After a recruiting process that took several twists and turns, Jaden Rashada eventually ended up right where he wanted to be.
A place that felt like home and a program already rich with his family’s football legacy.
The son of former Arizona State defensive back Harlen Rashada soaked it all in when he first arrived. Rashada’s father told him before that he “had the time of his life playing football” in maroon and gold. Now, Rashada knows exactly what he meant.
“The first day of spring ball, I just rode to campus on my bike,” Rashada said after the Sun Devils wrapped up their first week of spring practice Saturday. “I couldn’t stop smiling. I’m just grateful to be in a healthy, good situation.”
Rashada, a four-star quarterback recruit from Pittsburg, Calif., who was previously committed to Florida and Miami, got started later than most newcomers. Rashada’s first day with the team was on Monday, the first time Arizona State could put the fruits of their labor in the offseason to the test on a live-action field. The hustle and bustle of the college practice atmosphere could easily overwhelm an unsuspecting freshman, even of Rashada’s caliber, especially given the rapid pace head coach Kenny Dillingham set as a standard from the first drill period.
It’s hard to stay in the shadows when your name was documented to a feverish degree up until it came time to put pen to paper and choose a final destination. Rashada has been worked into the quarterback room gradually with patience. He takes his reps last after observing the veterans in the room throw and hearing the feedback from offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin.
“I kind of got thrown in there, but it helped me more because you’re just sitting back and learning everything,” Rashada said. “Watching, you know, not in a rush to go out and put out something that is not a clean rep. So I would say that’s been helping me the most.”
The approach has allowed Rashada to gain enough confidence to showcase what made him a top prospect at football’s most important position in the first place. The snappy release, strong arm, and tight spirals, which zip at a high velocity toward the numbers of his receivers, were evident on Saturday. Rashada even took a few snaps under center in the team’s last 11-on-11 period of the day.
“I’ve just been trying to learn it,” Rashada commented. “It’s nothing impossible. I’ve just been enjoying the process. It’s not going to come overnight, so I’m staying patient and grateful to be here.”
When a reportedly large NIL deal with a Florida booster collective fell through, Rashada turned to his connection with Dillingham. In a post announcing his commitment to Arizona State on social media, Rashada mentioned he had chosen “a school where the head coach has always had my back.” In his short time back in the valley, Dillingham has continued to foster his reputation as a transparent recruiter – an aspect that has been apparent to Rashada since the beginning.
“That was like when he announced his job at Oregon,” Rashada recalled when asked about his first impressions of the 32-year-old coach. “He reached out to me, and our relationship just grew from there. We were talking every day, every other day, just building a genuine relationship.
“I was actually going to commit to Oregon because of him, and he was like, ‘take your visits, take your time.’ It was never him rushing anything since he always gave me the real with everything. That’s probably why I ended up here.”
Arizona State’s quarterback room is deep to begin spring camp. Five scholarship signal callers are on the roster, including Rashada, Trenton Bourguet, who threw for 1,490 yards and 11 touchdowns in six games last season, who along with redshirt freshman Bennett Meredith are the only returning quarterbacks. All those players will be challenged by a pair of transfers, Jacob Conover and Drew Pyne.
Pyne is looking to build off a strong season under center at Notre Dame, which saw him eclipse 2,021 yards and 22 touchdowns. He was especially impressive in games against ranked opponents, going 4-1 as a starter with wins over North Carolina, BYU, Syracuse, and Clemson. He entered the transfer portal in December and was quickly sold on the idea of playing for Kenny Dillingham. Pyne took a visit over one weekend and then committed the following Monday.
As Oregon’s offensive coordinator, Dillingham brought the career of quarterback Bo Nix (who also earned SEC Rookie of the Year honors under Dillingham at Auburn) to new heights. Oregon finished with a scoring offense ranked in the top five, and Nix finished with 3,593 passing yards and 43 total touchdowns. Pyne is not afraid to admit that he was amazed at what he saw Nix do in an offense suited to his skill set.
“I mean, when you look at the progress and the unbelievable play that Bo played with last year – watching him play, it was like video game numbers,” Nix said. “I mean, he had four sacks all season. The guy is incredible. So, you know, I’m buddies with Bo. I’m gonna call him today. You know, we talked about Dillingham’s offense. It’s just, it’s unbelievable. I love being here. And I’m excited to keep learning.”
Pyne has settled in quickly and received reps with both the first and second groups during the team period Saturday. As the new guy, Pyne made it a point to throw with his receivers in the offseason and talk over the nuances of the playbook in the locker room to generate the much-needed chemistry for success on the field. Regarding learning Dillingham’s unique offense, Pyne believes his experience at Notre Dame has prepared him well.
“A lot of football is pretty similar, especially in the pass game, run game; everyone ends up getting to the same spot,” Pyne said. “I ran a pretty complex offense at my prior school. Coach Dillingham has some adjustments that make it real special. All you got to do is just study.”
“You go in, you study the plays, you draw it up, watch clips on it, and you go out on the field the following day in practice. I think that’s what I’ve done ever since I’ve been in college again. I study as hard as I can because I cannot be out on the field taking a snap and having to think about a play because if I have to think about a play, then I can’t react. I get the ball in my hands. I know exactly what everyone’s doing. That’s the only way to be successful.”
Pyne’s commitment to understanding the ins and outs of the playbook shows up on tape. At Notre Dame, Pyne showcased a fundamental understanding of how to create space and formulate new throwing windows by manipulating defenders out of position with his eyes. This enhanced understanding of how to attack the defense allowed Pyne’s other strengths, his anticipation and keen process of developing matchups on the field, to flourish at an elite level.
With three days under his belt, Pyne identified some improvements needed to keep the offense humming on track to reach the desired pace for operation in the fall.
“Just getting everyone lined up in the right position and making sure they’re running the right routes, making sure if they have a motion or not,” Pyne explained. So, if we’re counting, it’s day three and a half, the team is new, all the staff is new, and we’re installing a new offense that has changes every single day. So, just being able to be a quarterback and know those things and study and be able to help the guys when they’re on the field on the field and they don’t know. The whole team’s doing a really good job because I think we all know how good we can be. And so I think a lot of guys are really working hard and coming out to practice with energy.”
Join your fellow Sun Devil fans on our premium message board, the Devils’ Huddle, run by the longest-tenured Sun Devil sports beat writer, to discuss this article and other ASU football, basketball, and recruiting topics. Not a member yet? Sign up today and get your daily fix of Sun Devil news!