Junior Weekend Update

We provide some gems about Stanford's Junior Weekend, Fri. and Sat. Feb. 25 and 26. We quote four players, give some logistical details and get players' takes on Stanford's greatest asset – its people.

Stanford's coaching staff has its Junior Weekends down to a science, and longtime readers will recognize a lot of the logistical details from weekends past. (This author hopes to start a trend by opting for "Junior Weekend", a more accurate moniker for the multi-day event than "Junior Day". Together we can make this happen, folks.) Recruits stayed with host players overnight in the dorms and had a scheduled opportunity to meet with professors, including Condoleezza Rice, who we hear has some relevant job experience trying to win over hearts and minds of skeptical visitors from faraway lands. Recruits got to watch spring practice Saturday, the year's first in pads. Recruits and their parents also had individual sit-down time with Coach Shaw which, while always important, was all the more central this year, as most of the recruits were offered by Jim Harbaugh, and were thus more used to talking to Coach Harbaugh than Coach Shaw.

As always, the recruits were a mix of offered players and players yet-to-be-offered. Booties will know and recognize many of the names in the former group (and we're trying to interview them all – keep checking back in the days to come), but perhaps not the latter group, which included SoCal OL Colby Cyburt, Atlanta DB Ryan Dillard, SoCal WR Justin Johnson and NorCal DB Desmond Lewis. At least five states were represented by visiting recruits, and a clear plurality of attending recruits were linemen, especially offensive linemen, dovetailing nicely with Coach Shaw's emphasis on playing run-first, smashmouth, "downhill" football. (Given his philosophy, it's somewhat ironic that Coach Shaw was a wide receiver, no?)

Perhaps the most striking outcome of Junior Weekend, at least to this observer was this: as the attendees returned home Sunday and we started to interview them, a theme emerged of a newfound appreciation. This newfound appreciation was not for Stanford's program, nor its campus nor its reputation, but for its most undervalued asset -- its people. (The sentiment rings true to this alum, and I suspect a lot of us, who continue to be blown away by the people we had the honor of getting to know on the Farm.)

For Josh Garnett, the people who most impressed him were his potential teammates:

"I think definitely it's the interaction I had with the players, the freshmen," he said of the weekend's highlight. "If I were going to go to Stanford, I'd know those guys would be my teammates and those guys I'd look up to help me out. I know I could mesh with those guys already, they were cool with me, they were talking to me, they were hanging out with me. That means I could mesh with them if I came to the school. That really sticks out if that had to be a deciding factor in my decision."

Aziz Shittu (who's now up to 13 offers, by the way), was similarly impressed by his potential teammates, and relieved that they, and the student body at-large, were surprisingly down-to-earth.

"Friday night, we just hung out with the guys and got to know the football team a little bit better," he said. "One thing I thought going in there was that everyone would be looking at books and not be social, but they were cool people who like to have fun, like regular kids. I loved the place and loved the visit."

Another big winner this weekend was Stanford's coaching staff. Booties, stop your handwringing about how he's not exciting enough: David Shaw went over quite well with recruits, and his genuineness seems like an especially natural fit for parents, always an important demographic.

"It was weird to see Jim Harbaugh leave, him being such a great guy and not being there anymore, but he was replaced by another great guy and more great coaches, so everything is good now," Brandon Fanaika gushed. "They're great, great people and there's definitely something different just about the way they present themselves and what they're all about. Being football coaches, it speaks volumes that they're willing to put education before football. That's something that's really big to me and they seem 110% supportive of all the players and treat them like their own sons.

"Coach Shaw is a great guy and I got a good chance to sit down with him and learn a lot. He talked about how important education was to him and how important we were to him. He said there was a time when he can be a little more like an average coach and yell at the players, but most of the time he treats them like people, like they're really special. That was a good thing, and when I got to watch practice, he also treated everyone like he was their best friend. There was a time to act like a coach though and he did. The players knew that he was serious just from some of the things he did and said, correcting them, but also joking around with them. He wasn't babysitting them at all, they all knew what to do and didn't need to be babysat. I think that was a big reason of why he's such a great coach, because of (his relationship with) his players."

In addition to being the world's foremost humanitarian, to listen to Fanaika tell it, Shaw also appears to have made a very wise hire when filling out his staff. Despite being officially named offensive line coach just a week ago, Mike Bloomgren has already earned unprompted compliments from multiple recruits.

"I like him a lot," Garnett said. "You can tell he knows what he's talking about. He's really intelligent and you can tell he really knows his craft. I really liked him a lot. He's a really cool guy. I really could see myself talking with him and playing for him for four years. He's a really cool guy."

"Bloomgren is just an amazing guy and when he speaks, you definitely know he knows what he's talking about," Fanaika added.

Of course, it wasn't just the people that impressed the visitors. Stanford is still Stanford and there is still an associated wow factor, as Byron Marshall discovered.

"I learned about Stanford from a different perspective," he said. "I knew it was a good academic school and a good football program, but they allowed us to talk to professors, and just from them sitting there and talking to the recruits, I learned about so many great opportunities Stanford provides with its education. Not many people have a Stanford degree, so getting into business, for example, it helps.

"(The visit) opened my eyes more. I knew Stanford was a good school, but it gave me details of why."

Andy Drukarev contributed to this report.

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