At his news conference detailing Arizona State’s football recruiting class on Wednesday, coach Dennis Erickson smiled at the media gathering that was thinner due to the goings-on at US Airways Center.
“The Suns sign one guy (acquiring Shaquille O’Neal in a trade); we sign 27,” Erickson said. “That one is bigger than our 27, I promise you that.”
For now, at least. However, considering Erickson’s glowing assessment and the lofty rankings that Internet recruiting services have given the Sun Devils’ 2008 class, Shaq-sized things are expected in future seasons.
The haul — which is really at 28, considering receiver Allante Battle of Phoenix Desert Vista High signed a track letter of intent on Wednesday and is expected to switch to a football scholarship in 2009 — earned ASU its highest national ranking from Scout.com, 16th, since 2000 (ninth).
“You knew Dennis Erickson was going to beat the bushes and do whatever it took to get the best players he could,” said Allen Wallace, Scout.com national editor. “He’s got a nice mix of high school recruits and junior-college guys.
“This is the best ASU class in a while, and there’s no reason to think the ranking won’t improve (in future years) if the school wins more.”
There was a late addition, as defensive end Jamaar Jarrett of San Marcos, Calif., signed with the Sun Devils after verbally committing to Oregon. He is one of 11 players ranked among the top 25 nationally at their positions.
The others are running back Ryan Bass, receivers Gerell Robinson, Jarrell Barbour and Kemonte Bateman, offensive linemen Zach Schlink and Andrew Sampson, tight end Steven Figueroa, defensive lineman Lawrence Guy and linebackers Brandon Magee and Shelly Lyons.
ASU dominated rival Arizona for nearby talent, with 10 in-state high school players to the Wildcats’ two.
“We want to control this area and put a fence around it and not let anybody get out, if we can,” Erickson said.
Twenty-three high school players and five junior-college transfers make up the class. Three of the JC players — offensive lineman Tom Njunge, cornerback Terell Carr and safety Max Tabach — will take part in spring drills.
Among those who could play immediately are Bass, Robinson, Guy and the five JC players. The other two transfers, Spencer Gasu and Eugene Germany, are among six recruits on the defensive line, which Erickson said is a need area.
The DL depth was affected by Erickson’s recent decision to move Jon Hargis, a backup tackle, to offensive tackle. Dane Guthrie, who moved from tight end to defensive end last season, might switch back.
“We have some JC players who we feel have to play right away,” Erickson said. “The two defensive linemen have to play right away for us. We need some help there. Tabach has to play right away.
“But it’s a good, mixed class. Among our high school players, there’s a lot of good linemen on both sides of the ball, as good a group as I’ve been around in my career.”
Germany is with his third Division I program, failing to stick at Southern California (academic nonqualifier) and Michigan (scholarship release). The 6-foot-4, 270-pounder played eight games for the Wolverines as a freshman in 2006 before being ticketed for marijuana possession.
“We checked everything out with him and talked to everyone that we could,” Erickson said. “In my time with him, I found him to be a great kid. Football-wise, he can play end or tackle. He’ll bring a lot to our football team on the front athletically.”
Of the scholarship players on the 2007 team, 63 have eligibility remaining. If 23 or more of the football signees academically qualify, ASU will be above the NCAA scholarship limit of 85.
Erickson said that he expects some attrition.
“Bottom line? We have to be down to 85 by the start of fall camp,” Erickson said. “The coaches are on top of that.”