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August 26, 2012

New coaches must quickly impress recruits

If the right set of parents were out of town, the party had the necessary momentum to rage through the night.

Natrell Curtis stood to the side of the chaos. His Mountain Pointe High School team had just defeated Arizona powerhouse Hamilton for the first time in history. Everyone in the stadium was aware of the significance. While students and players celebrated together on the field, coaches called the victory the biggest in the school's 21-year history.

Curtis found his mother in the area between the sideline and the emptying student section. They shared a private moment before a man wearing an Arizona State polo shirt approached them from behind.

"You looked like Arizona State material tonight," the man, who seemed unaffiliated with the Sun Devils program, said to the massive offensive lineman. His comment didn't draw the desired reaction.

Instead, it was met with a roll of the eyes that sharply contrasted the celebratory tone. Asked to expand on the expression verbally, Curtis deferred to his mother, who flashed the same look and a giggle. No words were spoken. They weren't necessary. The message was clear.

The Sun Devils have an image problem in the eyes of some. Then, a 31-31 record over the last five seasons will do that you. The 285-pound Curtis holds an ASU offer, but it's obvious that it isn't being taken seriously.

Unless ...

"If the new coaches turn the program around, they could get a good look at me," Curtis said. "It's my hometown."

So goes the Catch-22 of sorts: win to get recruits. Recruit to get wins. The first few games of a new coaching regime's era are very much an audition. Making a splash with potential players makes an encore easier. That's not to say it's only about wins and losses, though.

Fifty yards away from Curtis, in the center of the mob scene, stood his touted teammate, four-star tackle Kenny Lacy. Holding his helmet at his hip, he screamed toward the sky. He wanted anyone within earshot to hear what his team had just accomplished.

Most think Lacy favors UCLA, but he holds scholarship offers from dozens of schools. The list includes five teams with first-year head coaches. Both Arizona and Arizona State are in the tackle's final eight. The Bruins also enter the 2012-13 season with a new staff calling the shots.

Wins and losses? They matter. Lacy, who spent his time immediately following Friday's game swinging his helmet and gloating to nobody in particular, seems to enjoy victory more than anyone. To him, though, the audition is twofold:

Get wins. But get them playing his kind of football.

He knows he'll need to pay extra attention to evaluate the second part. "I need to watch the new coaches to see what kind of offense they're running," he said, taking a break from full-on screaming, but having trouble lowering his voice. "I want to play in a pro-style offense.

"Run the ball," he shouted as if his future coaches could somehow hear him. "Run the ball."

Friday night's most important player stood mere inches away from the wound-up Lacy. In many ways, Moutain Pointe junior Jalen Brown was the eye of the storm. He recovered a fumble, notched a key interception and hauled in his share of passes to help fuel the upset and ensuing pandemonium. You'd never know it by his relaxed demeanor, though. He served as Lacy's foil.

Like his two teammates, Brown, a member of the 2014 class, holds offers from Arizona and Arizona State. His views on a new coach's duty to make an impression are, like his tone, softer than the flock's.

"What the new coaches do right away is important because it gives you a feel," the wide receiver said. "I just want to play in a balanced offense. I want them to have a good running game but get me the ball enough.

"They don't have to win right away. They just need to have a progression to it because I want to be able to say I'm on a good team by the time I'm a junior or a senior."

Whatever the case, week one matters. And not just in the standings. After all, that tired saying about first impressions is cliche for a reason.



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