NCF On The Trail: Stanford Cardinal

Many of the West region’s best seven-on-seven teams were in Las Vegas this past 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.

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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Following a strong 2014 finish and the retention of two critically important assistants, Stanford kept solid program momentum moving Wednesday by completing a top-30 recruiting class.

Two final commitments -- no surprises

Signing day tightens its grip on the nation's football conscience annually, but the Cardinal typically avoid the bulk of the drama. That's because prospective signees are required to go through Stanford's rigorous academic admissions process long before February. It's tough to clear those gates -- the university was the most selective in the nation last year (five percent acceptance rate) -- so a typical prospect's decision regarding Stanford football tends to come on the earlier side.

That is not to say that the Cardinal live completely drama-free signing days. Fans will remember 2012, when a bevy of blue-chip recruits (one named Andrus Peat) announced they were joining David Shaw's program. They will also remember the time a year ago when Solomon Thomas brought an actual tree and nerd glasses to a national television appearance announcing his commitment.

"I'll be playing college football and I'll be graduating from Stanford University," he said to a roaring Texas high school gym.

This year, the Cardinal's signing day arrived on quieter terms. Justin Reid and Quenton Meeks, a pair of defensive backs, made their pledges to complete Stanford's 22-player 2015 class. Experts favored the Cardinal in both races, though, so there wasn't much hand-wringing. An extra sense of satisfaction did come with Reid's commitment: He's the younger brother of San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid, who spurned Stanford in favor of LSU back when Jim Harbaugh was in charge on the Farm. This time, the Cardinal prevailed over the SEC's Tigers.

Biggest immediate need

Stanford's most immediate need comes along the defensive line, where four graduate, including all three starters. Shaw hopes his 2015 recruiting class can provide a necessary boost to the bedrock of the program's 3-4 defense.

"One of [our incoming] defensive linemen is probably going to play early," he said. "We’re not very deep there."

So, keep an eye out for 290-pound tackle Wesley Annan -- a Canadian -- and defensive end Dylan Jackson. The latter checks in at only 250 pounds right now, so he will need to bulk up, but the development race is on at the position where Stanford needs a depth boost.

A shift to explosiveness in space?

Stanford has done much to shed the old notion that it lacks premiere speed and playmaking ability in space, and this 2015 class marks another step in that direction. The Cardinal certainly aren't ready to let go of their bully mentality, and that was evidenced when Shaw went the unusual route of signing two fullbacks (a dying breed) -- Houston Heimuli and Reagan Williams (at 5-foot-11, 230 pounds, Heimuli especially is built for the role).

Forget about the bruisers for a second, though, and consider the rangy perimeter talent Stanford signed. For the second straight year, the Cardinal netted a very capable group of defensive backs (Meeks, Reid, Frank Buncom IV, and Ben Edwards all have noteworthy spots in national rankings). Stanford's secondary looks to have the pieces needed for depth and survival in a speed-obsessed Pac-12. One can even say it's been the recruiting strength of this team the past two years, and that is noteworthy given this program's history.

Offensively, Stanford secured wide receivers Trent Irwin (Shaw thinks he's "the best route-runner" in the 2015 class), potential matchup headache J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (at 6-3, 210, he could develop Devon Cajuste-like size down the road), and uber-explosive 5-8 prospect Jay Tyler -- who might well own the group's most explosive highlight film.

Running back Bryce Love, a track star who has been timed at 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash, is yet another indication that Stanford is looking to continue the dynamic evolution of its offense following the emergence of speedy players like Michael Rector and Christian McCaffrey. Power remains in the pipeline -- Shaw said 215-pound back Cameron Scarlett (ahead of schedule in his rehab from a torn ACL) will remind fans of Tyler Gaffney, but it's clear that the Cardinal are working to develop an attack that's more active in space.

The hogs and the rocks remain

An emphasis on quality offensive linemen is a Stanford staple. The staff hopes it found Graham Shuler's successor in touted North Carolina center Brian Chaffin. Nick Wilson and Austin Maihen represent a pair of potentially dominant guards, and the program scored on a local talent with (literally) massive potential: Shaw said 6-foot-8 tackle Jack Dreyer (Junipero Serra, San Mateo -- the alma mater of Tom Brady, Lynn Swann, and Barry Bonds) made even Peat look small on his recruiting visit.

On the other side of the ball, linebackers Casey Toohill, Gabe Reid, and Mustafa Branch all fit the mold of Lance Anderson's 3-4 system, and Shaw said that Sean Barton will return from his Latter-day Saints mission and fill an inside linebacker role.

