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ASU Football: The Jason Mohns hire is a home run for Kenny Dillingham and recruiting

One of the Valley’s top high school coaches is joining the new football staff

Syndication: Arizona Republic Joe Rondone/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

When the Age of Exploration arrived in Europe, adventurous souls began proliferating the myth of El Dorado, a lost city made entirely of gold which ostensibly awaited them in the New World.

In the modern day, there is college football recruiting. The ethos behind the hunt for great riches and notoriety remains the same as it was then. We have simply traded the Niña and the Pinta for a Gulfstream G700 private jet and treasure chests of valuables for 5-star prospects.

The greater Phoenix metro area is the New World. It is El Dorado for college football programs with national championship aspirations. Except, the valley is no mythical land, but rather a known commodity. The aristocratic class of college football, your Alabamas, Georgias, Notre Dames and Ohio States, ventures to the state often and frequently leaves with its best players.

Arizona State, despite being no further than about 45 minutes as the crow flies from any of the local high schools producing said elite players, rarely - a word that can’t be emphasized enough here - secures a commitment from any of them.

The previous administration didn’t put an emphasis on local recruiting. The program, and school leadership, had been woefully obtuse on understanding and implementing NIL practices.

The installation of Kenny Dillingham as head coach was made in part to curb a lot of the insufficiencies the program has faced in the modern age of attracting top talent, and get Arizona State a seat at the table as the recruiting gold rush continues in Arizona.

Enter Jason Mohns.

Before his addition to Dillingham’s maiden staff at Arizona State as the tight ends coach on Monday morning, Mohns developed local Saguaro high school football into one of the nation’s top programs.

He won a state-record six consecutive state championships beginning in 2013 and ending in 2018. In 2021, his Saguaro team won the Open Division title, the highest possible accolade in Arizona high school football, defeating Chandler 20-15.

In the last 10 years, his teams appeared in nine state championship games. Only in 2020 did the Sabercats not make the title game, and that was because positive COVID-19 cases forced their withdrawal from the tournament.

Just a few weeks ago, Mohns made perhaps the call of the year in Arizona high school football. In a thrilling state semifinal game against No. 1 seed Liberty, the Sabercats scored what would have been the game-tying touchdown with just over a minute remaining.

Except Mohns elected to gamble on the guys that got him there. On a rainy night in the valley, the Sabercats won the game with this play.

The Sabercats would lose the Open Division title game the next week to Basha in what would be Mohns’ last game as Saguaro’s head coach. It was just the second playoff loss of a head coaching tenure spanning 11 seasons.

Saguaro’s rise under Mohns coincided with the time where the talent pool in Arizona began its ascent into rarified air. He has coached future NFL players such as Byron Murphy and Christian Kirk. He oversaw the development of Kelee Ringo, who will be a first-round pick next year and possibly a back-to-back national champion with Georgia.

Mohns’ first days as a college recruiter will begin this week. But don’t confuse inexperience with unawareness. He was on the other side of phone calls and visits from recruiting titans like Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Kirby Smart, Dabo Swinney and Jimbo Fisher. There is certainly value to be transferred from those interactions.

Mohns is joining a staff that already has a rich mix of local high school coaching experience. While Mohns was taking his teams to Division 4A titles, Shaun Aguano was leading Chandler to multiple state titles in Division 6A. New Special Teams coordinator Charlie Ragle won three state titles in a row with Chaparral from 2009-11.

But Ragle has been out of the local high school coaching scene since 2012 and Aguano left Chandler after the 2018 season to join Herm Edwards’ staff. Since then, the tectonic plates which college football rested upon have shifted so dramatically that an almost unrecognizable landscape has emerged.

Conference realignment, the transfer portal, NIL, an upcoming expansion to the playoff system and several other changes have hit college football’s shores since even Aguano left the high school ranks. Analysts, coaches, and conference commissioners have repeatedly stated the sport has changed more in the last five years than it did in the previous 25. We are living in college football’s post-Jurrasic era.

Yes, Aguano and Ragle are decorated high school coaches in the valley. Yes, their connections and experience with the region will prove invaluable in the coming years in restoring the Sun Devils connection with local recruits. But only Mohns stands at the nexus of what was then and what is now.

Sun Devil football now has a coach who observed how major programs recruited his major talent in this new reality. He understands how player values have shifted as a result. No high school player in Arizona today does not know Jason Mohns, and he can use that to his direct advantage once he starts recruiting them.

The No. 1 player in the 247 Composite Rankings for 2024 attends school in the valley. Dylan Raiola will likely attend blue-blooded Ohio State, just as Ringo signed with blue-blooded Georgia, but this coaching staff Dillingham has accumulated gives the Sun Devils a better shot to obtain the next Raiola or the next Ringo, and that player is coming soon.

In the last five years, Arizona State has signed exactly zero players that were ranked inside the top ten in the state recruiting rankings. Recruiting is a national game now, and the Sun Devils will never be able to close their borders to pillagers from out of state.

But with Mohns, the Sun Devils now have someone who had boots on the ground in the local high school scene as it rose to national prominence. Someone who can give Arizona State explicit instructions on how to secure the riches in their own backyard. For a coach that has yet to conduct a single practice, Dillingham has made another prudent call on his staff.