TEMPE – It is impossible to study the recent history of high school football in Arizona without coming across Jacob Conover’s fingerprints.
The 6-foot, 213-pound quarterback won three consecutive state championships while playing at Chandler High School.
And in the 2017 Arizona Division 1 State Championship, as a junior, he outdueled former Perry High School star and current San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy in shootout style. The two sides combined for 91 total points in a thriller that added another jewel to Chandler’s trophy case.
Conover threw for 462 yards and four touchdowns in that showdown. However, that didn’t mark the end of his impact in the Valley. And after transferring from Brigham Young to Arizona State, he is reunited with former coach Shaun Aguano and hoping to rekindle that success.
Aguano was a member of former ASU coach Herm Edwards’ staff and served as interim head coach when Edwards was dismissed. He was among the candidates to replace Edwards, but didn’t get the job. However, when Kenny Dillingham was hired, he announced that Aguano would remain on his staff.
Aguano helped build Chandler into an Arizona high school football power and Conover thrived there. Naturally, Aguano’s presence in Tempe helped draw Conover back to the desert.
“It definitely played a role,” Conover said. “Having someone that has seen me play and is confident in my abilities is a huge factor. Coach Aguano is always going to be honest with me no matter what.”
Aguano’s coaching record of 88-19 with four state championships certainly makes for a strong resume. And Conover’s high school feats and Aguano’s success there are intertwined.
“I think opportunities present themselves in the right moments, you know having coach Aguano here and just the right people around me,” Conover said. “I felt really comfortable and confident that this was the place to be.”
It is just the latest step in Conover’s journey home, which has taken turns nobody predicted when he was a highly desired college prospect.
A four-star recruit by multiple outlets, Conover committed to play for the Cougars over Alabama, ASU and Arizona among others, then served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Asuncion, Paraguay.
“Taking two years away from the game of football can – in others’ eyes – be a disadvantage,” Conover said. “But I got the chance to become a mature man and see things that most other people never get to see in a lifetime.”
What he didn’t get to see was much playing time after he returned.
Conover was with the Cougars from 2020-2022, which included a COVID season and a redshirt season. Snaps were scarce, and the highly touted recruit tallied just 11 passing attempts, completing five of them for 45 yards, during his time in Provo.
His production at Chandler and his stint at BYU are about as similar as a winter in the Valley of the Sun and one along Utah’s Wasatch Front.
So it was no surprise that Conover entered the transfer portal.
Conover announced his commitment to Arizona State via his Twitter account on December 7, 2022. The news came less than a week after Conover tweeted about his intention to enter the portal.
Although the move means changes for him, Conover sees some similarities between BYU coach Kalani Sitake and Dillingham that make the transition easier.
“One of the biggest things is that they are both player coaches,” he said. “You know, they give the players a lot of control in how they run the team and how things go. It is really healthy for us as individuals to get that responsibility as young men. It’s been really awesome.”
And since Conover returned to the Valley, Aguano isn’t the only person wearing the Maroon and Gold who witnessed his exploits at Chandler High. Fellow Sun Devils quarterback and former Marana High School signal caller Trenton Bourguet faced Conover in a seven-on-seven league game years before their paths crossed as college teammates.
“I actually played him and coach Aguano,” Bourguet said. “We ended up beating them, let’s just say that.”
The connections to Arizona high school football have led to some friendly smack-talk between teammates. The news of Conover’s transfer gave Bourguet a chance to reflect on the pair’s history on the gridiron.
“I talked to him a couple of years ago after we played up at BYU, so we’ve talked here and there and just super excited to be in the same room together,” Bourguet said. “We’ve been competing, over the years, in high school, seven-on-seven, and stuff like that. So to be on the same team, it’s been a lot of fun.”
With Chandler and BYU in the rearview mirror, Conover now finds himself in a crowded quarterback room.
Bourguet enters the summer as the only quarterback on the roster who played in a game for the Sun Devils in 2022. He tallied 11 passing touchdowns and threw for nearly 1,500 yards on 204 passing attempts.
Like Conover, former Notre Dame quarterback Drew Pyne is a notable transfer who has entered his name in the quarterback battle. It was only a few months ago that Pyne and Conover were standing on opposite sidelines in a battle between BYU and Notre Dame in Las Vegas.
Pyne threw for 2,021 yards and 22 touchdowns for the Fighting Irish last season and joins Bourguet and Conover in a battle with several underclassmen for playing time.
That group includes freshman Jaden Rashada, who joined Arizona State after originally signing with Florida. Like Conover, Rashada was a four-star recruit with a plethora of impressive offers.
Several months remain between now and the beginning of the 2023 season, but the quarterback competition will continue throughout the summer as the veterans and newcomers try to improve before camp opens.
“We’re all just in there getting better,” Rashada said. “Everybody is learning, you know, so that’s pretty important.”
Needless to say, Conover has his work cut out for him. Earning playing time as a quarterback at a Power Five program can be difficult. It’s especially challenging when competing with the program’s returning starter, a fellow transfer who led one of college football’s biggest brands to an 8-2 record in 10 starts last season and a highly sought-after recruit with seemingly sky-high potential.
Conover has embraced the challenge and said he is just focusing on “personal improvements” during the offseason. And he said nothing was settled during spring ball.
“You know, I think spring was just a showcase,” he said. “They haven’t named a starter at all, so everyone’s just going to put their head down and go to work.”
It’s clear that Conover’s homecoming has brought him closer to family and friends, and just miles from where he experienced his greatest success on a football field.
What’s unclear is whether coming home will change the trajectory of his collegiate career. But heading into the summer, Conover was all smiles and welcoming the possibilities.
“It’s great to be back here,” he said. “There’s some change, but I’m loving the transition.”