It took one conversation with Arizona State co-defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce for Evanston (Ill.) Township High 2022 outside linebacker Sebastian Cheeks to fantasize over their potential future bond. First impressions are critical in recruiting and Cheeks said it took no more than 30 minutes for Pierce to lay the foundation of a potentially vital relationship.
“He’s a coach that I can look to who I always want to have a relationship with in terms of how I feel he can help my game, not only as a coach, but a mentor,” Cheeks told Sun Devil Source. “And he’s been in the game for years now and just looking at him, I’ve seen him play and I’ve seen his successes as a coach. That’s a relationship I want to keep for as long as I can.”
Developing that connection might seem relatively easy on the surface, but Cheeks is already a nationally coveted prospect. ASU extended him a scholarship offer Sept. 10, which was the most recent out of his 13 other reported college opportunities, which all hail from the Power 5 level.
Yet, Cheeks admitted the vibe Pierce radiated via their lone conversation, and his extensive history in football, is a valuable selling point. Cheeks admitted the Sun Devils were not even on his radar prior to the conversation but are now a program he is curious to learn more about.
“Honestly, the text kind of came out of nowhere,” Cheeks said. “Coach Pierce wanted to get on the phone and we had a great conversation, I want to say for about 20, 25 minutes to 30 minutes just chopping it up as he got to know me. I know he played in the League (NFL). He told me that he played with some guys from Chicago like (former NFL linebacker) Lance Briggs and he had a very successful college career. And he’s from Compton, California. He grew up playing ball there, he coached ball, played ball. He’s obviously a very well-known guy.
“The way he proposed to me was first very formal. He wanted to get to know me. He asked a couple questions and as our dialogue continued and furthered, he just kept it real with me. He was upfront and he didn’t dive too much into depth, but he spoke on how he thought I was as a player, the impact that he believes I can make over at ASU. And honestly, just talking to him as long as I did, I felt like I gathered so much information not only about him, but the university.”
While his knowledge of ASU may be limited right now, Cheeks said several aspects about the school have immediately stood out.
“I know coach (Herm) Edwards just recently got in there,” he said. “He’s a very well-respected coach and they’re doing something new over there. They’re a program that I believe will be on the rise with the years to come and it’s a beautiful state, beautiful university. But as I continue to go through the process, I’m going to take a deeper dive into the university itself.”
Despite playing in just three varsity games in his high school varsity career after starting out on the freshman team and injuring his shoulder in his sophomore varsity opener, Cheeks is rated a four-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite as the No. 150 overall prospect in the 2022 class regardless of position, No. 13 outside linebacker and No. 3 recruit in Illinois for his cycle.
Additionally, last season was Cheeks’ first playing linebacker. Having played football since he was 7-years-old, he said he has repped nearly every position on the field. As he started taking the sport more seriously, he settled into a more specified offensive role as a running back before his high school coaches also tried him at linebacker last season.
“My freshman year I played running back and defensive end and as I continued to build and add certain things to my game, [the coaches] feel that ‘backer is going to be the best position for me going forward,” Cheeks said. “And I’m also going to be playing running back next year.
“To where I’m at right now, I’ve just picked so much up just in terms of the depth of the position, what it means to be a true ‘backer and how much comes with that. Not only physically, but mentally. You are the wolf of the pack, so that’s one of the biggest things at linebacker that I’m comfortable in.”
While he has worked extensively to properly transition to his new role, one aspect that has not changed is Cheeks’ approach. His core values have remained intact through the process and he said it has allowed him to flourish in each role he has been tasked with playing.
“The biggest thing for me is I’m very coachable,” he said. “I’m always trying to look for ways to improve my game. One of the biggest things I hope to put on film is that I’m very versatile. I can make plays all over the field and I want to live in the backfield. As a ‘backer that’s the biggest thing, getting downhill and playing in the backfield. Just versatility and being open so that I’m a large resource in the defense. I want to be 100 percent in all phases of the game. And I want to dominate in everything.”
While he has reported 14 scholarship offers in total, the listed 6-foot-2, 200-pound Cheeks said that he has been in contact with around “25-plus” schools since the contact period for 2022 recruits began Sept. 1. He included Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Notre Dame and Wisconsin as schools “off the top of my head” that are recruiting him hardest and that he is in contact with daily.
Prior to the NCAA’s decision to implement a recruiting dead period in March as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has since been extended through at least the first day of the new year, Cheeks said he had the opportunity to make in-person visits to Illinois, Notre Dame and Wisconsin. Once the process went virtual, he said he was hosted on one virtual tour by Texas.
While he reiterated his recruitment is “100 percent wide open” at this juncture, Cheeks said that once visits are allowed again, he wants to see Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Texas.
“My decision really comes down to what that school will provide me, not only on the field, but off the field in the classroom,” Cheeks said. “Does this culture have a winning culture and a true brotherhood? And that’s something I really look for.”
While he is entering his junior season and focusing on putting together a healthy campaign after having a shoulder procedure that ended his first varsity season, Cheeks said his preference is to be committed to his college of choice before the start of his senior year. Yet, there are several obstacles that may prevent that from coming to fruition.
“With corona(virus) and everything pushing back dates of visits, it’s going to be kind of hard to make a true decision and set my mind,” Cheeks said. “But a lot of people and a lot of recruits that I’ve talked to, they say you know when you know. I feel like there’ll be a day that comes upon me that it’ll be time to make a true decision.”
Through it all, Cheeks said one constant he expects in his recruitment is the presence of Pierce. Beyond the courtship to ASU, it is a connection he considers extremely meaningful.
“Honestly, through my conversation with coach Pierce, he kept it real with me,” Cheeks said. “He told me I’m going to be getting a lot of fluff from from schools, but he really left it between me and him to build our own relationship. It’s going to be a real type of thing, not just an offer that gets thrown out. It’s something that holds weight to him and me.
“One of the biggest factors in deciding where you want to play in college is your relationship with the coaching staff and just through my first phone call with him, I can tell he has so much to offer for me through the game and through life. He’s been through it. He’s taken a path that I want to take. And he has much respect for the game.”