Zone Read: ASU, Arizona Keeping Promises

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Just the Facts

The recent football reboots at Arizona State, and the University of Arizona, have been been both refreshing, and relatable for followers of both programs in our great state.

Sure, Jedd Fisch has finally extinguished the dumpster fire roster left behind by Kevin Sumlin, and although Kenny Dillingham has yet to coach a game in Tempe, it’s evident both young head coaches had a specific plan in the place the day they stepped to the podium for the first time at their respective programs.

Let’s keep big picture perspective of how we got to this road map of recent college football in-state indifference in the first place.

Now, more than ever, college football is evolving both on and off the field, specifically with the explosion of the transfer portal and the ultimate game-changer, NIL.

Quite simply: evolve or dissolve.

It’s easy for head coaches at Power 5 programs to talk a good game, but lack of execution will often lead to the exit door.

Our Arizona Power 5 schools have become a coaching grave yard for the men in charge.

Mike Stoops once-promising flashes faded. Rich Rodriguez’s baggage eventually went over the weight limit. Many say Sumlin simply gave up and who are we to argue after UofA’s 70-7 exit interview finale against the Sun Devils in 2020. 

Meanwhile in Tempe, Dennis Erickson lost control. Todd Graham wielded too much control, eventually wearing out his welcome. Ray Anderson tried to square peg-round hole Herm Edwards, then pivoted to the ultimate 180, hiring the immensely promising Dillingham who has never worn a head coaches’ headset at ANY level of football.  

In-State Agendas

When it comes to in-state recruiting, while the sample size is still small, it appears both Dillingham and Fisch are intent on setting their own trends by keeping high school talent, at all levels, in Arizona, as well as reminding all their recruits what State 48 has to offer.

“A lot of our staff, we’re going to be rooted in Arizona,” Dillingham said the day he was hired last November. “We’re going to hire a staff that has roots here, that has connections. Are we building relationships in the community?

“This is one of the greatest places to live. In my opinion, the greatest place to live in the country.”

Meanwhile, 704 days earlier in Tucson.

“We need to swarm the state of Arizona,” Fisch said during his first presser in the middle of the pandemic. “We need to own the state of Arizona…we will do that. And we will begin that today.”

Both have been intentional on selling the beauty of our state on their platforms.

“Kids still have to live where they go to school,” Dillingham explained during his first press conference. “In reality, this is one of the greatest places to live in the country…for us, make it ok to be a champion here. And we’re about to.”

Both coaches have already landed 2024 commitments from prospects at some of the state’s most successful programs (Chaparral, Tucson Salpointe, Horizon) but also, to this point, kept their promise of making the entire state of Arizona a priority, regardless of the size, or location, of the high school. 

Northern Exposure

133 tackles. Three sacks. Three blocked punts. Two interceptions.

The numbers were always there for 2024 Bradshaw Mountain High defensive lineman/linebacker James Giggey…even if the exposure wasn’t. That’s often the reality of playing in a smallish town 100 or so miles northwest of the Valley.

That all changed in early June when Dillingham spotted the 6-foot-3, 245-pounder at an ASU 7-on-7 tournament and offered him immediately. It was the first Division I offer for the Grand Canyon Region Defensive Player of the Year.

It was also a statement-making exclamation point that this new ASU staff isn’t afraid to go against the grain at times when it comes to in-state talent evaluations.

“He couldn’t believe it,” Bradshaw head coach Bob Young said to the “Zone Read” when asked of Giggey’s initial reaction to the full ride opportunity. “It’s hard for kids from northern Arizona to get a lot of looks. He got some interest from NAU and some smaller schools. I kept telling him, ‘Hey, you do what you’re supposed to do and some of these [bigger] schools will look at you.’ Honestly, he just couldn’t believe [ASU offered].”

It probably didn’t hurt that Young has long-standing relationships with Sun Devil assistants, and long-time Valley high school head coaches, Jason Mohns (Saguaro), and Charlie Ragle (Chaparral).

“I’ve definitely already seen the difference with these guys,” Young said of ASU’s refreshing approach to in-state recruiting. “When we were down there [in Tempe] for 7-on-7, I told Coach Mohns, ‘Hey, we got a guy you really need to look at that flying under the radar.’ He watched him for a few plays, and then brought over the other [assistants]. It only took a series or two for them to say, ‘Look, this kid can play.'”

Since ASU broke the ice, Giggey has received interest from Oregon and was recently offered by San Diego State – the same program who signed 2020 Prescott High tight end Aaron Greene.

The Sun Devils also received a commitment from 3A Eastmark High star defensive tackle Ramar Williams. 

Up north, Giggey’s commitment to a Pac-12 school means the world to Prescott Valley, a fast-growing city of just under 50,000.

“That’s a big deal in our community,” Young noted. 

To Young’s knowledge, Bradshaw Mountain has never had one of their own play football at ASU.

That will change next fall.

Apollo 3

Unlike Bradshaw Mountain, Apollo High sits in the heart of the west Valley, just off 47th Avenue and Northern in Glendale.

Despite its central location, the Hawks last had hot recruiting buzz when 2007’s Prince Amukamara was dominating games, before starring at cornerback at the University of Nebraska, and later winning a Super Bowl Championship during his decade-long NFL career.

That changed this summer when the trio of running back Adam Mohammed, and offensive linemen Michael Watkins, and Matthew Lado, all committed to Arizona on June 19th.

“They did not inform me that that’s what they were going to do that day,” Apollo head coach Aaron Walls explained to the “Zone Read” with a chuckle. “I think they were making it a surprise for everyone. I heard about it through social media.  

“I was just super excited for those guys, especially since they were three that started at Apollo as freshmen and they’re going to finish at Apollo as seniors. They didn’t try to shop around. They didn’t try to transfer. They stuck it out. That was huge for us.”

What was also huge was having three players in the same class commit to UofA from a west Valley school not named Liberty, Centennial, or Desert Edge.

Mohammed was recruited by Arizona’s running backs coach, Scottie Graham. Watkins and Lado  by offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Brennan Carroll.

“It sends a big message, not only to us, but some of the other schools that are not [perennial AZHS football powers], that [Arizona] is going to go to all these schools. They are going to look at all these in-state kids. I have nothing but great things to say about UofA and the detail their coaches put into their recruiting process…I’m very impressed with the way they handle recruiting in-state guys.”

Walls said Graham and Carroll were consistent in both their on campus visits, as well as staying connected with the trio through social media. 

He believes, if both Power 5 in-state schools continue to provide genuine opportunities from non-traditionally elite Arizona high schools, the popular trend of leaving Arizona may eventually shift. 

“I think there will be [players] down the road that say, ‘Hey, these three players went to UofA. Why would I go over to California or go over to Utah or Colorado or anywhere else? I can stay here in my home state at represent.'”