In less than a month, Arizona State has racked up an eight-man class of 2019 prospects. The lack of stars may scare people as the Devils have yet to get a four-star to commit to Tempe but their highest-touted prospect so far may wind up as ASU’s quarterback of the future.
On June 10, quarterback Joey Yellen became the second 2019 recruit to announce his commitment to ASU. The 6-foot-2 pro-style gunslinger was at Southern California powerhouse St. John Bosco during his freshman and sophomore season but a crowded quarterback room led him to Mission Viejo High School for his junior season.
There, in his first true high school test, Yellen threw for 2,439 yards, 29 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions with a 54.5 percent completion percentage.
After that season, though, Mission Viejo’s longtime coach Bob Johnson retired and was replaced by Bosco’s offensive coordinator Chad Johnson (no relation to Bob). This season, Yellen will be reunited with his former OC whose won a national championship and watched countless former players — including Arizona Cardinals, and former Bosco, quarterback Josh Rosen — go to the NFL.
Being the leader of so much talent, Johnson has watched Arizona State coaches come and go, trying to recruit his players. In the process, he’s picked up on how kids respond to the maroon and gold and what they think of it year by year.
The Mission Viejo coached talked with House of Sparky co-managing editor Jordan Kaye to discuss what ASU is getting with Yellen, its perception among highly-touted high school players and how they’ve recruited so far under new head coach Herm Edwards.
Jordan Kaye: What’s he like on and off the field?
Chad Johnson: “Joey’s all about football all the time. He’s a very, very smart quarterback, very cerebral, loves all of the Xs and Os of the game. And then when he’s not playing football for us he goes home and probably plays hours of Madden. I’m sure if they still made the EA college football game he’d play that but since they don’t he probably plays Madden.”
JK: What have you seen in his development as a quarterback?
CJ: “He was always a very smart quarterback, I actually coached him in eighth grade. We have a developmental, farm program if you will with seventh and eighth graders, when I was at Bosco anyways. And I had him in those camps and we coached him in a seven-on-seven league coming into his freshman year and he was very accurate and also very smart.
“Then he transferred to Mission (Viejo High School), he was our backup as a sophomore to (Iowa State quarterback) Re-al (Mitchell) as a junior when we won the state championship. Then he transferred to Mission, had a good year and now I’m back with him. As far as his development goes, the thing that I think he’s made the most strides with as a quarterback is probably shorting up his release – his release has gotten so much quicker – and, he was always accurate, but we really tried to shorten up that release to get a little quick release. And then also I think he’s done a great job at changing his body. Over from when I met him as an eighth grader and he was kind of a pudgy little thing and now he actually looks like a Division I quarterback. He’s gotten in the weight room, obviously changed his eating habits and upped his cardio and all those things and made himself into a big-time, Division I quarterback.”
JK: Last year, Joey had 17 carries for -32 yards. How is he on the ground, running the ball as a quarterback?
CJ: “They didn’t run a spread offense. They were a pro-style offense at Mission where the only thing he was asked to do is to run naked boot legs and stuff like that. He will be asked in my offense to do mostly RPOs (run-pass option), protected RPOs – we won’t do a lot of unprotected RPOs, but he’ll do some. He’ll run some zone read, which keeps defenses honest. But no, where he’s at his best is definitely catching, distributing and making decisions and getting the football to the athletes, that’s where he’s at his best.”
JK: Do you see any similarities between Joey and another quarterback you coached, Josh Rosen?
CJ: “Yeah, a lot. They’re very similar. Joey and Josh are both 4.8, 4.9 40(-yard dash) kids. They’re not elite speed but they’re athletic enough to just avoid the rush long enough to make the throw. Neither of those guys are going to make a 50-yard run that’s going to beat you, but they’re extremely smart. In fact, when Josh got drafted -- I was actually with Josh -- he flew out to be with the Cardinals and then afterwards, he flew back home on Sunday … and the first thing he did was call me up and he came down to Mission and me, Joey and Josh spent hours working on football and drawing up flashcards and getting Josh ready to go.”
JK: How did Joey take to preparing with an NFL quarterback?
CJ: “Blown away. He was like, ‘man, I thought I knew a lot of football,’ and I was like “yeah.” I go dude, Josh is also unreal at this. If he can stay healthy and not ruin himself in the public opinion poll, if you know what I mean, then he’s going to be a very successful NFL quarterback. And Joey was just like, ‘man, I can now see the next jump I have to make.’ Because Joey worked his tail off and he’s like ‘OK, I’ve arrived,’ and then that kind of reset him like, ‘OK, I haven’t. I’ve got a long way to go.’ Because Josh is very impressive.”
JK: What specific things does he need to work on?
