Scottsdale (Ariz.) Desert Mountain quarterback Kyle Allen may well hold a key to the door Arizona State coach Todd Graham is trying to bust through.
Since Graham arrived at ASU in December of 2011 he's relentlessly attacked a persistent trend of Arizona's elite recruits going out of state for college.
In each of the last three recruiting classes, the Sun Devils have signed just one of the state's Top-10 prospects. As the talent increased in step with the state's population boom in the last decade, Pac-12 competitors and national programs alike have benefited from ASU's inability to capitalize.
Graham hosted most of the state's top juniors in January of last year within a month of taking the ASU job but ultimately was only able to sign one from the group.
He hasn't been deterred. If anything, the lack of immediate success has only seemed to strengthen Graham's resolve. The type of culture change he envisions doesn't seem likely to happen quickly but Graham doesn't come across as the most patient of men.
In recent months, many of the high profile recruits in the 2014 class -- in all likelihood the best in state history -- have visited the Tempe campus numerous times at Graham's urging. They've attended bowl practices, junior days, spring scrimmages and sat in on team meetings.
Allen is one of them. Several weeks ago he attended an ASU practice and then spoke with Graham for an extended period following the session.
On Sunday, Allen and a half dozen of his fellow high profile Arizona peers again returned to the ASU campus to visit with Graham and his staff with one expressed purpose: to lobby them to play together as Sun Devils.
"They've been up front about that from the 2013 class and what they're trying to do in-state," Allen said. I think [previous coaches] at ASU weren't as dedicated to trying to keep the top recruits home and this coaching staff, that's all they talk about and how important it is to them and what can happen if everyone does decide to stay. And it's like that in other places. You look at Texas A&M and they have something like 12 commits and all of them are from Texas. So what happens if ASU can get most of the top kids to stay? And then you get to play with your friends and guys you've known for a long time.
"It's definitely something I've thought about a lot and if I commit early, anywhere, but lets say it's ASU, with the great relationships I have with kids around the Valley, it can really make it into something special if they decided to stay. But again, at the end it's their decision. But it's definitely a plus thing to consider."
Allen, rated by one network as the No. 1 quarterback nationally, is also being heavily pursued by Arizona, Ole Miss, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, UCLA and Wisconsin. He knows that wherever he ends up, he'll be a particularly important member of the recruiting class.
"Quarterbacks commit early not just because they want to get lined up with a school before other quarterbacks, but because they want to be leaders of a class, to help bring other guys to that class and that's a big part of it," Allen said. "It's definitely a lot of pressure because it's so sped up as far as the process, but it's almost better that way for me just so I can do everything right now and get the decision done and out of the way. It's not a burden, but just to get it out of the way and help the coaches recruit for the class."
At ASU, Allen's impact as a peer recruiter would likely have greater impact than anywhere else simply because it's the local school and many of his friends in the area are also high profile prospects.
One such recruit happens to be Allen's teammate and best friend, 6-foot-6 wide receiver Mark Andrews, who has 25-plus scholarship offers. The two have been classmates since kindergarten.
"He's definitely going to be making his decision earlier than me and when he does that it's going to be something I'm sure I think about and will be a factor and may be a little incentive to go there," Andrews said of Allen. "I think there's a good possibility we end up playing together. I wouldn't put a percent on it because I don't know but I definitely want to play with him at the next level because we've been together for so long and are such good friends and have that chemistry on the field too. So there's a real possibility of it and we do talk about it and there are schools that make sense in that way and we could both see ourselves at."
Andrews was also available for ASU's pitch -- which included thoughts from current Sun Devils from Arizona D.J. Foster, Christian Westerman, Chans Cox and Kody Koebensky -- on Sunday and said that even though he's planning on being very diligent about his process and is unlikely to have a decision before the completion of his high school season, the message resonated.
"They basically said this is a very special, special class," Andrews said." They need to keep the players in the state to be able to achieve what they want to achieve and that's a national championship. It's a special thing with all the great players and kids to be able to stay and it would be something special to stay and they kind of had us all go there and listen to what they had to say about it and talk to us about how special it is and what it would mean.
"I really do love ASU and both UA as well. I can see the talent in Arizona, if we all stayed together, it would definitely be crazy. I wouldn't say it's a no-brainer, but it's definitely something all of us kids have to think about just as far as the opportunity to play together and do something special. Not a lot of states get to do this and have this amount of talent we have right now and that's definitely a good thing."
"We're really thinking about it," said Curtis, one of the nation's top two-way line prospects. "I'm talking to some of the star players and it's something we're thinking about.
"I just feel like, as far as ASU, I like what they do, I love the defense they run, they move the linemen around. I love the weight program and everything. To me it's just like, 'let's win now.' This past year ASU had a good year. This next year I want to see progress. I don't want to see them fall back. That's what I mean by winning. If they go out and have another good season, that's making a big point. 'We're here to stay.' If they do that, it could happen."
Wood said it was articulated to the group how well they'd all complement each other were such a scenario to unfold.
"They weren't practicing so basically the coaches wanted to get all the top guys from Arizona down there to talk about us all coming to ASU together," Wood said. "That basically was the whole deal. They talked about Kyle coming and starting for four years and Tyler, Mark and myself coming to give him some big receiving targets. They talked about how good the offensive line guys this year and the class in general."
The message wasn't new. ASU has worked to hammer its perspective home to the core group on a regular basis and the recruits continue to listen. Whiley, for example, has visited ASU four times in the last month alone.
"We talk about it a lot," Whiley said recently. "We'd like to all play together somewhere. ASU, why not? It's the hometown school."
Even Gray, who originally hails from Mississippi and plays on the outskirts of the Valley at Coolidge, said that while he doesn't yet know or have chemistry with the other top Arizona prospects, the idea of bonding together to form a highly regarded national class is appealing.
"They brought in some of the current ASU players from Arizona to talk to us," Gray said. "One of them was an All-American. I have been talking to ASU a lot. Coach (Mike) Norvell and coach (Chip) Long have been recruiting me pretty hard. I am really liking staying in Arizona right now."
All told, there are 13 prospects in Arizona who have a Rivals Rating of 5.7 (highest three star) or better. To put that in perspective, the Sun Devils have never signed a class with that many 5.7 or better recruits in total.
It's difficult to know what's possible this year if they can do better with in-state recruiting. But it's easy to understand why Allen is so instrumental to that agenda. He's likely to make his decision earlier than others, and admits to playing a position that will take a leadership role in recruiting others to join him.
Allen is also very aware of the opportunity that exists at ASU, which didn't sign a quarterback in the last two classes, an almost unheard of anomaly. It's one of many considerations he'll be contemplating as he takes a handful of unofficial visits in the coming month ahead of a decision he anticipates making as soon as late June.
"It's definitely something you're going to have to look at," Allen said. "You want to get an chance to play as early as you can wherever you go. Obviously to have a pretty good chance at coming in and redshirting and then starting as a redshirt freshman, is a great opportunity. It's definitely a rare occurrence that they didn't sign a quarterback in the last two classes and it's something to really consider in the thought process."