Notes
  • Stanford must replace kicker Jordan Williamson and punter Ben Rhyne entering 2015. Signee Jake Bailey is touted in both regards, and a quick glimpse at his highlights shows unusual athleticism for a punter -- he also played defensive back in high school.
  • The Cardinal did not sign a quarterback in 2015, and Shaw insisted that was by design to avoid congestion at the position. "I wanted to take a gap year," he said. "I wanted to focus on the 2016 class."
  • Shaw's lasting quote of the day: "We don’t compete against anybody in recruiting. We talk about us. We promote ourselves."

Completed class: Stanford Cardinal

February, 4, 2015
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Stanford has announced its 2015 class:

ESPN 300
Trent Irwin WR -- William S. Hart High School, California
Frank Buncom IV S -- Saint Augustine High School, California
Ben Edwards S -- Trinity Christian Academy, Florida
Bryce Love RB -- Wake Forest High School, North Carolina
Nick Wilson OG -- Milton High School, Georgia

Four-stars
Brian Chaffin OC -- Charlotte Christian School, North Carolina

Three-stars
Quenton Meeks S -- Del Norte High School, California
Dylan Jackson OT -- Maryville High School, Tennessee
Gabe Reid DE -- Timpview High School, Utah
Cameron Scarlett RB -- Central Catholic High School, Oregon
Jordan Fox OLB -- Saint Peter's Prep, New Jersey
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside WR -- Dorman High School, South Carolina
Jack Dreyer OT -- Junipero Serra High School, California
Jake Bailey K -- Santa Fe Christian School, California
Jay Tyler ATH -- Isidore Newman School, Louisiana
Mustafa Branch OLB -- Bellevue High School WA
Justin Reid S -- Dutchtown High School, Louisiana
Wesley Annan DT -- Lake Forest Academy, Illinois
Austin Maihen OG -- Santa Margarita Catholic High School, California
Reagan Williams ILB -- Jackson High School, Ohio
Casey Toohill OLB -- Cathedral Catholic High School, California
Houston Heimuli FB -- Bountiful High School, Utah
On Wednesday, as college football prospects nationwide formally celebrate the culmination of an arduous recruiting process, coaches who have put a tremendous amount of blood and sweat into the whole undertaking won't have much time to enjoy the party.

"We'll be by the fax machine, and we'll call each kid to let him know that his [national letter of intent] came through," Stanford's Lance Anderson says. "But in between faxes coming in, we'll be watching 2016 prospects. We've been on the road so much lately, and this is our chance to catch up."

Welcome to modern-day college football recruiting: The process that never sleeps, not even after Anderson has completed a grueling San Diego-Arizona-Utah-Atlanta marathon to cap off an entire year of similar treks around the country.

[+] EnlargeAnderson
Peyton Williams/Getty ImagesLance Anderson has had to be more efficient in his recruiting efforts with Stanford's student acceptance rate the lowest in the nation.
As the spectacle of national signing day grows, Anderson -- Stanford's defensive coordinator and recruiting guru -- has nary a second to catch his breath. And while he may be in a similar boat as hundreds of other coaches nationwide, it's important to emphasize he's not operating the same one. That's because the Cardinal vessel that works to navigate the treacherous recruiting waters is equipped with more complex steering controls than its counterparts.

Because of the university's stringent academic admissions requirements (last year, Stanford's acceptance rate -- 5 percent -- was the lowest in the country, beneath even Harvard's), Anderson's job stretches well beyond the realm of evaluating potential prospects and convincing them to play for the Cardinal.

"Here, that's only half the battle," he said.

The other half is one that sees either the elation of acceptance or the devastation of rejection -- and nothing in between. Anderson works as the Stanford football program's liaison to the university's admissions office. He must gauge the pulse of the school's rigorous standards and apply that evaluation to each of the program's high school prospects. It's Anderson's job to track how well Stanford's recruits are tackling the school's rigorous requirements -- good grades in multiple Advanced Placement (AP) classes, a high SAT score, five essays and up to three recommendation letters.

"We're asking [our recruits] to do things that no other school is asking them to do," he says.

Anderson says the reward at the end of the tunnel -- admission into the university -- makes Stanford's unique recruiting challenge worth the added grind.

"You realize that the kid has done something that could put him in position to change and improve the rest of his life," he says. "And you know how much work went into it."

But failure inevitably rears its head multiple times a year, and it presents a frustrating flip side to the process. Many recruits wait until they've been admitted to the university to make a verbal pledge to the football program, but some don't. The admissions office rejects Stanford recruits on an annual basis, forcing these players to cut ties with their top choice and reopen their recruitment, often with little time remaining before signing day. This can happen to a player who has been committed to Stanford "for a long time," Anderson said.

"When that happens, it's crushing," he said. "You feel so much for the kid. It feels like they're part of the team already, that they're already one of your kids. It makes you question yourself: Do you really want to keep going through this?"

Ultimately, though, Anderson says there's almost always a tangible reason why a prospect is denied by Stanford's admissions office -- "They usually fell short in one area or another," he said -- and that knowledge has allowed the Cardinal staff to tailor and improve the efficiency of its recruiting approach.

