When it comes to national letter of intent day in college football, the one thing that everyone agrees on is that there is little agreement on anything. “As anyone who has watched classes come and go over the years knows, recruiting is an inexact science,” Arizona State defensive coordinator Bill Miller said.
While the consensus in ASU’s football office on Wednesday was that the Sun Devils had signed the finest class of coach Dirk Koetter’s five-year tenure, recruiting services rated the school’s haul no better than fifth in the Pac-10, including behind — gasp! — archrival Arizona.
Opinions may differ, but if the worth of a recruiting class is measured by how well it fills a program’s needs, defensestarved ASU feels it has reason to be hopeful for the future.
Of the 24 signees (15 high school and nine junior college players), 15 are on defense. Many of those players — especially five linebackers — will get a chance to contribute immediately to a Sun Devils defense that was 114th in the nation in total defense a year ago.
“Everyone who covered this team last season commented on how we needed to improve on defense,” Koetter said. “Hopefully, we have gotten some help right away, while also not mortgaging the farm on (incoming) freshmen. We’ve got some guys we are fired up about.”
JC transfer Garrett Judah and highly regarded freshman Travis Goethel head a group of linebackers that restock a unit depleted by the departure of Dale Robinson and Jamar Williams. Cornerbacks Justin Tryon and Chris Baloney and safety Troy Nolan have potential to play right away.
Add defensive linemen Tranell Morant, Michael Marquardt and Loren Howard — transfers who sat out the 2005 season — and ASU will, in all, have 10 new defensive players who are juniors or seniors.
“I think we helped ourselves, but those kids have to come in and play,” said Miller, who enters his second year as coordinator in 2006. “We had to improve our speed and athleticism, but that’s something we always try to do. Those guys are here now, so we have to teach them.”
The Sun Devils addressed defensive tackle — an glaring area of need in recent seasons — by signing Red Mountain’s Jon Hargis, Zach Niusulu of Barstow, Calif., and JC transfer Martin Tevaseu.
“We haven’t gotten many defensive tackles over the years because there just haven’t been that many good ones out there,” Koetter said. “To have this many in one class is a blessing.”
Another commitment that does not count among the 24 is Mike Nixon, a former Phoenix Sunnyslope star quarterback/safety who signed with UCLA out of high school but instead played baseball in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ minor-league system.
Nixon quit baseball, enrolled at ASU as a 22-yearold freshman and has walked on to play safety. His playing pro baseball prohibits him from receiving a scholarship, but he will pay for school via education funds earmarked in his Dodgers contract.
“After three years away for the game, I’m going to be rusty,” Nixon said. “I’m not where I want to be, but I expect a lot from myself.”
On offense, receiver Angelo Richardson — the nation’s top junior-college pass catcher last year — and a trio of running backs that includes Dimitri Nance, one of just two players in Texas high school history to have 3,000 rushing yards in a season, are the big prizes.
Richardson, who Koetter said will be “the most exciting” receiver to play at ASU since Shaun McDonald, has a good chance to start. Nance and JC transfer Ryan Torain could push Keegan Herring for carries.
Though he had trouble containing his excitement as he spoke about each signee on Wednesday, Koetter demurred when asked if this is his top class since arriving in Tempe.
“We’ll find out in the future,” Koetter said. “That’s why I don’t (publicize) who we beat out for recruits, because it’s bush league, in my opinion. We’ll say we beat those other schools when we beat them on the field.”
Two oral commitments to ASU signed elsewhere — running back Matt Mosley of Corona del Sol High chose Washington, and defensive end Kevin Basped opted for Nevada.