If Colorado State had its way, it would replace one All-American punter with another. After the graduation of Hayden Hunt, a 2015 Pro Football Focus first team All-American, USA Today second team All-American and participant in the 2017 NFL Combine, the Rams are in business to potentially add 2016 Scout first team All-American punter Ryan Stonehouse.
The Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei three-star class of 2017 punter delayed his commitment and subsequent signing in order to take more visits. In his mind, there was no reason to rush his decision simply to sign when most other recruits do on February 1.
During his recruitment, he attracted scholarship offers from Colorado State, Cornell, Eastern Washington, Portland State, UTSA, and Wyoming. Blue-shirt opportunities also came in from Cal, Illinois and Toledo, while preferred walk-on offers were extended by Arizona and Utah State.
His CSU offer came last week during his official visit to Fort Collins. Stonehouse was already strongly considering the Rams, but the offer was rather unexpected.
"When I went there, it was a preferred walk-on, earn your scholarship your first season sort of deal," Stonehouse said. "I went to an early morning practice and (Head) Coach (Mike) Bobo offered me that morning. I was shocked because I didn't really expect that. Sometimes you get a hint of an offer, but I didn't expect it at all. It was great, because Colorado State gives me another option and they stick out now."
Touring Horsetooth Reservoir, the new on-campus stadium and having a personal meeting at the Computer Sciences building with a dean of students highlighted Stonehouse's trip to CSU.
Stonehouse spent most of his time with players Hayden Hunt and Jack Bares, plus coaches Jamie Bryant, Heath Pulver and Ronnie Letson. Bobo and the other coaches made it clear they are excited about Stonehouse and the potential he could bring to CSU's special teams.
"They're really excited and I think you could tell in our conversations. It sounds to me that they need a punter immediately and I think that's what led to the scholarship offer this weekend. It was more of a thing where I think they thought, 'Well, we saw what Hayden did before you and that's what we're expecting and looking for from you.' They were genuine."
Going into the visit, he narrowed his choices down to Cal, Colorado State and Illinois. Following the CSU offer, he is now down to CSU and Cal.
"I like the opportunity at both schools. Colorado State does have the best opportunity for me out of the two. The people there are great - absolutely love the coaching staff. They were just genuine people. The area is great. It's a little different than what I'm used to, but I'd be punting the ball at elevation.
"At Cal, I'd obviously be going in thinking I'd have to earn my spot there, beat out a starter. Worst case scenario is I go there and redshirt a year. But the opportunity there is there is no other guy (punter) there, just the starter. The offensive coordinator there, Beau Baldwin, is the guy who offered me a scholarship when he was at Eastern Washington. So those two schools are the ones that buy into me and have the best opportunities for me."
Stonehouse will announce a commitment between the two schools today at 3pm PST. He said he will carefully weigh the pros and cons of each before publicly announcing a decision.
The success Hunt had at CSU may factor into his decision, as will an opportunity to play at over 5,000 feet above sea level.
"I think the person he (Hunt) is and the drive he has helped him be so good," Stonehouse said. "I know he got a lot of support there and I would too, and playing at elevation would certainly help. I'm excited to watch how he does at the (NFL) Combine."
As a senior, Stonehouse was named Scout All-American, a Blue-Gray All-American, All-CIF, All-League, and LA Times first team. He also earned fifth place at Jamie Cole's punter skills camp last summer and first place at a Jamie Cole Winter Showcase in December.
Stonehouse averaged 45.2 gross yards per punt in 2016 and 44.9 net yards on 24 punts. 12 of those punts were inside the 20-yard line.