With roughly three weeks remaining until National Letter of Intent Signing Day—the annual day of fate which concretely determines where athletes will play college football— many of the chips are falling into place for schools across the country, while several qualified recruits remain undecided.
For Arizona State, 19 athletes have given commitments for the 2010 class, including two that have signed an NLI and will begin classes next week. This total accounts for roughly 80 percent of the presumed total the Sun Devils will accept for this cycle. Many predict ASU's staff will acquire another four or five recruits.
Defensively, ASU has had a lighter recruiting priority compared to recent years, largely due to the quality of young talent that exists on the active roster. Of the 19 current commitments, only six are expected to play on the defensive side of the ball. However, it is expected that the remaining emphasis will be on defensive recruits.
Up front, Joita Te'i was the first defensive lineman to commit to the Sun Devils. Though he is an unranked, two-star prospect according to Scout.com, Te'i is considered an "under-the-radar" candidate and can play virtually any line position.
At defensive end, Jordan McDonald—this year's top senior defensive lineman in the state of Arizona—was the first to pledge to ASU this year.
McDonald, who has been recruited to play strong side defensive end, chose ASU over Fresno State. He totaled 14 sacks as a senior in 2009 and comes from a football factory at nearby Scottsdale Saguaro High School. The school has recently provided ASU with a handful of quality players, including five-star defensive tackle Corey Adams last year.
Perhaps the most significant defensive addition thus far is Nduka Onyeali of Denver, Colo., who opted to be a Sun Devil over attending Syracuse and TCU among others. The 6'1", 240-pounder has the ability to play end or linebacker, and has been a pass rush demon over the past two seasons. He collected 34 total sacks during his junior and senior years at Mullen High School.
Onyeali is a Second-Team High School All-American by MaxPreps.com and the No. 56 defensive end recruit in the nation according to Scout.com. He may have the opportunity to play immediately with the departure of four-year starter and First-Team All-Pac-10 member Dexter Davis, as well as a last minute switch by five-star junior college defensive end Bruce Irvin from ASU to West Virginia last month.
However, an issue that has Sun Devil fans collectively crossing their fingers until signing day is that rumors have emerged about Onyeali possibly entertaining interest from USC, though no substantive plans have been put into place.
ASU's primary remaining target along the defensive line is Matangi Tonga of the College of San Mateo (Calif.). Carrying a unique story, Tonga has only one year of eligibility remaining to play after being dismissed from BYU earlier in his career before ending up at San Mateo. However, coaches and critics insist that he has NFL measurables, despite his controversial past.
A First-Team All-American this past year by the College Football Coaches Association, Tonga, a cousin of ASU's Saia Falahola, has primary interest in ASU and USC, though both schools reportedly will need administrative authorization to formally provide a scholarship offer due to Tonga's past.
Still a candidate to sign on as a midyear transfer since neither ASU nor USC starts classes until next week, Tonga reportedly favors the Sun Devils and intends to make his college choice this weekend. If he lands in Tempe, Tonga would provide a much needed presence with players such as Adams, Jonathan English and Otis Jones being injury concerns at defensive tackle.
Though the chances of Jackson Jeffcoat ending up in maroon and gold seem to be nothing more than a pipe dream, ASU continues to be listed among the finalists for Scout.com's top-ranked defensive end.
Recent reports imply that coaching changes at Florida and USC have caused Jeffcoat to eliminate both teams from his suitors, though the emergence of Lane Kiffin and company at USC could change that. If those schools are in fact out of contention, ASU joins Oklahoma, Texas and Houston—where Jeffcoat's father, Jim, a former Sun Devil, is an assistant coach—as teams in strong contention for Jeffcoat's pledge.
The Longhorns remain as the odds-on favorite to land the services of the 6'4", 233-pound five-star prospect from Plano, Texas. However, crazier things certainly have happened in college football recruiting.
The recruitment of Shane Pennix has been a curious situation all football season, as little to no information has leaked about his college search despite his standing as a solid three-star lineman with offers from ASU and UCLA.
In past months, ASU seemed to be a strong candidate for his services due to the connection of Pennix's high school teammate and four-star quarterback recruit Peter Thomas. However, Thomas opted to de-commit from ASU to attend Colorado State. It is uncertain if the recruiting bond between the Sun Devils and Pennix remains high.
