look at him, and Tashon will be playing the three technique position. This guy is one of the top defensive tackles in the country, junior college, in the top 25 in the nation overall recruit. Again, you see a lot of these guys, I think over 13 of these guys were four‑star players. Being able to recruit this level of player, I think you guys are going to be very, very excited about his explosiveness. I think he is a guy in line with Will in the type of explosiveness that we're looking for, except you can see up there he's 6'3", so we're excited about Mr. Stuckey and what he's going to be able to do, a guy that I think will be very impactful for our program, as well.
When you look at the interior defensive line, that was something that we thought was very, very important to address, and we felt like we knocked it out of the park with those young men there in guys that fit what we're about.
The defensive end position, Renell Wren. One of the things we wanted to do here is increase our length and get ‑‑ obviously we like Gannon, obviously did a tremendous job for us there, and Marcus Hardison, so Renell Wren is a guy that's right at 6'5", defensive end, you can see his accolades out of Missouri, a guy that's a tremendous pass rusher. We want guys that obviously have great length and size, but we want speed and explosive power. We want guys that can impact the quarterback and guys that can attack and work in the backfield. Renell is going to be a guy that can come in and be able to compete early at the defensive end position.
Edmond Boateng. Edmund is a young man in our tradition of signing junior college players that have three years of eligibility. That's something that we really like. He's already here right now. He's one of the top ‑‑ was in one of the top 25, I think ESPN, in junior college players, defensive end. Obviously went from New Mexico Military. He's all about the discipline, and he loves that about our program, and he's one of the best defensive ends coming out of junior college. Again, another guy that's got that size and length. You see almost 6'5" and got the length that we want, and batting those balls and narrowing those throwing lanes for quarterbacks.
Then it takes us to our devil position. You guys know that our devil is basically ‑‑ I can say Carl Bradford and you can get in your mind what a devil does. Obviously with Carl going to the draft, that was a big need for us, and we signed two young men that are explosive pass rushers, and really excited about Ismael Murphy‑Richardson, a local, obviously one of our three players that we've signed here. One of the things that he was excited about that we've had an opportunity, when you talk about developing players, we talk about the success of our junior college players, but we also talk about the success of our freshmen. We've had four freshmen All‑Americans. That was something Ismael was excited about. I think he's obviously ‑‑ we're thankful to Carl Bradford and his performance because he makes that devil position pretty attractive, and obviously staying true to ASU, this is Arizona State University. I'm really proud. Ismael had a lot of big‑time offers. You see the guys down there at the bottom, I think probably Oklahoma was our biggest competition there, and the team over in California there. One of the top pass rushers you're going to see.
This guy is 6'4" in length, tremendous basketball player, tremendous athleticism off the edge, and a guy that's going to be ‑‑ he's about 209, 210 pounds right now, and he'll be a guy that will put some lean muscle on and be a guy that will be able to have an impact for us in the fall. So we're excited about him.
Another young man you'll see, 6'6", Darrius Caldwell. Most of the recruiting process was committed to South Carolina. I think they did a pretty good job there of rushing the quarterback, and this guy is a big‑time pass rusher, a guy that can really impact the quarterback. He's one of the top rated JC players in the nation, as well. We feel like with Darrius and Ismael, we're really in a position that ‑‑ obviously you guys know I didn't anticipate Carl going, and he did, so that was an area of big need for us, so we're excited about those two young men and what they're going to do rushing the passer here.
This guy I'm really excited about, DJ Calhoun. He's already here working out. This guy will play the Will linebacker position. Obviously Chris did a tremendous job for us there. DJ is a guy that possesses great blitz ability, very, very smart. Obviously that's key in playing in our system. I think he's one of the best linebackers in the country. You see he's rated that way, and a guy that ‑‑ the thing that stuck out to me more than anything recruiting him is his character and his leadership. He's came here, and you guys know the standards from which Coach Gris works our young men, and Gris listed him as one of the most impressive newcomers or freshmen that we've had in our program from a training standpoint. So we're excited about DJ and his leadership and a guy I think is going to be very impactful in the fall.
