2017 High School Notes & Nuggets

I hope everyone is enjoying their National Signing Day/week and all the hoopla and general chaos which goes along with it.

Since this notes column happens to fall on said day of celebration, or agony for some, I decided to speak with one Valley head coach off the record about the recruiting strengths and weaknesses of the three major college programs in Arizona.

Arizona:

The Good: “[Assistant Coach] Charlie Ragle is one of the hardest working recruiters in the state, [possibly] the country. Being a local guy he’s really dug his claws into the Valley. He works hard, he maintains relationships. He visits all the schools, not just the premier ones. When you have a kid who has UofA blood lines then it’s obviously a huge help. Most of those kids that have parents or ties to UofA than they go there.”

The Bad: “Coach Ragle can only do so much. He can get guys in front but at the end of the day he’s not the one who signs off on the final offers. So he gets guys in front of their coaching staff but those guys have to give the approval…he’s hamstrung a little bit at times. Sometimes you need to be able to pull the trigger on three-star guys [in Arizona]. Don’t just chase the five-stars. I think it’s got to start with the [lower-tier] guys more so. Be willing to find those guys that aren’t national recruits but you know are good football players from your backyard. Go get those guys and build some momentum from there.”

Arizona State:

The Good: “They’re the local school. They have a lot of strong ties to the community. They’ve done a good job of getting kids on campus early and being front and center.  They’ve done a good job. The in-state kids they’ve had there have had some success and they’ve done a good job marketing those kids.”

The Bad: “I think the hardest thing for them is the high rate of turnover on the coaching staff. I think Coach [Mike] Norvell had done a really good job of establishing relationships in-state and they had some other guys on that staff that were doing a good job. Now over the course of the last few seasons there’s just been a huge turnover and so there’s not a lot of strong ties anymore.”

Northern Arizona:

The Good: “I think they just greatly benefit from being the third Division I school in Arizona that’s really turned into one of the best recruiting territories on the west coast and becoming one of the better ones in the country. They’re stealing kids from the Mountain West [Conference] and they have no business stealing kids from the Mountain West. They’ve done a better job of targeting Arizona kids the last four or five years. Their defensive coordinator Andy Thompson does a really good job. He’s really sharp. [Wide Receivers Coach] Aaron Pflugrad knows the Valley very well. Again, you talk about the three-star kids that the two big [in-state] schools don’t want, sometimes by default NAU is getting those kids because those kids want to stay home.”

The Bad: “They’ve also had a high turnover at a number of important [coaching] positions. It’s another place that struggles a bit by having those in-roads and having a guy that high school coaches can call up and they have that [established] relationship. The guys up there know that if this coach calls you and says, ‘I got a [player],’ they know he’s telling the truth.”

No Dispute…Despite all the recent turnover on Todd Graham’s staff (and there’s been plenty), the Sun Devils continue to do well keeping a relatively high number of local prospects in the Valley, particularly compared to UofA.

So what’s been the secret to their success?

“The biggest advantage consistently articulated by local recruits who select ASU is proximity to home and the ability to have their family and friends regularly in attendance at their games,” SunDevilSource.com Publisher Chris Karpman said to Sports360AZ.com. “That has value to a lot of players who are close to their families and want the benefit of independence but also the ability to remain very engaged with their support network.

Secondarily, and especially in more recent years, the academic support for student-athletes has been regularly cited. ASU graduates football players at a high level and there is a sense that it does well with balancing academics. There’s also the allure of the so-called ‘hometown hero’ sentiment, which is to say that success will be more celebrated as a local.”

T-Cup of Sorts, Deep In The Heart of Texas…Wouldn’t it be cool if New England Patriots running back/returner D.J. Foster (ASU) came around the edge and saw Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Brooks Reed (Arizona) waiting there to “greet” him Sunday evening in Houston? Phoenix versus Tucson all over again.

Top Gun…Enjoyed spending some time recently getting to know Verrado quarterback Maverick Gamez who I believe could come in and play immediately for Jeff Bowen and his staff at Arizona Christian.

Gamez certainly has his priorities in line as Jordan Hamm explained.

Super Sophomores…it appears the next generation of young, talented Valley quarterbacks is about to emerge as far East Valley signal-callers Zack Shepard from Williams Field and Queen Creek’s Devin Larsen were both invited to Elite 11 regional competition.

Shepard helped lead the Black Hawks to a state title while Larsen had a phenomenal season under head coach Travis Schureman throwing 25 touchdowns with just six interceptions for the 10-3 Bulldogs last fall.

They say good things come in pairs.

Be sure to keep an eye on these two the next couple of years.

A Valley native, Eric has had a passion for the Arizona sports scene since an early age. He has covered some of the biggest events including Super Bowls, national championships and the NBA and MLB playoffs in his near 20 years in local media.