Zone Read: Walk (on) This Way

Arizona Sports News online

Kenny Dillingham was looking for a few good men.

More specifically, a few good young men.

From the moment the then teary-eyed Dillingham was officially introduced as Arizona State’s head coach back on November 27th he promised he, and his Arizona-centric staff, would cover every corner of State 48 to ensure local prospects would be a focal point for Sun Devil football, something which was often talked about, but never delivered, by the recent handful of head coaches he succeeded.

Together, the goal was to #ActivateTheValley.

While ASU mainly reloaded their depleted roster through the transfer portal, including a number of former AZHS stars like DeCarlos Brooks (Chandler), Jacob Conover (Chandler), Krew Jackson (Queen Creek), Tristan Monday (Saguaro), Jake Smith (Notre Dame Prep), and Bram Walden (Saguaro), Dillingham and Co. headlined their 2023 high school class with 4-four star southern California quarterback Jaden Rashada.

Beyond the sizzle of Rashada and the collection of recognizable transfers listed above, Dilly and his staff, specifically tight ends coach Jason Mohns, bolstered the depth of the roster by selling ASU to a number of local prep standouts, even without the carrot of a full athletic scholarship.

The Sun Devil staff, using their deep-rooted in-state high school football connections, hit the ground running – adding a myriad of well-regarded players as preferred walk-ons.

“The new Arizona State staff was assembled towards the end of the 2023 recruiting cycle, but made quick work impressing, and building relationships with the in-state talent,” Head Football Analyst, and “Zone Read” regular, Cody Cameron said. “A perfect example of this is the list of 10-plus in-state players that pledged PWO commitments to ASU.” 

The pitch to many of ASU’s incoming PWO class was not only genuine but, more importantly, focused – with a clear vision for the future of Sun Devil football, something many former recruits expressed wasn’t blueprinted under previous regimes.

“The thing that really sold me about the new and improved ASU [was] the fresh coaches, doctrines, and game plans that will be introduced,” Saguaro defensive lineman Magnum West explained. “I feel like it will be the ideal environment to grow and build new culture from the ground up.”

Others, like Coleson Arends, have always viewed ASU as a dream opportunity.

“Ever since I moved to Arizona, playing at ASU has always been an all-time goal for me,” the Pinnacle High tight end said. “I worked hard to play at the highest level and am thankful for this opportunity.

“The things Coach Dillingham is doing with this program is amazing. His energy. His character. I knew right away I wanted to be a part of it.”

Before diving any deeper, let’s define preferred walk-on.

A preferred walk-on is, essentially, the highest status a recruit can get outside of receiving an athletic scholarship. No athletic aid is offered but PWO’s are assured a position on the roster when they enter camp, with the possibility of earning a football scholarship in their second year in the program if the school feels said player is deserving.

According to Cameron, players will often have to go through a trial period, or an additional round of tryouts, before given a roster spot within the program.

In short, little is promised, everything is earned as a preferred walk-on.

They’re, in many ways, betting on themselves.

That hasn’t been an issue for the Allen family. Former Highland High 2021 two-way star Ammon Allen turned a preferred walk-on opportunity into a full scholarship at linebacker at the University of Arizona last summer.

Now younger brother, Joseph Allen, is hoping to script a similar chapter 100 or so miles up Interstate-10 in the coming years. He can already envision his path to success in Tempe, following his two-year LDS Mission this summer.

“As soon as I walked into ASU, I felt like I was at home,” said Allen. “The coaches care deeply about football, the culture, and our lives.”

“You can truly feel the love for football and the love for family. Coach [A.J.] Cooper has already made me feel a part of the linebacker room. Coach Dillingham and his staff have a vision…I’m so excited for the next few years!”

Cameron believes Allen, and others from this class, won’t simply be practice bodies, but future productive contributors to the program.

“These are all high-character players with tremendous athletic talent,” he noted. “The fact that these players chose to turn down multiple college opportunities, and stay to play for their hometown [school], shows a huge amount of trust that the in-state players have formed in a short time with Kenny Dillingham and his staff.”

One of those players who had multiple overtures was Queen Creek’s Griffin Schureman. The 6-foot-3, 255-pounder received serious interest from Arizona, NAU, BYU, New Mexico State, Western New Mexico, and others before ultimately deciding ASU was the play.

“They made it a priority to keep the Arizona kids in state,” he said. “Staying in-state to have the opportunity to play in front of my friends and family was big for me.

“I love what Coach Dillingham is doing at ASU. I love the way he runs practices and how he holds the team accountable in everything they do.”

#ActivateTheValley, indeed.

The List

Here is the full list of ASU’s in-state preferred walk-on signees, per Gridiron Arizona’s Chris Eaton:

Joseph Allen (SS) – Highland
Coleson Arends (TE) – Pinnacle
Jack Kaimipono Bal (FS) – Centennial
John Butler (DL) – Saguaro
Carston Kieffer (K) – Corona del Sol
Connor Lopez (TE) – Poston Butte
Cole Marszalek (LS) – Millennium
Tommy Romano (FS) – Notre Dame
Keona Peat (OG) – Corona del Sol
Anthony Ruiz (LB) – Liberty
Griffin Schureman (OT) – Queen Creek
Isaac Stopke (RB) – Lake Havasu
Magnum West (DT) – Saguaro
Shahid Wilson (CB) – Millennium
Jamaal Young (WR) – Marcos de Niza