Spur position: Again, another position that graduation hit us. You see from Allen, Texas, a place where I used to be the head football coach. Real excited to get two players from Allen High School, probably the top high school in the state of Texas, and two guys that have come off back‑to‑back state championships, so we're excited about Christian. Christian will play our spur position. Again, you can look down and see the offers that these guys had. To be able to come that far from home and to choose us over the likes of Oklahoma, and you see the Big 12 schools, we're excited to have him. Tremendous blitzability, tremendous cover skills. That's one of the hardest positions for us to recruit because they've got to be big enough, and he's 6'1", between 6'1" and 6'2", 220 pounds, he's a 4.4, 4.5 (speed) guy that can cover, blitz off the edge and play over a tight end. Those guys are hard to find, so we're excited about Christian.
Jamal Scott, probably the most underrated player in our class. Not many people knew about him. My wife looks at all the film, and this is a guy she went like, wow, who's that guy. Big‑time. One of the things we wanted to address, we wanted to become more physical. We've got some unfinished business, and that business is winning the Pac‑12 championship, and one of the things in that championship game that we felt like we've got to become more of a physical football team. We thought we were a physical football team, but we've got to increase our physicality to win the championship, not just get there.
So Jamal, these guys, the guys that ‑‑ there's not a guy we recruited that we don't think improves our physicality. This guy will flat play physical. You see the size, 6'2", 208, can cover man on the No. 2 receiver, and obviously tremendous explosiveness. This guy backpedals like a corner and can play physical like a linebacker. So I really ‑‑ how all the rankings work, ratings, all that, this is a guy we're really excited about.
We think the three linebackers that we've signed are the key. The key to winning in this league is you've got to have speed, and you've got to be able to cover man‑to‑man and you've got to be able to impact the quarterback.
So those three linebackers are going to be pretty exciting to watch, and again, we think really fit our system well.
Again, you see here going into the safeties, a young man from De La Salle, again, winning, winners. As you go down through here, that's the common theme throughout. Dasmond is a guy that played just about every position, played wide receiver, tailback, again, a guy that ‑‑ one of the smartest players. A guy once he starts playing free safety and lines up every down there he's going to develop, going to have great size. You'll see the last two years most of the safeties that we've brought in are 6'1", 6'2" players, and again, a guy that brings a great physicality. He lost two games in his entire career in high school, so that's something we're excited about. We like bringing guys in that know how to win.
The other thing about Das, and I won't attempt to pronounce his last name, but Das, one of the things that really struck me about him is how respectful he was, and our players loved when he came on the visit, these guys, all of our players were really excited about the character of these young men, and he was a guy, his character really stood out to us.
Armand Perry, again, another state champion, four‑time state champion from Bishop Gorman. He'll play the safety position for us. He's, again, one of the top rated players in Nevada, size and speed, again, up around six foot, a guy that can play field corner or the free safety position as well as the bandit safety position. Great speed. All these guys are tremendous athletes and got great explosiveness.
DeAndre Scott, you guys are going to be excited when you watch this guy. One of the big areas of concern in our focus is our special teams, so obviously all these guys that I've mentioned that are linebackers and DBs are going to help us. One of the things in our second year, we didn't have a lot of depth, and that hurt our coverage teams, so these guys are all going to be impactful I think in that regard. But this young man right here is a dynamic kick returner, a guy when ‑‑ we added two dynamic kick returners in this class, really three, when you add Chad Adams, as well, to it.
But one of the top rated defensive backs in the country. He's one of the top 20 players out of Pennsylvania. He's a guy that had ‑‑ you see all the offers that he had. Not very big. This guy is one of the most explosive tacklers at 5'9", 180 pounds that you'll see. I'm kind of biased to those 5'9" guys. I kind of like them.
Chad Adams: Chad is probably one of the fastest kids, him and Gump on offense are the two fastest players, probably wind up being two of the fastest players on our football team. But Chad is a dynamic kick returner, again, team captain from a two‑time state champion, one of the most versatile players we're bringing in. I think Chad can immediately be impactful for us at the boundary corner position as well as the bandit safety position. Again, another guy that's not very big but has tremendous versatility in being able to play every position in our secondary, and that's something that we're excited about.
This young man on a state championship team played a lot both ways. He's a guy that can even do some of that here, a guy that you could run a reverse to, a guy that is really dynamic with a ball in his hands. Chad is a guy that we're really excited about. Again, a lot of big‑time offers and turning down the Big 12 to come out here, so we're proud of those guys.