Anderson arrived on the Farm with coach Jim Harbaugh in 2007. At the time, the Cardinal were coming off a 1-11 season, so the football program struggled to generate national pull while Anderson was new to the process of identifying prospects who might fit the necessary academic and football bills. Stanford cast an extremely broad net to compensate for these deficiencies. Anderson says the program offered more than 300 scholarships annually in the early Harbaugh era, a number that has decreased to less than 100 now.

"I've worked with the same people in the admissions office since I've been here," he said. "I have a good feel for the kind of kid that will make it here now."

Before the Cardinal went to four consecutive BCS bowls between 2010-13, it wasn't easy to find enough interested high-potential prospects who were also willing to put in the early academic work to gain acceptance.

"Back in 2007, people knew Stanford was a good academic school but the football program didn't carry much weight," Anderson said. "Now, it's a lot easier to get interest from kids all over the country. We don't have to throw out as many offers now. If a player fits our system, we feel that we have a pretty good chance at him, and it's not as difficult to get kids to do the [academic] requirements."

Andrew Luck and Richard Sherman are two of the brightest young stars in professional football, and witnessing the success of Stanford alumni in the NFL has further entrenched the Cardinal as a household name in the living rooms of talented high school players across the country. At the very least, it has further helped Stanford attract its type of prospects -- even those on the East Coast who might have been skeptical of the university's distance from home -- to campus for a visit.

And that's when the Cardinal have a chance to showcase their university's overall product.

"Stanford is about more than sitting in a library," Anderson said. "There's a lot going on here and in the Bay Area. We show [the prospects] the [driverless] cars. We take them to the EA Sports headquarters [in nearby Redwood City]. We show them a class that's building a jet engine. The kids are blown away by all the virtual reality stuff. They really seem to love it."

In this way, the Cardinal seem to have found a way to take stringent admissions requirements -- long considered a recruiting disadvantage -- and turn the university's academic prowess behind them into a selling point for the football program.

"Academics do limit our pool, but there are enough kids out there," Anderson explains. "When they understand what this place is about, it's really attractive to them. We have to show them, 'This is what Stanford can offer.' It opens up a world of opportunities for them."

That, in turn, has opened up a world of opportunities for the Cardinal's coaches, who will continue to sift through them even on signing day. The recruiting process never sleeps -- it only evolves.

 
Bryce Love has become the fourth ESPN 300 prospect to select Stanford since late December. Continue reading to see what Love and his 4.3 speed can do for the Cardinal's offense:


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Despite making a commitment to Alabama last week, ESPN 300 offensive tackle Isaiah Prince said Wednesday he's visiting Maryland and will give the Terps a solid look.


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Stanford added its second ESPN 300 defensive back Wednesday in Frank Buncom IV. Continue reading to see what Buncom means for the Cardinal's rising 2015 class:


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Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

January, 27, 2015
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It was a busy weekend in the conference, as 14 prospects made commitments between Friday and Monday night and several others backed out of Pac-12 recruiting classes. It looks as though this could be a sign of things to come, as the conference recruiting race is heating up with little more than a week until signing day.


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Pac-12 recruiting class breakdowns

January, 26, 2015
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Here's a look at how programs in the Pac-12 are faring on the recruiting trail heading into national signing day on Feb. 4.

Arizona

Commitments: 28

ESPN 300 commitments: 1

Who they have: The Wildcats hit it big with their top two commitments in ESPN 300 offensive tackle Keenan Walker and ESPN JC 50 defensive tackle Anthony Fotu. Arizona also will add four-star tackle Cody Creason, three-star tackle Harper Sherman and three-star guards Alex Kosinski and Nathan Eldrige to the offensive line. There are a number of skill players on both sides of the ball, including running backs Orlando Bradford and Darick Holmes Jr., cornerbacks Shun Brown, Anthony Mariscal, Samuel Morrison and Dane Cruikshank, wide receiver Cedric Peterson and athletes Antonio Parks and Brion Anduze.

Who they want: There aren't many spots left in this class for the Wildcats, but there are a few important names left on the board. The wide receiver spot could see another addition with Jaylinn Hawkins, though rival Arizona State will put up a fight there. Arizona also will look to continue its run of success in Louisiana, as teammates Arthur McGinnis and Darrell Clark (New Orleans/Warren Easton) are two of the top prospects left for the Wildcats, as well as teammates of Arizona commit Kendal Franklin.



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Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

January, 20, 2015
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This past weekend was the first time since the middle of December that recruits and coaches could meet face to face and Pac-12 programs took advantage, as dozens of prospects took official visits to conference programs. With signing day rapidly approaching, recruiting fans got a sense of what the next two weeks could be like, as there were plenty of news and notes since Friday.


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