TEMPE — Arizona State coach Todd Graham scrambled to pull together his first recruiting class in 2012 and followed it up with a so-so class filled with mostly junior college players.
Bolstered by success on the field and a planned stadium renovation, Graham’s third recruiting class in the desert has put the Sun Devils among the elite programs not just in the Pac-12, but the nation.
The 25-player class includes 15 defensive players to help replace the nine starters lost on that side of the ball and is headlined by linebacker D.J. Calhoun of El Cerrito High School in California.
“The winning tradition is No. 1 in my mind,” Graham said on Wednesday. “People want to go to places that are winning, and how you go about winning is very vital.”
Arizona State won 10 games and a bowl game in 2012 and followed it up with 10 more wins and a trip to the Pac-12 championship game. The Sun Devils lost the conference title game and had a slip-up in the Holiday Bowl, but the exposure helped raise their profile.
Arizona State also is planning a renovation to Sun Devil Stadium, which has helped attract recruits to Tempe.
-- National rankings (Rivals 21; Scout 17).
-- Best in class: Calhoun. The linebacker from El Cerrito High School in California has the potential to be an immediate difference-maker for the Sun Devils. He was the highest-rated player in Arizona State’s 2014 class and is equally adept at playing in coverage or stopping the run. Calhoun enrolled in January and will take part in spring drills, so he should have a head start on the other freshmen.
-- Best of the rest: Wide receiver Eric Lauderdale, a transfer from Saddleback Community College in California, has the chance to be a big-threat player alongside Jaelen Strong. Graham also picked up a couple of quarterbacks for the first time at ASU, and both Manny Wilkins and Coltin Gerhart could be the successor to Taylor Kelly when he leaves. Local product Tyler Whiley could have an impact on both sides of the ball, though he may stick to playing receiver.
-- Late addition: Defensive back Kweishi Brown, a transfer from Grossmont Community College in El Cajon, Calif., waited until the last day to make a decision, but he could have an immediate impact on the Sun Devils in the secondary next season.
-- Note: Arizona State is still waiting on the decision of Kalen Ballage, a running back from Falcon High School in Colorado. The Sun Devils appear to have the inside track. Adding him would be a huge boost to this year’s class.