Kweishi Brown, a guy that was a surprise today for us that we felt good about. You'll see the size. I like that he's a big boundary corner, a guy that can play to the field on the tall receivers. We've got big receivers in the Pac‑12. He is a guy that was one of the top junior college players in the country, one of the top corners coming in. Again you see the offers that he had. He was committed to Arkansas for quite some time, and we were able to sway him to come here.
One of the main reasons why he chose to come here is because of the discipline of our program, and all these guys are excited about the style of defense that we're playing, and this guy is a bump‑and‑run corner that's very physical at the line of scrimmage and wants to put his hands on people. We're really excited about him. Again, you see an All‑American cornerback from the JC ranks.
Going into our offense, offensively our biggest need there, we graduated three offensive linemen. Obviously we wanted to sign three. We signed two really, really good ones, and we're excited about where they fit. That's something that from a numbers standpoint kind of hurt us a little bit because you guys probably know how all the juggling goes and there was quite a bit. Whenever you're competing and you have great people, we had a lot of people that we weren't able to take, that we could have taken that we couldn't, and at the end of the day, just one thing we have to do is make the decisions what's best for our program, and with graduating 16 players on defense and nine starters, we had to really make some tough decisions down the road.
A guy that I'm really excited about, one of the top ‑‑ one of the things we wanted to do on the offensive line, obviously, is become more physical. We want physical guys that want to put their hand in the dirt and knock people off the football. Quinn Bailey, he's a Coach Gris look alike. He has the same expression Coach Gris has on his face all the time, which is one of eagerness to engage.
We're really excited about Quinn. Again, smart, bright, physically tough, a guy that came in, I think he was 6'9", his wingspan across, and then 6'6", 302 pounds. Obviously want to get longer at the tackle position, and a guy that's going to be a great, great football player for us.
Very impressive guy to go watch play basketball. This guy is a very physical basketball player, as well. We're excited about Quinn.
Sam Jones, this guy epitomizes toughness. Love this guy. This guy is a guy that makes no bones about it, tells me, Coach, I'm coming in and playing. Unbelievable passion for training. Again, one of the top prospects out of Colorado. You see the third ranked player in the state, a guy that's going to play guard for us and a guy that I think will come in and have an opportunity to compete to be in the depth. If you ask me the hardest position to play as a freshman, it's offensive line, but I'm really excited, and again, you see that he had an opportunity there with Oregon, and again, we're excited to get him to come here.
A lot of these guys ‑‑ all these guys had great opportunities. Those are the two offensive linemen that we're bringing in.
And then at the tight end position, again, graduating Chris Coyle, got De'Marieya coming back there at the three back position, but we need a guy that can come in and play. Brendan Landman is a guy that I think is really underrated, tremendous blocker, a great athleticism. This is a guy that can play in line as well as move tight end. Got great hands. You can see he was the team MVP, great size, great frame, going to be a big man and a guy that I think is going to be impactful like we need him to be because obviously that tight end position is critical to us. Again, 6'5". We're looking to get longer and, again, keep our speed and explosiveness.
Demario Richard, one of the great tailbacks on the West Coast. A guy that was obviously a highly competitive tailback in the Pac‑12 as far as recruiting standpoint. A guy that's just a dynamic inside zone runner that we think has tremendous potential, and obviously we had a need there with a graduation at the tailback, and a guy that's very, very explosive. We're very excited about what he brings. He caught our eye early. You can see his total rushing yards. Also catches the ball well out of the backfield. You know how we like to utilize our receivers like we do DJ. He's a guy that's a tremendous pass receiver, as well. You see the 563 yards receiving, as well, 4,000‑yard rusher. So we're excited about him, and again, wanting to continue to put those playmakers on the field.
De'Chavon "Gump" Hayes: Get your stop signs ready because this guy here is really, really dynamic. When he called me today, I said, "run, Forrest, run." We're excited about Gump. That's why he's nicknamed that because he runs through the back of the end zone pretty quick. He's a guy that's probably ‑‑ we were in a battle with Oklahoma on this young man, and one of the most dynamic players that I've seen on film from a kick returner, punt returner standpoint, tremendous speed, again, that versatile guy that can play inside receiver, tailback, speed sweep. You guys are going to get to know this guy in a hurry, tremendous explosiveness and one of the fastest players in the country.
