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December 26, 2012

Strong gifts his services to Sun Devils

Arizona State's biggest offensive deficiency looked significantly improved a day after its coach Todd Graham unwrapped what had to be his favorite Christmas gift.

Jaelen Strong, a 6-foot-3, 205 pound receiver at Woodland Hills (Calif.) Pierce Community College called Graham to commit to the Sun Devils on Tuesday.

"Coach Graham said he'd be disappointed if I came to ASU and was just a starter and a good player for him," Strong said. "He wants me to have as my goals to be the best receiver in the nation, to win the Biletnikoff Award (given annually to the nation's top receiver), to be an All-American. He told me those are the things he thinks are possible with my talent. He told me how important I will be to their team immediately."

In Strong, ASU will be getting a player who led all of Southern California with over 127 receiving yards per game and 15 touchdowns in the 2012 season, which was his first in college after grayshirting in 2011.

"I think it was my best season by far," Strong said. "Everything is really starting to come together for me. I feel like I still have so much room to grow though, just in every way. I really only started playing receiver when I was a junior in high school. I was a running back before my sophomore year and then got moved but didn't really play that year. So it's really just been about three seasons.

"I've never really been somewhere with a great strength and conditioning program like they have at ASU. I feel like a lot of what I'm doing now is just based on natural ability. I saw the pictures of the players at ASU and how they developed physically and I'm 205 pounds now and feel like I could be 220 pounds and more athletic by the time I leave ASU, so I'm just excited and ready to get out there to work."

A Philadelphia native, Strong has had an affinity for ASU for several years and wanted to play in the Pac-12 growing up. He said the Sun Devils' previous staff recruited him aggressively and didn't lose a beat in the transition to Graham.

Most importantly, perhaps, ASU assistant Chip Long has worked with Strong on an academic plan to help him graduate by next summer so that he'll be able to have three years to play three seasons at the Division I level.

"I have 27 credits I have to take and I'm going to take 18 in the spring and some online classes and then I can take one session of summer school and if I do that successfully I'll be done and ready to be in camp at ASU (in August)," Strong said. "The job they've done to help me really means a lot to me and also just how they've recruited me and been to the school so many times and went to see my mom. They told me how important getting this extra year to play is and it makes total sense. I just have to take it day by day and I'll make it."

Many schools, including historically prominent programs like Miami, Nebraska and Tennessee offered Strong scholarships, and he said he knew other major programs would be coming in with offers in January but it was too late for him to develop a comfort zone or change his mind.

"I stayed up into the wee hours (Chrismas eve) talking to my mom and other family members and everyone is just really comfortable with ASU," Strong said. "I never wanted to go to the so-called elite programs. People say to me, I should be at a place like USC or Ohio State or something but that's not for me, that's not what I want. I kind of like being the underdog, being the guy to help bring a program up to that next level. I want to do that, it excites me to be a part of that. I think we can do that at ASU and I want to be a part of that challenge.

"I want the ASU fans to know that I'm coming in there to work hard and give them everything I have. I want to give the coaches my best every day and just see what happens. I'm excited about it man, I really can't wait."

Strong said he's been spending time on a daily basis with good friend David Williams, a 6-foot-1, 192 pound running back out of Philadelphia who visited ASU officially in September and has the Sun Devils in his Top-3 along with Ohio State and South Carolina.

"I've been seeing Dave all the time since I came home," Strong said. "I'd love to be able to play with him at ASU and he knows that. We've talked about it and it could happen. I'm going to be happy for him no matter what, wherever he goes, but he knows how I feel about it."

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