NCF On The Trail: Stanford Cardinal

Thomas Schaffer didn’t just have to convince his mother to let him play football like most kids; he had to convince her to let him play football half way around the world.

Schaffer and his family live in Vienna, Austria, but the 2016 lineman got a taste for what American football is like in 2012 when he traveled to Texas with the Under 19 Austrian team.

“I was 15 and we played against Panama, Team USA and Japan. When we played I just loved playing, even though I was the youngest guy there,” he said. “It was just a great feeling and I decided then that I wanted to do this on a higher level.”

So Schaffer went back to Austria and told his mother he would travel to America for one year to pursue his new dream. Because academics are very important to the family, and because Shaffer would be traveling alone, he needed to find the right school.

The family found Lake Forest Academy in Illinois, which ranks highly on the academic side and also has a dormitory for its students to live. The only problem was once Shaffer got to his new home, he didn’t want to leave.

“I told my mom that I was going for one year and then it worked out that I said it was really good here and I asked if I could stay longer,” he said. “So it’s turned out to be three years. Next year will be my third year and it’s been very productive so far.”

Productive to say the least. Schaffer, who is not just new to the game, but new to the country, currently holds 18 scholarship offers from some of the biggest schools around the country including Cal, Nebraska, Oregon, Stanford, Vanderbilt and Wisconsin.

The first offer came from Illinois in June 2014. His head coach didn’t tell him until his junior year, though, and the news came as a huge shock. When he told his mother and sent her a link to all his recruiting profile pages, she didn’t really understand what it meant.

When he sent the links and news to his friends back home, who also played football, they were just as shocked as he was.

The offer from the Illini was a big deal, but there was one offer in particular that still stands out to the 6-foot-6, 245-pound lineman.

“There are three big schools in Austria: LSU, Alabama and Oregon. Nick Saban at Alabama and Oregon just because they have swag,” he said. “Oregon was the first team I’ve known about and the coach said they wanted to get in front of me, but I was in Austria for the winter. I sent him some mail and then I called him and they offered me as soon as I got back. It was amazing.”

While his mother is now a little more familiar with the recruiting process, it’s still all very new to the family. The decision to let their son travel alone to a new country was difficult, but one thing is for sure: Schaffer won’t have to do any more convincing for his mother to let him play football in America.

When it comes to quarterback recruiting for the Pac-12, things have changed dramatically from last year. In the 2015 class, ESPN 300 quarterbacks littered the California landscape and few Pac-12 programs even thought about venturing outside of the West region for their quarterback targets. This year, the region hasn’t been especially kind to the conference at the quarterback position in the early going, despite No. 40 overall prospect K.J. Costello announcing his commitment to Stanford on Thursday afternoon.
[+] EnlargeK.J. Costello
Scott Fink/Student SportsWith K.J. Costello headed to Stanford, the quarterback ranks out west are getting thin.
Malik Henry finished his junior season as the top prospect in the West but committed to Florida State then transferred to a high school in Florida. That left quarterback Jacob Eason as the top West prospect, but he removed his name from the uncommitted list very early on, announcing his pledge to Georgia last July. Keaton Torre is the region’s No. 3 quarterback and just recently opened his recruitment back up after committing to Louisville. That leaves Torre and Ian Book as the lone uncommitted ESPN Junior 300 quarterbacks in the West, two of several signal-callers in the region who could see their recruitment pick up with attention now fully shifted away from Costello. Book holds a Pac-12 offer from Washington State and appears to be just behind fellow California quarterbacks Matt Fink and Devon Modster in terms of sought-after signal-callers in the area. Programs that fell out of the Costello sweepstakes moved quickly on either Fink or Modster -- or sometimes both -- and that could also be the case with USC after missing out on Costello. Fink’s Pac-12 offers came from Cal, Colorado, Oregon State, Utah, Washington and Washington State, while Modster holds offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, UCLA, Utah and Washington State. There likely won’t be much urgency at the position for a number of teams in the conference, as many likely believe their 2015 addition can cover up for a somewhat down year in the region at the position in 2016. Arizona, Cal and Oregon are the three Pac-12 programs that appear set at quarterback for the 2016 class, and Stanford can now be added to that list with Costello’s commitment. The Ducks landed their top target in ESPN Junior 300 quarterback Seth Green, while the Wildcats gained a pledge from Khalil Tate as a quarterback when other programs recruited him as an athlete. Cal has a commitment from dual-threat Armani Rogers. Utah does have a commitment from Kahi Neves, though he could play a number of positions for the Utes. USC could go after the aforementioned California quarterbacks, or the Trojans could elect to stand pat at the position, leaving a gap between the two ESPN 300 quarterbacks they signed in the 2015 class and what should be a very good crop of 2017 quarterbacks in the region. Stanford coaches surely were breathing a sigh of relief Thursday afternoon, as they won't have to go through a repeat of what happened in 2015. They went hard after their top -- and only -- target at quarterback and reeled him in.
video Stanford needed to win the recruitment of ESPN Junior 300 quarterback K.J. Costello on Thursday. The reason is simple: The Cardinal did not sign a quarterback in the 2015 class. David Shaw and his staff placed a huge checkmark next to the quarterback position Thursday when Costello committed to Stanford in front of teammates and media at Santa Margarita Catholic (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.).