Jalen Harvey, Jalen is a young man, 6'2", again, wanting to get that frame obviously in this league. We want speed and explosiveness, but you also have to block on the perimeter, and Jalen is going to provide great physicality to our receivers. Looks and appears a lot the same body type as a Jaelen Strong, a lot of the same abilities, and Jalen was a guy that was very highly recruited. Again, we had a lot of success in Northern Cal, and that was one thing that we really ‑‑ obviously we've got some great Sun Devils from that area, one being Pat Tillman.
We're really excited. Another guy on a very winning successful team, teammates of DJ Calhoun, and a guy you see how he's ranked as far as the second ranked wide receiver in California when you look at the ESPN poll. Another playmaker, dynamic guy that's big and physical.
Tyler Whiley, obviously a local player, a guy that's very versatile, a guy that can play on both sides of the football for us. Again, he's a guy that's hard not to put the ball in his hand. You can see he's one of the top rated prospects out of the state of Arizona, and comes from obviously a winning program. Tremendous young man that has really ‑‑ so proud of him in kind of the same regard as I am of DJ Foster, a guy that could have went anywhere. He said, Coach, why would I go anywhere elsewhere you can win championships right here in the Valley. Really proud of Tyler. You see the size and speed that he provides, again, developing that depth in our receiving corps.
Eric Lauderdale: Eric is a 6'2", 195‑pound wide receiver, one of the top junior college wide receivers, dynamic player, a guy that will allow us to ‑‑ I think will be a great tandem with Jaelen, and a guy that really has big play explosive capabilities. A guy that I think he told me today he had 15 people calling him this morning, and we were a little upset with him because he was one of the last ones to get his papers in. But we're very, very excited to have him.
We felt like offensively what we needed to do is add to the explosiveness of our offense, and number one, add to the physicality of it, as well, and that's something ‑‑ we're a run, play action, pass football team. Obviously we have got Taylor Kelly returning.
The next two guys obviously are the first two quarterbacks that we've signed since we've been here. Really excited about Manny. You guys know he's already demonstrated his leadership skills in just the relationships. What's interesting nowadays in recruiting is the relationships there these guys already have coming in. We signed 10 players from the state of California, so obviously that's a big, big focus for us is obviously winning here locally, and then you've got to be able to ‑‑ in this league when you look at all the players in the Pac‑12, you're going to see predominantly most of them are coming from California and predominantly Southern California.
Manny heading this group up, 6'2", 181 pounds, one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the country, a guy that just tremendous young man. His story, tremendous story, the things that he's been able to overcome. You see his stats, they speak for themselves.
Coltin Gerhart, really excited about Coltin, one of the toughest quarterbacks that I've ever evaluated. Obviously he comes from a great family of football players, and physical football players. It's going to be exciting to watch him and Manny compete because both these guys we think have tremendous leadership skills. And Coltin, what separates him, I think, when I watch him that sticks out to me is you can see his record, his success, his stats and all that. This guy is tough. This guy is a guy that's physically tough. I like that in a quarterback. I think that's something that is ‑‑ if we're going to be tough, if being a part of being a Sun Devil is tough it's got to start with the quarterback, so really excited about Coltin and what he brings.
That takes us through our class. Really, really, like I said, I'm really grateful for all the support that we've had. Really one of the things that's been great for me is I really believe that "The Drive," the show that we did that was played all over the West Coast and around the nation really allowed homes to be opened up to the great teachers that we have here and the great young people that we have.
Very grateful to our student body. We had a tremendous year, and when it comes to playing at home and the home field atmosphere that we have here, it's tremendous, and we're only just getting started.
This class is one that we're wanting to build a program that's going to win year in and year out and competing for Pac‑12 championships and Rose Bowl championships every year, and this class will afford us that. Just reflecting back today, again, I want to thank those former players. That's not just the guys from the last two years. We've had tremendous involvement from our Sun Devils, and we talk about once a Sun Devil always a Sun Devil, and they've been tremendous for us and being a part of game day.
