Nearly a week has passed since Signing Day, and the widespread excitement regarding Arizona State's 2014 recruiting class is still noticeable.
Arizona State signed 26 players on Wednesday, and head coach Todd Graham believes that many of them can make a difference right away on the field. However, many of those 26 players will have to wait their turn for playing time, and they will begin their careers making an impact off of the field.
For Sun Devil quarterback signee Manny Wilkins, his verbal commitment to Arizona State in May of 2013 marked the beginning of his tenure as a difference-maker. In a time when recruits change their minds on a daily basis, Wilkins stayed firm in his pledge to Arizona State and even helped guide fellow class of 2014 players to Tempe.
The relationships Wilkins built during his recruiting process struck Graham as a sign of Wilkins' character and that's one of the main reasons he's eager to see the new signal-caller arrive on campus.
"You guys know he's already demonstrated his leadership skills in just the relationships," Graham said on Signing Day. "What's interesting nowadays in recruiting is the relationships there these guys already have coming in."
Graham considers leadership one of the most important characteristics a quarterback can possess, and it's one aspect of current starter Taylor Kelly's game that helped him win the job in 2013.
"The guys follow him," Graham said of Kelly. "Taylor doesn't give a lot of speeches. He doesn't say a whole lot. He just leads by example, and he's got those intangibles."
With Kelly returning for his senior season and backup Mike Bercovici waiting in the wings as the second-stringer, it's likely that Wilkins will redshirt in 2014 before competing for a starting spot the following season.
At 6-foot-2 and 181 pounds, Wilkins projects as a prototype quarterback in Mike Norvell's spread-option offense. Wilkins is comfortable as a drop-back passer and he is fleet-footed which makes the zone-read attack a viable play call for years to come.
Wilkins drew plenty of praise and attention throughout the recruiting cycle and it's no wonder that Graham considers him one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the country. With a solid arm, agile feet and outstanding leadership, Wilkins is poised to be the quarterback of the future.
"His story, tremendous story, the things that he's been able to overcome," Graham said. "You see his stats, they speak for themselves."
But what if Wilkins doesn't become the quarterback of the future? That's a question that Sun Devil fans, and even Sun Devil coaches, had to ask themselves as Wilkins was being recruited. Evaluating quarterbacks is a difficult task, and not every quarterback pans out.
Michael Eubank has off-the-charts athleticism and was a highly-regarded recruit, but after a few tough seasons in Tempe, he elected to transfer and get a fresh start at Samford. When Eubank left the team, the Sun Devils' roster featured just two scholarship quarterbacks.
Arizona State couldn't afford to put all its hope on Wilkins, and fortunately the Sun Devils didn't have to. Last summer, Arizona State received a verbal commitment from Vista Murrieta High School product Coltin Gerhart. Gerhart played quarterback in high school, but many experts felt he would be best served by moving to the defensive side of the ball in college.
For most of his recruitment, Gerhart was considered a defensive back by Arizona State's staff, but after a successful senior season under center, he had a change of heart regarding his future.
Ultimately, Gerhart decided he wanted to give quarterback a shot at the next level, and with Arizona State's signal-calling ranks thinning, the Sun Devils jumped on board.
Gerhart was a dual-threat quarterback in high school and he demonstrated a knack for making plays with his feet by running around and running over would-be tacklers. It's not often quarterbacks stand out as "rugged" on film, but that's exactly how Gerhart looks when he plays quarterback.
"This guy is tough," Graham said. "This guy is a guy that's physically tough. I like that in a quarterback."
The more Graham watched of Gerhart on film, the more he liked the prospect of opening up a quarterback competition in the class of 2014. Plus, with an invested commit like Wilkins already firmly on board, the Sun Devils felt confident about adding another piece to the puzzle.
"I think that's something that is ‑‑ if we're going to be tough, if being a part of being a Sun Devil is tough it's got to start with the quarterback, so really excited about Coltin and what he brings," Graham said.
It's rare that a power conference team can bring in two quarterback recruits that generate as much buzz as Wilkins and Gerhart, but it speaks to the type of program that Todd Graham is building. The Sun Devil coach is embracing competition and he wants to find players who don't just fit the position they're going to play, he wants to find players who fit the Sun Devil way.
In Wilkins and Gerhart, Graham has found two well respected young men who project to be leaders regardless of how things shake out at quarterback. Graham now has the foundation at a position that needed to add two scholarship players to maintain depth, and in recruiting this pair, Graham has succeeded in putting proven winners on his roster.
As the Sun Devils move forward into the fall, both Wilkins and Gerhart will likely remain behind the scenes as Taylor Kelly pushes the Arizona State offense forward. But down the line, the prospects of a healthy competition await, and the Sun Devils now have two players who are excited to get to work.