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Magazine Reprint: Recruiting Flashback

One of the burning questions about this most recently signed football recruiting class was how it historically stacks up? One logical comparison pits it versus the 1996 class, which was the first full recruiting class signed by Stanford's last head coach. Check out this March magazine feature as a sample of what we produce every month. Enjoy this freebie and <a href="">Subscribe Today</a>!

Originally published March 2003 (vol. 1, no. 8) in The Bootleg Magazine.  "Recruiting Flashback" by Jim Rutter


So here is the scenario, CardinalmanicsÔ : Fans everywhere are celebrating an exciting, high potential class of new Cardinal football players, highlighted by an incredible offensive super-class that includes: 1) a top-rated, 6'3", strong-armed quarterback from California; 2) a powerful All-American fullback from California; 3) not one, but two outstanding running backs (one a top-rated all-purpose back; the other an All-American who was a county Offensive Player of the Year after rushing for 1200 yards and 14 TDs his senior season). Throw in 4) an All-CIF pass-catching and basketball-playing tight end from Orange County (CA). Add 5) three highly-regarded wide receivers, including one from Southern California, the second a 180-pound track star who played basketball for two seasons, and a third from near Birmingham who was First Team All-State and also played baseball.

So what year is it? Huh? Aren't we talking about 2003's stellar offensive recruits: QB T.C. Ostrander, FB Emeka Nnoli, RB Jason Evans, RB David "The Distance" Marrero, TE/WR Evan Moore, WRs Mark Bradford, Tim Sims, and Jai Miller?

Good guess, but WRONG! Go back twenty-four years to 1979 and try QB John Elway, FB Rob Moore, RBs Vincent White and Mike Dotterer, TE Chris Dressel, and WRs Mike Tolliver, Steve Brown, and Marty Martinez. Now that was a high potential class!

So what came out of that unusually fruitful offensive bounty? Well, Elway would immediately see serious time as a freshman (and start in right field for the baseball team), go on to break a slew of Pac-10 records during his collegiate career, make consensus First Team All-American, finish second in the Heisman, be drafted #1, tell a lousy owner to go jump in a lake, thrill millions every Sunday, become a "comeback" and "two-minute drill" legend, take his pro team to five Super Bowls, win two of them, and be named MVP of one. Oh, and throw in the MVP of the NFL as well. Not bad. No pressure on T.C. If he is half as good as Sir John, we'll take it.

How about the other guys in that '79 class? Any immediate impact? Dotterer would score a school record eight touchdowns as a true freshman platooning with Vincent White, while starting as a freshman in left field for a 1980 Cardinal baseball team that was ranked #1 early in the season. As a true frosh, "VW" would lead the Cardinal in rushing with 475 yards (4.6-yard average) and finish #7 in the conference in kick returns. White would go on to lead the nation in receptions in 1982. Note: Vincent White is now a first year head football coach at St. Mary's in Moraga, about the only respectable place in the East Bay. His running backs coach is none other than… Mike Dotterer. Anyway, back to our story…

Hopefully, you were getting suspicious. Most Booties know that we signed 25, not 27 new players. Did you also notice the "Birmingham" reference didn't include "Alabama"? And, in his senior year, Jason Evans had over 1200 yards and 15 TDs, while Dotterer had 1200 yards and "just" 14 scores. Marty Martinez of Birmingham High in Drayton Plains, Michigan was no "Jai Miller" and Jai's hometown of Selma, AL is quite a ways south of Birmingham, AL anyway.

Recruiting is a strange business. You never know what is going to happen. Junior All-American Darrin Nelson tears a hamstring in 1979 and suddenly true freshmen Vinnie White and Mike Dotterer are thrust into the line-up. Elway has great talent in front of him, and still can't be kept off of the field as a true freshman. Teyo Johnson looks like the "Second Coming" as a freshman, regresses as a sophomore, and then bolts early for the Benjamins ($'s). Who knows what will happen?! Injuries, mental health, cults, family troubles. Sometimes other sports take away football dreams. What could we have seen from Joe Borchard? Darrin Naatjes? Ken Williams, a highly regarded wide receiver out of San Jose, burst on the scene in 1982 with electrifying kick returns and immediately signed a baseball contract, later becoming General Manager of the Chicago White Sox. We never really got to see what he could do on a football field.

Still, it is always fun to compare apples with oranges… Let's give it a shot and go right to a sensitive topic: "Willingham vs. Teevens" or "1996 vs. 2003."