CJ: “First of all, I’m a big believer in you’re never finished and you can always get better. So my thing is with Joey, he needs to keep on working on his ability to lead – they had a very strong leadership class ahead of him that graduated with the kid that went to Notre Dame (offensive tackle Jarrett Patterson) with (cornerback Olaijah Griffin) obviously going to USC, with (Austin) Osborne, the wide receiver, going to Washington and Joey being a transfer. He didn’t have to really be the leader and the focal leader, those guys did it. They had a kid named Christian LaValle, who (ASU) is getting, a middle linebacker – he was probably the biggest leader on the team from what I’m told. And so Joey was just like, ‘Hey, I just have to not screw it up and I don’t have to be out in front like Drew Brees leading pregame chants.’
“But this year he does.
“And this year it’s like those guys are gone, now we have a very young team. And what’s funny is Josh Rosen was faced with the exact same thing. In 2013, we (Bosco) won the national championship beating De La Salle. At Bosco Josh had a bunch of senior-heavy, vocal leaders -- (now-Dallas Cowboys offensive guard) Damien Mama, (now-Canadian Football League DB) Jaleel Wadood, (now-Washington Redskins wide receiver) Shay Fields. All of those guys were super, super vocal and definitely leaders of our team and Josh didn’t really have to say much and he just did what he did and was amazing. But when it was time to get guys going and stuff like that, it was Shay, Jaleel and Damien.
“His (Josh’s) senior year, those guys were all gone and Josh was stuck with a bunch of young, sophomore, junior receivers and now ‘OK buddy, now it’s your time. Let’s go,’ and he did a great job stepping into that role and becoming a leader and being vocal and I think that really helped him. I’m expecting the same thing out of Joey and that’s something he needs to keep working towards – and it helps that he’s the only one that has familiarity with this offense.”
JK: What has ASU’s coaching staff done and what have they said when they reach out and recruit your players?
CJ: “First of all, Antonio Pierce knows the area really well because he just coached in the area. He knows exactly who’s who. He knows the kids that are overrated, he knows the kids that are underrated and he needs to offer. He knows the kids that have five stars but should have three stars, so that really helps because a lot of these rankings are just totally wrong. Even when I was at Bosco – I’m not going to mention names – but we had kids that were five-star and I was like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” And then we had kids that we couldn’t get three stars to that I thought were phenomenal. And it is what it is, it’s an imperfect system and guys do the best they can. It’s funny because every year these ratings guys, they all give themselves a grade on how many five-stars that they got right in the first-round that got drafted – this year was there was actually a lot of non-five-star guys drafted – but my thing is like instead of that they should be graded on how many they get wrong. You sit there and go ‘OK, well I can give a thousand different players five stars,’ and the 60 that get drafted in the first-round, ‘oh, I was 100 percent.’ Well it’s like, ‘OK buddy, what about the other 84 you got wrong that flamed out in college,’ I always laugh when those guys go ‘oh, I had him rated as a five-star,’ well of course, I could say the same thing about every kid. I want to know how many five-stars you got wrong that couldn’t ever see the field at Auburn or Clemson or Alabama and ended up flaming out, it is what it is. I think Christian is a heck of a player, here’s my take on Arizona State.
“I first started going to ASU and visiting its campus when Dennis Erickson was the head coach. I thought he had a heck of team and a lot of talent, it just was a little edgy – that was when they had Vontaze Burfict and all of those guys. I was like, ‘if this team just had a little more discipline, they could be really, really good.’ I always thought the right hire for ASU was a Dennis Erickson-type coach with just a tad more discipline, just a tad more. I loved going with coach Graham, I thought he was great but it was just so 180 degrees the opposite direction that it just didn’t work. And that’s why he was super successful his first couple years because he had all of Dennis Erickson’s talent and he threw some discipline on them and they were good.
“And then all of a sudden, kids were like, I remember kids saying to our own kids at Bosco like, ‘don’t come here. Coach Graham is too strict.’ So Arizona State’s own kids were sabotaging their program.
“I was out there for spring ball (in March 2018) for one day and it seemed like everything was going well. I don’t know really what coach (Herm) Edwards’ philosophy is going to be but I always thought like if you could get a guy that understands the type of kid that could thrive at ASU, with just a little bit more discipline – because you can get a lot of talent because, let’s face facts, ASU is not going to academically, turn guys away. You can get a Vontaze Burfict in, who couldn’t get into UCLA, you can get guys like that. They had a pipeline from the (Inland Empire, an area in Southern California that contains San Bernardino and Riverside counties), they had a pipeline from Corona Centennial (High School) going – they had dudes. I remember going out there and going, ‘holy cow,’ that was when (Brock) Osweiler was the quarterback, they just had dudes -- (offensive coordinator Noel) Mazzone was calling it, it was amazing, (Craig) Bray was the defensive coordinator, it was good.