Our student body, every single recruit that came and visited here and came to games, they commented on the atmosphere. Game day atmosphere is critical in the recruiting process, so I want to thank them, and I think we answered the call and are bringing some great young men, great student athletes, guys that possess the great character and the toughness and the work ethic and the discipline that it takes to win championships, and so we're excited about this class, and I can't wait for them to get here.
This is a very, very important part of it. The thing that's the most important is development. So we've got, I think, something that we do a great job, our strength coach does a tremendous job. He can't wait to get his hands on them and start working with these guys and get them here and go to work.
We'll be young on defense. That's okay. We were young, I guess, two years ago, weren't we? But we're in a lot better position right now to be able to replace the guys that have come before us, and they set a legacy. We talk in the off‑season right now, we've got unfinished business, and that business is being Pac‑12 champions. With that, I'll take questions.
Q. Of all your players you're bringing in on the defensive line, how many do you think might be in position to help you going into this next season?
COACH GRAHAM: I think they all need to be. That's the criteria that we went with. That's one of the things you know you can look at that depth and see where we're at. One of the things that you look at this class and you see the level of high school player that we were able to attract, obviously we've had ‑‑ we've signed some good players from high school, but as far as a broad range and how much better, this is just a lot better top to bottom in being able to do that.
I think the guys that ‑‑ the physicality, the mental maturity, the guys we've got coming in, they're going to be able to contribute and be able to play. So I think obviously the inside guys are the guys that I think will ‑‑ we really need them to really develop in a hurry, but I think they will. I think they'll be hard to keep off the field. There's not any of the guys we signed up front that I don't think could have contributed on our team this last year.
The big thing is just learning our system. That's going to be the big thing is that with all the new ‑‑ with new players, we got Marcus, we've got Jaxon, we've got guys that are coming back and guys that have been here, that red‑shirted, that understand our system. But I do think that up front we'll have a lot of impact players.
Q. As this season progressed did you have to get an evaluation, look at things a little differently in terms of physicality, the way the things went against Stanford in particular, that you had to go a little bit deeper with your recruiting class in that way?
COACH GRAHAM: I don't really look at it that way. I look at it, our physicality was pretty good against USC, UCLA, everybody else except one team. So yes, we did look at that, and our goal is not to be just Pac‑12 South champions but win the whole thing. So yes, we did look at the physicality of it.
One of the issues is just being in our second year and the depth. Depth really hurt us in special teams, and then I think it hurt us quite a bit, and I talked about it a lot, was on the perimeter, and having to play guys just about every snap of the game. Not very many of our defensive line ‑‑ I think Carl Bradford played every play he could possibly play, and so did Will.
Yeah, and I think one of the things, there's no doubt that this bunch is the best tackling bunch that we've recruited. So the physicality I think ‑‑ these guys are bigger and I think come in better prepared to do that. So of course, I think the most physical team wins. So that's something we looked at, but it wasn't something that ‑‑ we just got ‑‑ we only lost to one team in the league, and we lost to a team that's just been doing it a little longer than us and did it a little better than us last year.
Q. Especially late here in the process and throughout, how much were you able to point to that defense where everybody says you've got all these big shoes to fill and sell to guys there's an opportunity quickly to help fill those needs?
COACH GRAHAM: I'll tell you the thing that was exciting for me in recruiting is obviously Carl, Will, Darby, those guys were the guys that really were the ambassadors after the first year. They loved what we do defensively because obviously it was pretty good for them. Irabor, those guys.
But those guys aren't here, and our existing players and how they sold our defense and the things that ‑‑ and I tell them, tell them the truth. Tell them exactly how it is. I want guys that are serious about winning, serious about getting an education, serious about winning championships every day. I think our guys were honest with our recruits that came in. We got the right guys. Recruiting is not a sales pitch, it's about evaluation. It's about getting the right people that's the right fit, and that takes a lot of work and a lot of diligence.
But I was really proud and really impressed with guys like Marcus Hardison and how exciting and how he could articulate what we do defensively and how excited he was. Salamo Fiso and what a job he did talking about, hey, man, I was a freshman All‑American, I came here and this is how this system and this staff was able to develop me. Damarious Randall and how he's matured and stepped into a role where he did a tremendous job in the recruiting process for us selling what we're doing. Then obviously you've got Taylor and DJ and the guys on offense, Jamil Douglas, Jaelen Strong. Our guys believe in what we're doing, and we're not talking about just offensive and defensive plays. They believe in everything in who we are as Sun Devils, and that's the key.