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Dominating Florida is always critical for Florida State, but another secret to the Seminoles' success is doing well in Virginia, and highly-coveted corner Levonta Taylor could be the Noles' next big get from the state.

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ESPN Jr. 300 quarterback K.J. Costello announced on Twitter that he will be making his commitment on March 26 at his high school. Costello is the No. 40-ranked prospect and one of the highest-ranked quarterbacks yet to make his commitment.

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video What California quarterbacks were to Pac-12 recruiting in 2015, wide receivers in the state will be to the conference in 2016.

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Everything is bigger in Texas, especially high school football. That lesson was taught to us once again at Sunday's The Opening regional at Lamar High School.


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REDONDO BEACH, Calif. -- JuJu, Biggie and now Jack Jack.

Over the past 20 years, Long Beach (California) Poly has a tradition of producing some of the best skill position players in Southern California. But recently that run has included talent recruited on such a national scale that fans and college coaches simply know the players by their nicknames.

In the 2014 class, John "JuJu" Smith was the nation's No. 24 player and a household name out of Poly. He had his pick of schools but eventually signed with USC and had 754 yards receiving as a true freshman for the Trojans. Then in Poly's 2015 class, Iman Marshall, better known as "Biggie," was the fourth-best player in the country before he inked with USC, too. Next in line at Poly is 2016 two-way star Jackie Jones, who goes by the nickname "Jack Jack."

Jack Jack proved at Sunday's The Opening regional at Redondo Union High School that he, too, is ready for the national stage. After a strong performance in the testing phase of the camp and an even better showing during drills and one-on-ones, Jones was one of six players that earned an invitation to The Opening finals on Nike's campus in Beaverton, Oregon.


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Four prospects received immediate invitations to The Opening following last year’s Los Angeles Nike Football Training Camp, though several more from the event eventually found their way to the preeminent summer showcase. This year, The Opening Los Angeles Regional will again feature many of the top prospects in the West region, as several position groups will be loaded and several states will showcase their top recruits, who are looking forward to going toe-to-toe with California’s best. Here are five things to watch heading into Sunday’s event.


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Many of the West region’s best seven-on-seven teams were in Las Vegas over the weekend, joined by a few additional national squads for the Pylon Elite Las Vegas 7v7. When the dust settled, Ground Zero, a team made up of California’s Inland Empire prospects, took home the trophy after beating 702 Elite, which featured Las Vegas Bishop Gorman standouts.


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The linebacker position doesn't often receive much attention during 7-on-7 events, where quarterbacks, wide receivers and defensive backs dominate headlines. But with hundreds of players descending upon Las Vegas for the Pylon Elite 7v7 event this weekend, Caleb Kelly and Lokeni Toailoa -- the top outside and inside linebackers in the West region -- were among several must-see prospects on hand.


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Signing day has come and gone and with it an entirely new batch of Pac-12 players is joining the conference (269 players, to be exact).

With the Pac-12 gaining more national recognition, it’s no surprise to see the recruiting trends heading further outside of what was typically considered “Pac-12 territory.”

For example, the most heavily recruited area was -- unsurprisingly -- the West Coast and states that are the home to one or more Pac-12 programs. But right after that, the next-biggest target was the South and Southeast: SEC territory. The Pac-12 signed the same number of recruits from Texas as it did Arizona. Louisiana was a big state for the conference as well -- Pac-12 schools signed 13 players from the Bayou State.

