His ratings are more elite; while Scout gives him three stars as the nation's top fullback, Downs rates higher yet elsewhere. He's a four-star, top-200 player to Rivals. He's No. 57 overall in the country according to 247 Sports, which has him as the No. 3 OLB in his class, and Washington's No. 1 player, regardless of position. Their composite rankings, which average each service's efforts, put Downs just inside the top-100, and that the U.S. Army All-American Bowl has invited Downs to participate in its January game would seem to justify the top-100 status.
Of course, exactly where a player ranks now is of secondary importance, with the true name of the game projecting how he will size up in four years' time. On that note, Downs emphasized to this reporter his improvement to this point, and the offseason work he is putting in to maintain that upward trajectory.
The Bootleg typically ends interviews by asking recruits if they have anything they want to make sure gets in the story. Most players defer, but Downs was not shy.
"If you compare my sophomore year to my junior year film, you have an idea of how hard I'm working to get better, with a personal trainer and on my own," he said. "I'm more explosive, longer, and playing stronger and faster."
"[Now, I'm focusing] definitely on speed, not 20-yard speed, but 100-yard speed. I think I have that short burst better than longer speed, and at the next level, you can't run everyone over. You have to outrun them too. So I'm becoming a better player, rounding out my game."
Still, as an explosive downhill back, Downs' strengths as is are a natural fit for Stanford football, a program which has made three straight BCS bowls and built itself a national identity based upon physicality. One can see why Stanford would offer what they hope will be the next in a line of bruising power backs, and one can see why the scheme would attract Downs.
"I think I fit their offense perfectly," he said. "That's when I started watching Stanford on TV, with Toby Gerhart... I'd see myself fitting in pretty well. Power is the kind of running back I am, coming out of an I formation."
While Stanford is recruiting Downs as a running back (and thus newly minted running backs coach Tavita Pritchard took over the lead from defensive line coach Randy Hart), a few schools are recruiting him for defense. Downs says that the listed position will be irrelevant to his college decision, with how coaches deploy him mattering instead.
"It just depends on how a coach sees me fitting in, how they'll use me and what I see," he said. "How is the coach going to use you in a creative way to get you the ball? How effective will you be in the system? And on D, how I'd fit into their scheme as well."
While Downs recently told Brandon Huffman that he may wait until the Army All-American game to commit, he reemphasized to The Bootleg that those plans could change.
"Right now that's the plan, but if something pops out at me where I have to commit because I love it so much, then I will," he said. "But for now, that's the decision date."
There are some favorable signs for Stanford fans in this recruitment, the biggest one being Downs' interest in Stanford before the Cardinal even offered.
"I was talking to my coach about how interested I was [in Stanford], then one day they came into my school, and that's when they first showed interest in me," Downs said. "Two months ago, they started talking to me, and two weeks ago, I made the call and then they offered me, but we've been talking for a couple of months."
Another favorable sign is that Downs is retaking his SAT, hoping to turn a 1650 into an 1800.
"It might be good enough to get into Stanford [as is], but I'm going to do the best I can to make sure nothing goes wrong and all my doors are open," he said.
Downs sports a 3.6 GPA. Chemistry has been his favorite high school class, and that's led him to consider a career in pharmacology.
"In high school when I took chemistry -- normally when teachers teach it can be boring -- but it opened up a new way of learning," he said. "Chemistry was fun and easy to grasp, and I know it's the key component of pharmacology. I asked my teacher what fields I could get into with chemistry, and we talked about [pharmacology] and how they intertwine."
Still, lest Stanford fans get too excited, Downs has a warning for those who think his recruitment is a done deal.
"People who think they know where I'm going, I haven't picked myself, so no one knows," he said.
"I'm going to go on as many unofficials as I can. I can't judge if I haven't been there. I'm going next month to Stanford and to Cal, and to Oregon State this weekend so I can judge more campuses; I've only seen Washington's campus now. Probably before the season starts, I'll cut my list a little bit, and then just go from there."
Downs says he'll be looking hard at academics on his visits.
"Their academic support system, how much help you get, is important because you don't want to be on your own," he said. "But I don't want people to do stuff for me."
Just about every college student is looking for that balance between structured support and the freedom to forge one's own path, be it academically, socially or in any other avenue. As schools try to show Downs they can foster that ideal environment, they'll be competing for a downhill football player with a world of potential.
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