Each year, the coaching staffs for both the Arizona State Sun Devils and the Arizona Wildcats battle to recruit the most talented high school football players in the state to their programs.
While the top two players in Arizona jumped ship and committed to elite out-of-state schools, the third overall prospect, Chans Cox, elected to stay close to home.
The highly touted Blue Ridge linebacker grew up in Lakeside, Ariz. and can recall childhood memories of cheering for the Sun Devils.
"Between U of A and ASU, I was always going for ASU," Cox said.
Despite the proximity of Arizona State to his home and his deep roots in the maroon and gold tradition, the Sun Devils nearly lost out on the 6-foot-3, 230-pound specimen.
"I was never really considering ASU because I didn't like the discipline going on," Cox said. "Once Coach Graham got in here, it really changed my perspective and I was really looking forward to meeting with him. Once I did, I really bought into what he was pitching."
Cox's name is familiar to football fans throughout the state because of an illustrious high school career. In three seasons of varsity football, the two-way standout compiled a 40-2 record and appeared in three state championship games.
The Blue Ridge star was assuredly the big man on campus, but he still felt compelled to graduate early and enroll for the 2013 spring semester at Arizona State.
"It wasn't really a tough decision for me. I had gotten the full high school experience and I was really ready to move on," Cox said. "It was just something that I talked with Coach Graham about and he said it would really benefit me."
After tearing up the high school ranks, Cox is excited to see how he fares at the college level. The Sun Devil coaching staff believes he can make an immediate impact in the fall, and Cox plans on doing everything he can to produce a strong showing in spring drills.
"I have to prove everything and I'm really having high standards for myself. I think the coaches see that I have those and they have those for me as well."
As soon as Coach Graham took over the reins as Head Coach, he instilled changes in the culture of Arizona State football. Graham preaches and practices discipline, hard work, and results, and recruiting a high-character player like Cox helps build on the foundation Graham put in place.
By recruiting the No. 3 player in the state, Graham also demonstrated the ability to lure quality athletes to a rising program. Receiving a commitment from Cox was not only exciting, but also instrumental in the changing of the guard at Arizona State.
"Chans had an opportunity to go anywhere in the country and he came here," coach Graham said on Signing Day. "I think that has a lot to do with what our program is about."
Coaches, players, and fans alike can expect Cox to make great strides this spring. The Sun Devils have 14 spring practices and the Annual Spring game scheduled, and that will give the linebacker time to mesh with one of the most talented defenses in the Pac-12.
For Cox, the spring isn't just about earning a spot; he also plans on focusing on learning the culture of Sun Devil football.
"I'm really looking forward to building a relationship with the coaches even more and really starting to get informed on the new plays and just trying to get a new understanding of what the college football feeling is going to be like."
If the linebacker lives up to his billing, Sun Devil fans should prepare for another sensational freshman to make a great impact for Arizona State.
"He's big, fast, strong and versatile, and he's going to be a guy that will be impactful to our program in a hurry," Graham said on Signing Day.
Though the coaching staff has not announced what specific linebacker position Cox will play, he features exceptional speed (4.5 40-yard dash) and great instincts that would make him an ideal candidate for the Devilbacker position.
Cox's versatility isn't limited to the defensive side of the ball, as Scout.com ranked him as the nation's No. 1 overall recruit at the football position. While Graham has not approached him about playing offense, it's easy for fans to dream about seeing Cox in the two-way starter role that Owen Marecic played for Stanford in 2010.
"You know, I think it (playing fullback) would be cool if we got down in a short-yardage situation, but right now I'm just focusing on linebacker," Cox said.
In the spring, Cox will have his first opportunity to show the coaching staff how he stacks up compared to the rest of his Sun Devil teammates. The freshman will endure grueling lifts, extended practices, and endless conditioning workouts aimed to push him to the limit.
However, by choosing to play at Arizona State and under Coach Graham, Cox made a selfless commitment and demonstrated his determination and will to succeed. He yearned to play for a coach that would demand the most of him, and Cox will see that opportunity realized in the coming days.
Fourteen practices and one spring game from now, Arizona State fans will know much more about Chans Cox. As for now, the Sun Devil nation can sit back and watch him grow into the outstanding player and leader that Coach Graham believes he will become.