Another year, another elite Arizona high school football player choosing to play out of state. It has been a trend for the Sun Devils to lose out on top local recruits. The last time ASU signed the state's top prospect as ranked by Rivals was in the class of 2008, when Gerell Robinson pledged to ASU after decommitting from Arizona.
For roughly the past half-dozen years, ASU has seen local recruits play and star for programs out of state. Devon Kennard, Brett Hundley, Andrus Peat, Preist Willis and Kyle Allen are all names that immediately come to mind.
That's not to say the Sun Devils haven't collected their fare share of Valley products. Corey Adams, D.J. Foster, Zach Miller, Terrell Suggs and Kerry Taylor are some players who have worn maroon and gold after having prep careers in the valley.
When Todd Graham was hired in December 2011, he pledged to keep the best Valley high school football players in the state of Arizona. In Graham's first full recruiting class in 2013, ASU signed just one of the top 10 players in the state of Arizona according to Rivals rankings.
In the class of 2014, ASU signed just two of the top 10 players in the state. Over the past three recruiting classes (2012, 2013, 2014), Rivals has ranked 19 Arizona players a 4-star ranking or higher, ASU has signed just three of those players (Foster, Chans Cox, Tyler Whiley).
So, the question is: Why can't ASU land these blue-chip Arizona prospects?
First of all, not all recruits are wired the same. There is no set of boxes that need to be checked off before a player makes his commitment. For instance, some recruits value a school's tradition more than others. Some 18-year-olds will favor one school over another because each recruit looks for something different when picking a school.
Here are some general reasons as to why blue-chip recruits leave the state.
1. Some kids just want to leave the state: Do you remember when you were 17-years-old and you just wanted to go out on your own and do your own thing? Some recruits feel the same way, they just want a change of scenery. Some players don't even consider ASU seriously because they want to play out of the state.
One of the main reasons for Kirk signing with Texas A&M was because they played in the SEC and Kirk wanted to play against the best. Kirk said he is an independent person and does not rely on his parents. ASU can't do anything if a player is already set on leaving the state.
2. The previous regimen set ASU back locally: I once had a coach from a prominent Arizona high school tell me that under Dennis Erickson, they would not let their kids even look at ASU. The phrase he used to describe the ASU program: "The inmates run the asylum."
For one reason or another, Dennis Erickson largely ignored local players. The ones he did bring in usually underachieved. Josh Fulton, Corey Adams and Jarrell Barbour were all players 4-star players who signed with ASU under Erickson according to Rivals. Meanwhile, future local NFL prospects like Taylor Lewan, Everson Griffen, Devon Kennard, Dion Jordan and Ka'Deem Carey played elsewhere.
Relationships is one of the most important factors in recruiting, most people involved will say it is the most important aspect in recruiting. ASU lost a lot of relationships with local high schools and coaches under Erickson. The current staff is in the process of rebuilding those relationships.
3. Facilities and atmosphere are lagging: This is something that ASU can change, however as of now it lacks the funds to do so. Facilities matter in recruiting and it is not just about the stadium or weight room. Recruits will look at film rooms, practice facilities, player lounges and training rooms.
Recently, Texas A&M just invested $20 million into new facilities that include leather seats made in Spain, a barbershop, flatscreen televisions in the bathrooms and marble walls and flooring in the shower room. Regionally, Washington and Arizona just finished facility upgrades.
Sun Devil Stadium is being upgraded and ASU did build a practice "bubble" not too long ago, however the facilities still remain behind most of their recruiting competition.
The atmosphere on gameday and inside the stadium is also very important to most recruits. The fact that there were still empty seats when ASU played UCLA and again when the Sun Devils faced Notre Dame does not look good to recruits. When players go to see Texas A&M or Alabama play, there is not an empty seat in the stadium.
4. ASU lacks that major closing pitch: Stanford has its academics, UCLA has the city of Los Angeles along with the beach and Oregon has Nike. Some schools are fortunate enough to have a big closing punch that a coach can pull out of his pocket to bring in a recruit. One of the main reasons ASU lost out on 4-star OT Casey Tucker last year was he couldn't pass up the academics of Stanford. 2013 4-star safety Priest Willis thought his brand would be developed more in Los Angeles, so he signed with UCLA.
Now, in fairness not all schools have this recruiting tool. Alabama does not have fancy uniforms or a great location, and Ohio State isn't exactly located on the Pacific Ocean. However, those schools have Nick Saban and Urban Meyer.
Todd Graham does not have that elite reputation that Meyer, Saban, Les Miles, Jimbo Fisher or Gus Malzahn have. It does not mean that one day Graham won't get there, but there is no doubt he is not at that level yet.
All hope is not lost. In the class of 2015, ASU has signed three of the top 13 players in the state according to Rivals, including the Gatorade Arizona Player of the Year, Chandler quarterback Bryce Perkins. The Sun Devils are improving their relationships across the state, but these kinds of things are not built overnight.
The good news for Sun Devil fans: There is always next year. Remember that Taylor Kelly kid? He was a two-star prospect out of Idaho. Any school can catch lightning in a bottle with any player, and while Kirk would have been quite the catch, plenty of other fish still remain in the sea. It's time to move on.