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February 2, 2012

First Graham class in the books

Cut to any random point in coach Todd Graham's 45 minute press conference Wednesday announcing Arizona State's 2012 signing class and there's a good chance he was talking about one of two things: character or D.J. Foster.

Often, he was talking about both at the same time.

Foster, a record breaking running back out of Scottsdale Saguaro High, whom Graham referred to as the "jewel of the class," is a Rivals100 recruit nationally and the lone signee for the Sun Devils among the Top-15 prospects in the state, but he just may be its best.

"The thing that makes him special as I sat down to meet him for the first time at his school, I don't know that I've ever met a more dynamic player who was so impressive to talk to," Graham said. "This guy's character is unbelievable and I'm more excited about that to be honest with you. I'm pretty excited about those ten touchdowns in one game, too. We're real excited about the character that he brings.

"We were trying to chip away at building trust so we could get the best kids right here in this Valley. think it makes a giant statement that here's a guy with great character, the most dynamic player in the state, one of the most dynamic players in the country, and he chose to put his faith and trust in this program. That's knocking a block out instead of a chip."

Graham and his staff had just six weeks to assemble his first class at the school, and managed to put together a class that ranked No. 37 nationally when the dust settled the morning after, including No. 8 in the Pac-12 (where six schools finished inside the Top-25).

The class included 23 prospects including a signing day coup from the nation's No. 1 junior college running back, Marion Grice, who, along with Foster and ASU senior Cameron Marshall, should make the position a team strength next season.

"Absolutely versatile running back, he was a guy that's very physical and [an] explosive runner inside, so he provides big play capabilities and that's what we're looking for," Graham said of Grice.

ASU signed four 4-star recruits -- Foster, Grice and Florida prep offensive tackle Evan Goodman, whom Graham called "one of the most explosive, athletic players and one of the most explosive, athletic tackles in the entire country" -- and nine junior college recruits, three of whom were ranked among the Top-50 nationally.

But what Graham kept coming back to time and again didn't involve rankings at all, but personality traits. It's what he believes will be the building blocks upon which future success at ASU is erected.

We're looking for young men that are unique," Graham said. "We're looking for young men that have great character. We're looking for guys that see themselves as smart and understand that what they do academically is going to last them a lifetime and see that we want to put the smartest team on the field in the Pac-12. So that's something that's big to us, our ideals as a football team and what we're trying to do."

Like his predecessors before him, Graham talked about the importance of keeping Arizona prospects, especially those from the Valley, home at ASU. With a late start, Graham was only able to land Foster out of the Top-15 in-state, but also convinced Hamilton High defensive tackle Jaxon Hood to switch his pledge from Boston College to ASU on signing day.

An early apparently difference with Graham, however, is the sense of urgency that accompanied the rhetoric. On the Saturday before signing day he had seven of Arizona's top high school juniors visit the ASU campus, an unprecedented development in the program.

"There's 4.5 million people in this Valley and you look at the most unique thing about this University and I think that it's located right here in Phoenix and there is only one major University," Graham said. "So that's going to be a focus for us is to win right here in our backyard and to do that we want to again present our program in a way that parents can be proud to send there kids here. And I think that was received very well."

Not everything was a success.

While Graham was pleased with his staff's ability to add immediate impact talent at running back, linebacker, defensive line and in the secondary, he admitted they were prepared to add up to five offensive linemen due to the high number departing from last year's team, but were only able to secure three.

The Sun Devils successfully hauled in four of the five recruits from Long Beach (Calif.) Poly who committed early to previous coach Dennis Erickson, several of whom Graham particularly raved about -- wide receiver Richard Smith and linebacker Salamo Fiso -- but lost cornerback Randall Goforth on signing day to UCLA.

Goforth was ASU's only signing day loss, however, and the signing day additions of Grice, Hood, and Texas safety Laiu Moeakiola, who was previously committed to UCLA, more than offset it.

With palpable excitement that belied how mentally and physically draining the last six weeks must have been, Graham suggested he anticipates great things are in store for the 2013 class and beyond.

"I can't wait to see our staff when we have an entire year," Graham said. "How they're going to work and what they're going to do. When I talk about our staff I'm not just talking about our football coaches. I'm talking about everybody in this building and on campus. There is something very special going on and something very special going on about this place. You know we're looking for big time players and I can't wait to get started on that."


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