The Devils needed a big National Signing Day. They needed it to salvage a class that on Tuesday, ranked last in the Pac-12. They needed it to overcome their lack of action recruiting in Arizona. They needed it to give fans a real reason to jump on head coach Herm Edwards’ train.
Edwards role in recruiting has been solidified: Like Mariano Rivera, he’s the closer. That leaves the rest of Edwards’ staff, like most around the country, in charge of initial identification of possible recruits and solidifying early relationships.
On both fronts, Devils’ linebacker coach Antonio Pierce had a head start.
The former New York Giant was the head man for four years at the southern California high school powerhouse Long Beach Poly before making the trek a few hundred miles East to Tempe on December 22.
Pierce got to ASU just a few days after the early-signing period but would prove to be instrumental in the Devils’ Signing Day success.
As the Arizona State coaches went their separate ways trying to sit on as many different couches as possible — including defensive line coach Shaun Nua in Hawaii and running backs coach John Simon visiting his home state of Louisiana — Pierce staked out the defensive studs in the Southern California area.
Throughout the process, Pierce made sure everyone knew where he was with constant Twitter updates such as this:
Pierce went into the homes and recruited the players that he knew. Some of which he coached at Long Bech Poly and some of whom he had, at one point, tried to recruit there. And according to Pierce, the plan was put into place by defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales.
“Danny gave us a direction of where to go with defensive players,” Pierce said. “Obviously, my coaching in California, being from California, living in California, you know a lot of those guys, relationships.
“So just going out there, letting them know what the program was, the direction we’re heading, and the message that Herm Edwards presents to everyone.”
When he walked into homes and talked to recruits, Pierce was an insider. But from a unique perspective, an insider on both sides. He mentioned he didn’t often see ASU around when he was at Poly, and he needed to let the kids that trusted him know things were different.
The first-year linebackers coach had another advantage: He’d seen most of players he was recruiting first-hand without the need to rely on nor get bogged down by a kid’s film.
After Edwards along with recruiting coordinator announced the Devils’ 11-man February class, Pierce was able to give an in-depth breakdown on each of ASU’s four California defensive signees, including the two he coached at Long Beach Poly. Here’s what he had to say about each of them:
Four-star defensive lineman Jermayne Lole. Long Beach Poly HS/ Long Beach, CA
“I actually went to school with his mother so I’ve known him for a really long time,” Pierce said. “He’s an explosive player, he reminds me of Joseph (JoJo) Wicker who I coached as well. I think he’s going to be a dynamic player in our system, he’s a guy that moves really well for an interior lineman and he plays with what I call ill intent. He’s going to be a guy that when we go up against the big boys, we’ll be okay.
Four-star defensive back Aashari Crosswell. Long Beach Poly HS/ Long Beach, CA
“To be honest, he was the best football player on my team. I coached a lot of players that went to SEC and ACC and other Pac-12 teams, but he was the best player on our football team last year,” Pierce said. “I blame myself for not winning enough games because I probably could’ve given him the ball to do different things with him. He’s just one of those guys that when you see the ball, just track it and you’ll find him.”
“I think he can be a return man, kickoff return, punt returner. I mean, I know it’s high school, but look, man, I think the kid touched the ball 10 or 12 times and he scored half of them,” Pierce said. “There’s just something about certain guys, who just have a knack for making plays and doing things specially when the ball’s in the air or in their hands and he’s one of them.”
Four-star linebacker Merlin Robertson. Junipero Serra HS/ Gardena, CA
“I’ve known Merlin since he was in eighth grade, (I) tried to get him at Poly, he went to Sayre, so I was recruiting him back in the day,” Pierce said. “He’s a nasty individual, and I mean that in a very malicious way. He’s going to move some walls in this building, he’s going to move some chairs. He has an identity that we’d like our linebackers to have from this point forward, and I think he’ll come in and compete right away.”
Three-star linebacker Darien Butler. Narbonne HS/ Harbor City, CA
“I played against him four years in a row, him and Marlin Robertson — those are the guys I know first hand,” Pierce said. “Darien was about a pain in my butt. He’s a guy who’s a very physical individual. He’s every bit of 5’11”, weighed in here the other day at 232, but he’s one of those guys that, when I asked everybody around the area if I was right or wrong in my assessment, everybody thought he was one of the better linebackers in Southern California, I felt the same way.
“If he’s 6’2” he wouldn’t be available, he’d be a national recruit. Sometimes you get knocked down for your height, sadly enough I was when I came out, he’s 5’11” and I think he can play football.”