Recruits in the likes of Jaden Rashada, who committed to playing football at ASU Wednesday, highlight Sun Devil football head coach Kenny Dillingham's first successful sweep in his recruiting and transfer portal odyssey. After wading through the semantics of a head coaching change and watching the team go 3-9 last year, the offseason has been more than what fans were hoping for.
The program has brought in a total of 43 new recruits to the roster for next season, tied for the most of any Division I football program with Pac-12 rival, the University of Colorado. The Buffaloes hired Deion Sanders as their new head coach in early December.
Outside of Rashada, 17 of those signees are three-star prospects. More than 25% of players recruited are from in state, with 12 commits from Arizona.
READ MORE: ASU football finishes a 2022 season to forget, turns page toward 2023 with Kenny Dillingham
Now he has the players and coaches he deems necessary to create a successful college football program, the youngest head coach in Football Bowl Subdivision history will finally get to prove himself on the field. But for Dillingham, his focus hasn't changed since he was brought on in November.
"This program is about the players on our roster, every kid I talked to in recruiting, every kid we bring in," Dillingham said Thursday. "... (It's) the same thing I tell our coaches — it's about the people who choose to be Sun Devils. So we're always going to keep it about those kids that are here."
Rashada, the sixth best 2023 quarterback prospect in California according to 247Sports and 82nd overall recruit in the 2023 class, decommitted from Florida after a $13 million name, image and likeness deal fell through.
He's likely the highest profile player Dillingham has brought in. Another recruit is three-star edge rusher Ashley Williams, ranked 539th.
READ MORE: Arizona native and ASU alumnus Kenny Dillingham to be next head football coach
For Dillingham and company, new and old, it has simply been a matter of if the now incoming players wanted to be in Tempe and to be part of the team.
"That was a question I asked every kid on our team — 'Do you want to be here?' Very simple," Dillingham said. "The reason for that is because we're going to push them, and it's not a trick. These kids didn't get tricked into coming here. They didn't get promised playing time or promised anything other than an opportunity to be pushed to a level they've never been pushed."
Transfer portal grabs
Dillingham has promised ASU would attack the transfer portal, and it's safe to say he lived up to the lofty expectations he set for himself, signing 25 players from the portal, the most by any D1 program in the country.
ASU's transfer class ranks 10th in the nation according to 247Sports, including eight former four-star prospects.
Some players acquired from the portal include former Notre Dame quarterback Drew Pyne, three-star edge rusher Clayton Smith from Oklahoma and former Nevada offensive lineman Aaron Frost.
Pyne, a former four-star recruit, played three seasons with the Fighting Irish, starting 10 games in 2022. Last season, he finished No. 20 nationally in individual quarterback efficiency in the regular season, completing 22 touchdown passes and 64.6% of his passes overall.
Smith and Frost are dominant additions to the Sun Devil trenches. Smith is coming off a redshirt year with the Sooners, only playing four games with five tackles and one tackle for loss. Frost was a consecutive All-Mountain West second-teamer in 2020 and 2021 before not playing in 2022 due to injury.
Rashada, Pyne, transfer quarterback Jacob Conover from BYU, and last season's senior starter Trenton Bourguet will all be fighting for the starting job. Dillingham and new quarterback offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin wouldn't want it any other way.
"Competition brings the best out of all," Baldwin said. "I love this group a lot. Not only what their skill sets are and the competitive juices they have, but also who they are off the field, and their hunger to learn."
Baldwin is one of many new faces in a coaching staff that has been revamped. Besides former interim head coach, now running backs coach Shaun Aguano, the entire staff is new to the Sun Devils, but most already have experience in the Valley.
READ MORE: ASU interim head coach Shaun Aguano looks to lead program together as a family
Baldwin has had experiences in both FBS and Football Championship Subdivision football. He spent nine seasons at the helm of the Eastern Washington University team and won the 2010 FCS national championship.
Defensive coordinator Brian Ward was previously in the same role at Washington State, where he led the Cougars to a top-five defense in the Pac-12 last season. Ward is a Glendale native and previously coached at the University of Nevada, Syracuse University and Bowling Green University.
Ward said he and his family have always wanted to come back to the Valley since leaving in 2000.
Assistant head coach Charlie Ragle, who also runs special teams, and tight ends assistant coach Jason Mohns have made their mark on the Arizona football landscape. Ragle was head coach at Chaparral High School for five seasons from 2007-2011, where he led the Firebirds to three state championships. Ragle coached a young Dillingham during his time there.
Mohns, an ASU alum, spent 11 years as head coach at Saguaro High School. Mohns' resume in Arizona high school football is nothing short of legendary. He guided the Sabercats to a state record of six consecutive state championship titles and seven total state titles. Mohns also led Saguaro to its first open division state championship in 2021 over Chandler.
"It's been a phenomenal transition. It's because of the people here," Mohns said. "I tell people all the time, it's not the place, it's not the people. It's the combination of both. I couldn't have picked a better place."
Edited by Walker Smith, Reagan Priest and Piper Hansen.
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Vincent Deangelis is a full-time reporter for the sports department at The State Press. He has previously worked for Arizona PBS and AZPreps365.com.