I really felt good about that because I would go into my office and talk to a recruit in my office, and they're repeating back to my our philosophy and how, Coach, I'll tell you, these ‑‑ they were excited about how excited our players were, and that's something that you feel good about.
Q. Talk about Manny Wilkins already demonstrating his leadership. No secret that he did a tremendous job recruiting; some people joked maybe a little better than the coaches themselves. In all your years of recruiting, have you seen a player, whether it be quarterback or any other player, that came on board that early and was able to help that much with overall recruiting?
COACH GRAHAM: Yeah, I mean, obviously a young man makes a decision where they're going, they have an opportunity to impact. They've got to obviously do that on their own. I was really proud of how proud he was to be a Sun Devil. That's something that ‑‑ I don't know, I think so much of the emotion ‑‑ I'm not big on the emotional part of it. I don't think that it's ‑‑ most people are really ‑‑ people that are going to be successful here are going to be people that really are very profound about how they make the decision to come here. I want them to be.
I don't ask one player to commit in my office. Not one. I am not going to have a young man in my office that doesn't have his parents with him. If my son was on a visit and I wasn't there, I would not want someone pressuring him to make a decision because this is a very, very important decision in these young men's lives. I don't want them to do it because of emotion or because they're buddies with this guy or that guy. I want them to make the decision because they fit, and they fit here, and they want to graduate from Arizona State University; they want to be a Sun Devil for life; they want to win championships and they want to work with a passion and make a difference. That's the criteria.
And our coaches work hard at not ‑‑ we don't really want to ‑‑ one of the things that we talk about commitment, and our word, and how we do that. There's times in recruiting, I'll be honest with you, where I've had a kid that was committed to us and somebody else that came in and offered him that wasn't in the mix. I tell him, hey, son, I understand that. At the end of the day, we're confident. We've got a great product to offer at Arizona State University and what we're doing here. I have no problem with you making sure this is what you want to do because at the end of the day, I do this for a living. I've been doing it a long time, and so have our coaches. So has every coach in this league. These young people, they only get to do it one time, so I want to make sure they end up where they're supposed to. That's why one of the first things we always do is congratulate the young men that didn't come here, and I hope they ended up where they're supposed to, and I think that works out that way. I think it's a real important part of recruiting is that we make sure we're getting the right fit. That's the worst thing we do is bring somebody that doesn't fit because that's absolutely ‑‑ they're not going to be successful academically or on the football field.
We're excited about ‑‑ I'm glad that this is a highly ranked class, but I know that we've got some great young men that are fitting what we're doing, and we're excited about the future.
Q. Todd, Tyler Whiley was also a pretty highly rated defensive back in high school. As a defensive coach, as a former defensive back, how did you lose him to Mike Norvell?
COACH GRAHAM: Well, I don't. Last time I checked I was the head coach; isn't that right? The key is convincing him.
No, I talked to Tyler about that, as a matter of fact. I really think he is an outstanding defensive back. I think he would look really good over there intercepting passes.
But I think obviously it just got down to really just ‑‑ one of the things that we do, we handle personnel, we're not territorial on personnel. We try, I try to look and watch how the people that make a living do it, and you can't do it that way. You've got to take offensive coordinator and all that stuff, you've got to move that to the side and you've got to look at here's the needs of our football team. I'll be honest with you, Mike made some decisions and we made some decisions down the line that weren't exactly the best thing for them, but it's what we had to do for our football team to be better.
Tyler is a guy that will obviously start at wide receiver, but I've already talked to him about the possibility of him playing some 3rd down defense and being a nickel situation for us. Inevitably we'll evaluate him and put him in the best place for us to win. He was very open to either one, but it's very hard for us when we got down to it just not to put the ball in his hand.
Q. Last year there was a lot made about not having a quarterback, this year you have two, so when you're recruiting a quarterback and the first two that you bring in here, what was it you saw in these two?