“You know what’s funny? You know who I thought would be great is (former USC head coach Steve) Sarkisian, someone like that – a sober Sark, I should say. If (ASU) could get a sober Sark that would be like a perfect guy at ASU. You know like Dennis Erickson, kids love him, with a little bit more discipline. I thought someone like that would be a great, anyways they went NFL and that’s fine.
“I know coach Antonio Pierce – I actually had his daughter in my class, my history class, she’s awesome, she’s a great kid – so I think he’s doing a really good job of identifying, even the guys that he went and offered at Bosco, I was like, ‘perfect. That’s exactly who I would have told him.’ Actually, I told (Pierce’s daughter) in class, I go, ‘take out your phone and text your dad,’ -- because I saw him offer a kid at Bosco named Kris Hutson (a 5-foot-10, 170-pound, three-star wide receiver), and he’s like my favorite receiver there – and I told her, ‘take out your phone and text your dad ‘great offer.’ Tell him I said, ‘great offer.’ He was my favorite guy and then (Pierce’s) since offered a couple other kids from Bosco and I’m like, ‘perfect, great hard-working kids, do everything right, underrated, like well done.’
“I thought he did a nice job of who he’s been offering and you only really know that if you’re on the inside. I think it’s a benefit to have him because he knows exactly who those kids are.”
JK: Was Pierce the main guy that recruited Joey and Christian or did offensive coordinator Rob Likens solely recruit Joey?
“It helped that AP’s daughter was at Mission – and she just graduated from Mission this year so she kind of helped out with that whole process – but yeah Likens was for sure the guy that recruited Joey and sat down. We flew out to ASU, sat down with coach Likens – Joey feels really comfortable with him, really likes him. We’re very, very similar offensively and it’s going to be a great fit as long as, two things.
“You’ve got to surround a quarterback with an offensive line that keeps him upright and you’ve got to get him a couple of weapons, it doesn’t have to be seven, but in my opinion, you’ve got to have two receivers, you’ve got to have a running back and a line that can influence the box and the run game. So we’ve got double X, double the slot and then we’ve got to stop the run game but we ran out of players. And that was all that I need – I need two receivers that demand double-teams, I need a great offensive line and a solid running back that demands eight guys in the box and they can’t double both guys.
“We can score points and that’s really all — you don’t need to go out and find five five-star receivers, you’ve got to find two. Get two, get them the ball and get a great run game and you can be 11-personnel or whatever and let’s go. That’s always been my philosophy.”
JK: So you sent Pierce messages through his daughter while she was in your class?
CJ: “Oh yeah, I did that all the time. She was in my class and I was like ‘text your dad this, text your dad that.’ Not all the time but a couple times, I just wanted to see what he was doing, I wanted to be in the middle because I’m sure he has the confidence to pull the trigger on a kid and know what he’s looking at. But as someone who was on the inside at Bosco that now is gone and can validate like, ‘you’re making the right decision. You’re going after the right guys,’ and I having nothing invested in it, I don’t care anymore, they do what they do. I just want to let him know like, ‘hey man, I’m impressed. Like good job.’
JK: You mentioned that Joey faced a lot of competition at Bosco and he then committed a week after three-star quarterback Ethan Long committed to ASU. Does his experience at Bosco better equip him for a quarterback battle in college?
CJ: “No doubt. Bosco is a college, they’ve got like 35 guys with Division I offers. I mean it is a college, we laughed about it and we thought like if we could just keep this team together, we could probably win a Pac-12 Championship. It’s stupid what we were able to build there. But yeah that, and the other thing too is I think coach Likens explained to Joey they were recruiting two completely different quarterbacks. The kid out of Oregon (Long), is more of an athlete but he’s not polished as a passer, he’s a super good athlete. And there’s more things to him. Let’s say that kid, if Joey ended up beating him out, that kid can go play safety, go play receiver because he’s a phenomenal athlete.
“So Joey felt comfortable with that and then he just felt comfortable going to spring ball honestly and seeing that – and I went there and I am shocked that Blake Barnett ever won the Elite 11, I saw him and I just didn’t think he was great. What’s funny about him is I saw Blake Barnett when he was going into his senior year. He was on the same 7-on-7 team as (USC’s freshman quarterback) J.T Daniels -- and J.T. was repeating eighth grade so J.T. should have been going into his freshman year but he was actually repeating eighth grade – and I’m not joking, J.T. completely outdid him. They rotated drives, same team, so Blake would go one drive, J.T. would go the next drive. And J.T. was better than him and then Blake goes on and does the Alabama thing and I go ‘I don’t see it.” There’s your five-star that everyone got wrong.”