Here’s a closer look at where exactly the conference picked up its Class of 2015 talent:
Observations:
  • One obvious note is the number of players from California -- players from the Golden State account for 48 percent of Pac-12 signees in 2015. That’s not too surprising, considering how large and talent-rich the state is. Of the top 25 players in California, 21 signed with Pac-12 schools. The other four signed with Alabama, Tennessee, Notre Dame and San Jose State.
  • Each Pac-12 program signed at least one player from California in the 2015 class (that’s the only state with which that’s true this season). On average, there are 11 signees from California in each recruiting class this season. Though it’s USC who leads the way with 17 signees from California, Washington State was right on the Trojans’ heels with 16 signees from Cali.
  • The state of Washington showed out pretty well in the conference. While there was only one player from Washington in the ESPN 300, there were 16 signees from the state who landed with Pac-12 programs.
  • The only program to not sign a player from the program’s home state was Oregon. However, there were five players from Oregon that did sign with Pac-12 programs. Those players ended up at Arizona (1), Oregon State (2), Stanford (1) and Washington (1).
  • Players staying home: Arizona and Arizona State signed seven players from Arizona; California, Stanford, UCLA and USC signed 48 players from California; Colorado signed four players from Colorado; Oregon State signed two players from Oregon; Utah signed three players from Utah; and Washington and Wazzu signed a total of nine players from Washington.
  • The most national class (meaning the team that signed the players from the most number of states) was Stanford, which signed players from 13 states. The least national class was USC, which signed players from just six states.

But what about the concentration of top talent in the 2015 class?

Again, unsurprisingly, California leads the way. The Golden State makes up half of the four-star and five-star players in the 2015 Pac-12 class. USC snagged five-star cornerback Iman Marshall, who hails from Long Beach, California, and 33 of the 66 four-stars in the 2015 class are also from California.

But this is where there’s a bit of a changeup. Of the 14 players from Texas that signed in the 2015 class, five (36 percent) are four-star players who landed at Pac-12 programs. After that -- with the exception of three four-star players from Georgia -- the majority of the top talent, again, hails from the traditional Pac-12 region.

[+] EnlargeChris Clark
Joe Faraoni/ESPN ImagesIt's not often that the Pac-12 pulls top prospects from Connecticut, such as UCLA-bound tight end Chris Clark.
Five-stars:

  • Hawaii: 1
  • California: 1
Four-stars:
  • California: 33
  • Texas: 5
  • Washington: 4
  • Arizona: 3
  • Georgia: 3
  • Utah: 3
  • Two four-star signees: Louisiana, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma
  • One four-star signee: South Carolina, Colorado, Missouri, Tennessee, Florida, Connecticut, Hawaii

More notes:
  • Notably, the conference signed a four-star and five-star player from Hawaii. There were only four players in the state that were four- or five-star players. The two players who didn’t sign with a Pac-12 team went to Texas Tech and BYU. Both had Pac-12 offers.
  • The conference also cleaned up -- in regard to snagging the limited top talent out of state -- in Nevada. There were only three four-star players in Nevada and two ended up in the Pac-12 (UCLA and USC). The other player signed with Notre Dame.
  • More impressively, the conference was able to sign one of two four-star players out of Connecticut (TE Chris Clark, UCLA). When considering the distance between Nevada and the Pac-12 and Connecticut and the Pac-12, this is quite a recruiting feat.

As these players get more into the programs and possibly become big Pac-12 contributors, it will only open up these national pipelines more, making the conference’s footprint even bigger.
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The Ultimate ESPN 300 is loaded with 14 Pac-12 prospects who didn’t make their respective ESPN 150 or ESPN 300 rankings, so trimming that list to the top five who outperformed their initial rankings and became surprise stars at the college level wasn’t easy. The state of Oregon led the way on this list, but Arizona State and Stanford were also home to a few college stars who didn’t receive the same level of recruiting attention as others.


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Pac-12 2015 recruiting in review 

February, 12, 2015
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The Pac-12 landed six top-30 recruiting classes and 47 ESPN 300 prospects as every program brought in potential immediate, impact players capable of making an impression on the 2015 season. Here, we take a look back at the recruiting cycle and signing day, and hand out some superlatives for the 2015 recruiting class.


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2016 recruits to watch in the Pac-12 

February, 6, 2015
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Signing day for the Class of 2015 just wrapped up, but coaches have been hard at work on the 2016 class for months. Oregon and USC each already have three ESPN Junior 300 prospects committed, and UCLA holds a commitment from the No. 53 overall prospect, tight end Breland Brandt.

Here are five uncommitted 2016 prospects to watch in the West region who will be of particular interest to Pac-12 programs.


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