COACH GRAHAM: Well, one, a lot of people talk about how much passion I have for defense. I spend the most time on who our quarterback is going to be, the starting quarterback. I'm pretty much putting my future in his hands. That's one of the reasons why Taylor Kelly earned the job is because of the intangibles.
We expect that quarterback to have the best character, the best discipline, the best work ethic, period, in this building, bar none. A guy that you've got to have ‑‑ it can't be some guy that's just a great athlete but they've got to have the respect of the team. They've got to lead the team. Those are the intangibles, the criteria that we looked at each one of these young men that we took was that. We didn't recruit somebody and say, well, we think this guy will be a backup or a third ‑‑ both those guys we signed with the expectation that they could lead this team and be a starting quarterback for us and lead us to Pac‑12 championships. I'm very, very involved in all personnel on both sides of the football, but the single most important thing to winning a championship, you have to have a quarterback, and that's the thing we spend the most time on.
The criteria that we're looking for is simply character, a giver ‑‑ somebody asked me, how would you describe Taylor Kelly in one word. He's a giver. Whether he's talking to me or he's got a seven‑year old trying to get his autograph, he affords them the same respect, and that's something that ‑‑ there's just something about this guy. The guys follow him. Taylor doesn't give a lot of speeches. He doesn't say a whole lot. He just leads by example, and he's got those intangibles. It's not what you say, it's what you do. So that's what makes a quarterback.
To be real honest with you, I mean, if we actually just evaluated him like in a combine setting, I don't know if Taylor would have won that. We've got some guys that can really throw the football. We've got guys that can really physically do a lot of great things, but it's the total package that's the key at quarterback.
Q. This may come as a bit of an obvious question, but how valuable of a tool was it to come in this season and say we played in the Pac‑12 championship and then what's happened here the last two years under you?
COACH GRAHAM: I think there's no question about that. Coaches talk all the time, there's a lot of factors that go in. I think the commitment that our University is making to put this new stadium in I think is big. It shows commitment to want to be a top‑five program in the country. That's our goal. We want to be a team that year in and year out is winning the Pac‑12 and winning Rose Bowl championships.
So I think that the facilities, the commitment that we're making I think helps winning, the winning tradition is No. 1 in my opinion. People want to go to places that are winning and being successful.
And then I think how you go about winning is very vital there. I don't want to win at all costs. I want to win the right way. I think one of the things that's kind of helped us is we've been successful and we've really worked really hard externally in really showing people who we are and what we're all about, and I think you're seeing those dividends, and you've just got to keep on keeping on.
Obviously I can tell you that we want to ‑‑ I want to get the best and the brightest first and foremost, the best football players and the best character from this Valley, and we are bound and determined to do that, and we're getting some ‑‑ I think we've signed nine in the last three years. That's not ‑‑ you look at the Pac‑12 conference, I think there's 191 players from Los Angeles County and there's 78 from Maricopa County playing in the Pac‑12. I want a larger percentage of those guys.
We're going to keep working on that, but I think what we're doing to do that, I think that's the ‑‑ we do the Devil walk, we do all the kids' camps, and as we're winning and kids are coming to our games and we're filling up the stadium and putting guys in, that conference championship game when you go out here and all those kids are hanging over the rail, I think those guys are growing up wanting to be Sun Devils, and we'll see those dividends as those eighth graders start getting into high school.
There's not a lot of quick fixes when it comes to those things, but we definitely took a major step forward. I think this class is indicative of that. You can tell that we're competing with the people that we should be competing with for personnel.
Q. What was the best meal?
COACH GRAHAM: Oh, man, now that isn’t right putting me on the spot like that. I mean, you know me, I'm just going to answer you straight up. Sam Jones. Sam Jones, pretty awesome spaghetti. Hadn't had any red meat since May 1st. Really wanted to have some red meat on that spaghetti, but Coach Thomsen put double on his right in front of me. No, unbelievable spaghetti.
Right up there would be Smallwood's house was pretty good. A lot of good meals, really appreciate it, and I love that. A lot of people don't look forward to recruiting. I love meeting Aunt Sally and Uncle Bill and all that. You can tell I love to talk. I love recruiting, I love that part of it, but I've got to give Susan the first prize. It was pretty good. I couldn't hardly walk when I got out of there.