Eddy Zubey proudly calls himself an Arizona State Sun Devil.
Tempe was where Zubey shifted his football career from on the field to the sidelines. After playing middle linebacker at ASU from 1997-98, he served as a graduate assistant from 2001-04.
Even though he has departed the college ranks for high school football, the head coach of Higley still maintains connections with his alma mater.
“Being an ex-player at ASU definitely helps,” Zubey said. “You have more avenues to get the kids seen at those schools because you know more people there.”
However, the last time a Higley player signed with the Sun Devils was 2014, epitomizing a recent trend among the East Valley: ASU is struggling to keep players, including top in-state talent, home.
Coach Herm Edwards has previously said that Arizona is crucial for the Sun Devils to recruit in order to find four- and-five-star athletes. However, in its last four recruiting classes, ASU has signed only nine players from Arizona, and just six from the East Valley.
The Sun Devils have made sure to acknowledge local talent, offering more than half of the state’s top 20 recruits in each class since 2018. Yet only three of these players signed with ASU.
“It’s not that they’re not offering Arizona kids, but there’s a huge difference between offering a kid and recruiting a kid,” Mesquite head coach Scott Hare said. “Kids know who loves them. You want to be around and surrounded by people who really, really want you, not just people who say ‘yeah, we’ll give you an opportunity to play.’
“And so, I think right now their love, not their offers, but their love is going other places.”
According to Hare, ASU has not placed a large emphasis on recruiting at Mesquite and its recruits such as two-way senior Andrew Morris, who he believes will be Mesquite’s next All-American. Hare believes this has to do with the Sun Devils focusing more on other parts of the country, especially Southern California.
Since 2018, the program has signed 40 players from California, including 15 four-star recruits. The program’s recruiting success in Southern California can be linked to Antonio Pierce, ASU’s associate head coach, defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator, who brought his SoCal ties to Tempe after serving as the head coach of Long Beach Poly High School.
Pierce, who called California “first base” to “home base” Arizona in the Sun Devils’ recruiting efforts, said in 2019 that the Golden State is “where the most talent comes from” in terms of top high school players. While Pierce has helped deliver 31 more players from California than Arizona, he and his staff believe that keeping in-state talent home is of the utmost importance. However, the feeling has to be mutual.
“You got to want to be here,” Pierce said in 2019. “We’re going to want you all you want, you got to want to be here. And there’s not been a lack of effort of trying to keep, especially this 2020 class, here in state, especially the top 10 or 15 players. We’ve exhausted every possibility to do everything we could to show them love, commitment, why this is the place for you to be.”
Part of ASU’s difficulty in recruiting its home turf is also related to it having to battle some of college football’s perennial programs.
National championship contenders like Ohio State, Notre Dame and Georgia have nabbed the Valley’s top recruits. Additionally, Pacific-12 schools California, UCLA and Oregon — who signed Mesquite star quarterback Ty Thompson — have found success in the East Valley.
Zubey recalled coaches visiting from Florida, Miami, Florida State, Penn State and Boston College.
“It’s a high productive area,” Chandler High School coach Rick Garretson said. “Lot of kids, lot of good players, lot of different schools that come on through. It’s pretty exciting to see how that’s all developed in Arizona.”
Garretson, who played at San Diego State with Edwards, has been part of the Chandler program for 12 seasons and is in his third year as head coach. Two of his players, N’Keal Harry and Chase Lucas — a Pac-12 Second Team honoree in 2017 — parlayed their successful high school careers to Tempe after graduating in 2016. They are the last athletes to sign with the Sun Devils from Chandler.
Some players from the Valley may also just want a change of scenery. Playing in a milder climate or experiencing a community with new people may be a stronger pull for a recruit than playing close to home.
“Personally, I wanted to get away,” Zubey said. “I wasn’t gonna go to Cal. I wanted to get out-of-state to go and I think sometimes kids have that feeling.”
As the Sun Devils have won no Pac-12 South titles and only 17 games to 13 losses under Edwards, they have missed out on some of the East Valley’s best talent. According to Zubey, ASU is slower to offer than other schools.
Additionally, players from the East Valley flourishing in college football like Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy (Perry) and USC signal-caller Kedon Slovis (Desert Mountain) were not even offered by the Sun Devils. On Jan. 2, Purdy led the No. 10 Cyclones to a 34-17 victory over No. 25 Oregon — led by former Hamilton quarterback and ASU offeree Tyler Shough — in the Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium in Glendale.
“If you have a Brock Purdy that was playing at Arizona State and got Arizona State to the Fiesta Bowl… I have a feeling that it’d be pandemonium in the Valley,” Hare said.
Of the four players committed to the Sun Devils’ 2022 recruiting class, none are from Arizona. Only one player from the Grand Canyon State has taken an official visit to Tempe thus far: four-star quarterback Nicco Marchiol of Hamilton, who recently committed to West Virginia.
As Edwards prepares for his fourth season, he is continuing to offer top in-state talent. Eighteen Arizona recruits have received interest from ASU. However, only time will tell how many of them commit to play for the Sun Devils.
“The way they conduct business (is) to get the best football kids and the best program they can have,” Garretson said. “They do heavy stuff in California and they do some things in Arizona.”