Sean Bacon, rated as the No. 95 defensive end prospect in the nation by Scout.com, visited ASU in December despite not holding a scholarship offer from the Sun Devils. A prep teammate of Sun Devil commit Devan Spann, Bacon is scheduled to visit Arizona and Washington State, but admits the Cougars hold the edge for his commitment as they are the only program to have provided an offer at this point.
Junior college prospect David Mahoney and prep recruit Fred Thompson—both defensive tackles—have both visited ASU. However, the likelihood of either player signing with the Sun Devils has decreased significantly over recent weeks.
Four-star, blue chip defensive tackle Cassius Marsh visited Tempe in mid-December but ultimately elected to commit to LSU.
Linebacker has received perhaps the least amount of recruiting focus this year. Carl Bradford—primarily a fullback at the high school level—is the lone commitment on ASU's current list.
An excellent athlete from a powerful Southern California program at Norco High School, which has provided several BCS prospects, including Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart as well as three current Sun Devils and one additional 2010 commitment, Bradford is slotted to begin his college career at middle linebacker for ASU.
A high priority in ASU's remaining recruiting is Soma Vainuku of Eureka (Calif.) High School, who is scheduled to officially visit the Tempe campus this weekend. An overpowering running back/linebacker at the high school level, the 6'1", 255-pounder is rated the No. 33 middle linebacker recruit in the country by Scout.com and has placed the Sun Devils in a very high regard prior to his trip to ASU.
Vainuku also reports interest in Hawaii, Oregon State and USC, but early indications provide the Devils a favorable expectation to earn his NLI signature.
No other prominent linebacker prospects have emerged as contingency plans if Vainuku declines ASU's offer. Four-star prospect Hayes Pullard likely will remain in the state of California, while fellow four-star recruit Cecil Whiteside solidified his commitment to the California Golden Bears after his early-November official visit to Tempe.
At cornerback, the Sun Devils have one current commitment in Devan Spann, a three-star prospect from perennial power Junipero Serra High School in Gardena, Calif.
With two seniors and one junior among the Sun Devils' five returning scholarship cornerbacks, ASU would like to add one more signee at the position. The most likely candidate is Gregory Ducre of Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles.
Though Internet reports have surfaced that ASU had ceased its efforts with Ducre, the staff has remained involved with him. The Devils are battling Colorado and Washington for a commitment from the 5'11", 170-pound three-star prospect.
Local product Jourdan Grandon and California prospect Shaquille Richardson were each at one time a viable option for the Sun Devils at cornerback, but the pair has chosen to sign with Arizona and UCLA, respectively.
Ramon Abreu has recently been the heart-and-soul for Tempe's Marcos de Niza High School, Arizona's 5A-II state runner-up this season, and recently pledged to his hometown Sun Devils. He combined for a whopping 280 tackles and nine sacks over his junior and senior seasons for the Padres.
A star at running back, punter and punt returner in addition to his defensive prowess, the 5'10", 180-pound Abreu likely will play safety for the Sun Devils, the position at which he is ranked the No. 65 national recruit by Scout.com.
No additional legitimate safety prospects have been a topic of recruiting conversations lately for the Sun Devils. Targets Marquis Flowers (Arizona) and Matt Miller (Boise State) have committed elsewhere, while former visitors Erick Dargan and Ryan Murphy likely will sign with other Pac-10 teams.
E.J. Woods, a former four-star prospect who began his career at UCLA, seemed to be a certain addition to the Sun Devils' class. However, disciplinary issues at both UCLA and Eastern Arizona College, where he attended after leaving the Bruins, have removed his name from ASU's list of targets.
While Jackson Jeffcoat has the highest appeal among any Sun Devil prospect and would surpass Vontaze Burfict as the most highly-rated recruit to ever sign with ASU, the list of likely defensive commitments begins with Matangi Tonga, while Gregory Ducre and Soma Vainuku also stand as very plausible additions.
In any event, defensive players will likely occupy the majority of the remaining additions to ASU’s 2010 class, with some highly credible prospects possibly filling the spots that exist.
For detailed, up-to-the-minute updates and insight on ASU recruiting and athletics, visit www.DevilsDigest.com .
Joe Healey is a 2006 graduate of Arizona State University and also writes for DevilsDigest.com, Maroon and Gold Illustrated, as well as official ASU football publications and is also involved with The Pat Tillman Foundation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .