When redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jaelen Strong arrived to ASU over the offseason, coach Todd Graham and his assistants told him he could be the best wideouts in the Pac-12.
For outsiders, it seemed like a lofty expectation for a junior college transfer who hasn’t seen any game action with the Sun Devils. Strong was one of ASU’s biggest additions over the offseason as a four-star junior college transfer recruit, but what did the coaches see in him?
Three games into the season, the coaches’ prediction about Strong is already starting to develop into fruition.
“Very few guys play at the caliber that he’s going to play at,” Graham said.
The 6-foot-4-inch receiver played a big role in the second halves of ASU’s win over Wisconsin and its tough loss against No. 5 Stanford.
After three games, Strong has 24 catches for 330 yards and two touchdowns. Strong’s 12 catches against Stanford was the fifth-most in a game in ASU history, and he currently stands fourth in the Pac-12 in total receiving yards.
Too bad numbers don’t mean much to him.
“I don’t look at stats,” Strong said. “I don’t keep up with none of that stuff. I go out there and try and to do whatever I can to help my team win. If that puts me to be in position to be the best player in the Pac-12, then I’ll have it.
Efrain Martinez, who coached Strong at Pierce College, isn’t surprised about Strong’s spectacular first impression, because it is the same type of dominance Strong showed in junior college.
“He’s played in his first two games (at ASU) at an All-American level,” Martinez said.
Strong’s quick breakout also doesn’t shock junior wide receiver Joe Morris, who transferred with him from Pierce College.
Strong and Morris were the Brahma Bulls’ top two receivers on the team last season, and Martinez said they were dubbed “the greatest show on Earth.” Morris remembers when Strong immediately forced double teams from defenses, giving Morris easy opportunities to put up his own big numbers.
“Being a young player that he is, he understands concepts very well,” Morris said. “He adjusts very well. He’s a student of the game, and he definitely has a huge upside.”
Despite his eye-popping performance, Strong will be the first one to say he’s still not even close to where he wants to be physically.
Strong didn’t officially join the team until fall camp was in session because of pending transfer paperwork. Because of that, Strong didn’t participate in the team’s summer conditioning program and was thrown into the action when he was finally able to play. He admitted throughout fall camp he had trouble keeping up with the team’s quick-tempo offense.
Graham said in the Stanford game last Saturday, Strong could barely stand during breaks in the fourth quarter.
Strong said it took some time for him to adjust to the team as well as life at ASU, but now he finally believes he has fit right in.
Martinez said Strong arrived late at Pierce College as well but that he still succeeded when he was finally able to play. Subsequently, Martinez thinks Strong only needs that learning curve before he shows his true form.
Today, Strong is happy to be a Sun Devil, as it has been a long road for him.
Initially he was not academically eligible to join a Division I school, but he managed to have standout performances in junior college, which led him to being a starter in a BCS conference.
Graham said not two days go by without Strong thanking him for the opportunity to play Division I football.
While Strong is staying humble and enjoying his chance to be one of the nation’s elite receivers, there are a few minor things he’d like to add to his experience by the time he’s done with his ASU career.
“Rose Bowl, national championship and all-conference (honors),” Strong said.
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