1996 vs. 2003 Comparison

So let's take a look at Tyrone Willingham's first "real" recruiting class, the one following his first season on The Farm, the Class of 1996. Coming off a surprising 7-4-1 inaugural season in which his team finished 4th in the Pac-10 and Ty was named conference Coach of the Year, Willingham had some serious momentum. He had lost ten starters – five on offense, four on defense and… a kicker. He brought in a respectable class, one that would produce many productive players and team leaders, notably Willie Howard, DeRonnie Pitts, Todd Husak, Russell Stewart, and Riall Johnson.

Buddy and his staff hit the road on the heels of a hideous 2-9 season. Stanford finished near the Pac-10 cellar, lost to Cal for the first time in eight years, and had already recruited among others, a top QB and a top RB the year before. Let's look at how the two "first full year" efforts stack up:


1996: (2) Todd Husak, 10th Best in the West. SuperPrep All-Far West, Blue Chip All-American; Than Merrill, Blue Chip All-Far West, ignored by SuperPrep.

2003: (1) T.C. Ostrander, considered one of the top 5 QBs in the country, SuperPrep, Lemming, and Prep Star AA, Student Sports #6 QB.

Husak ended up being remarkable, Merrill transferred away. Still, Ostrander could be special and we are focused on "perceived potential" at the time of letter of intent signing day… Advantage: 2003

Running Back:

1996: (1) Juan-Carlos Lacey, SuperPrep All-Region, #20 Dixie, county Offensive Player of the Year.

2003: (3) Jason Evans, SuperPrep AA, #10 RB, and #4 player in GA, Prep Star AA and #2 RB in the Southeast; David Marrero, SuperPrep and Prep Star AA, #13 athlete, Rivals #3 all-purpose back; Emeka Nnoli, SuperPrep and Prep Star AA, Lemming #3 FB, Rivals #1 FB.

Lacey was a good guy, but please! No contest. Advantage: 2003

Wide Receiver:

1996: (3) DeRonnie Pitts, SuperPrep All-Midwest, First Team All-State; Aaron Focht, SuperPrep and Blue Chip All-West; Jason Willock, SuperPrep All-Southwest, Second Team All-State in TX.

2003: (3-4) Mark Bradford, SuperPrep AA, Prep Star AA, #4 WR in America and #1 in CA, Rivals #6 WR; Jai Miller, SuperPrep AA and #9 "skill athlete," Rivals #23 WR; Tim Sims, sleeper, Honorable Mention All-State, ignored by most services.

Pitts would become special, ending up second in school history for receiving, but the Class of 2003 has way more speed. Add Evan "Red Zone" Moore's potential as a major force inside the 20 and Marrero's pass-catching out of the backfield or slot and it's really no contest… Advantage: 2003

Tight End:

1996: (2) Steve Coughlin, SuperPrep National Player of the Year and consensus First Team All-American, Connecticut MVP; Russell Stewart, SuperPrep All-West, Blue Chip All-West Region.

2003: (3) Evan Moore, SuperPrep AA, #2 TE in CA by Insiders; Patrick Danahy, SuperPrep All-Dixie, Lemming #15 TE; Michael Horgan, SuperPrep All-Far West, Lemming #3 TE.

Moore is thought of as more of a WR-hybrid guy. Based on pure tight end potential at the time… Advantage: 1996

Offensive Line:

1996: None. Unless you want to count OL transfer from Ricks College Blaine Maxfield, which we don't. Sort of amazing that we would not take a single offensive lineman.

2003: (5) Mikal Brewer, SuperPrep AA and #3 player in AZ; Preston Clover, SuperPrep All-Far West, Rivals #10 center; Amir Malayery, SuperPrep All-Dixie; David Long, sleeper with size; David Jackson, sleeper, great student.

Hmmm. Not much to compare, Ty. Sound familiar, Booties? History would repeat itself… Advantage: 2003


1996: (5) Riall Johnson, consensus Prep All-American, SuperPrep and Blue Chip; Dominic Brunetti, First Team All-State in AZ, Honorable Mention All-America by USA Today; Byron Glaspie, All-Midwest by just about everybody; Scott Giles, SuperPrep AA; UOP transfer Donnie Spragan.

2003: (2) Michael Okwo, SuperPrep AA, PrepStar #6 LB in the West; Landon Johnson, Honorable Mention All-State in TX.

Okwo was arguably one of the best linebackers in CA and Landon Johnson could well be a sleeper, but Riall was a stud, who certainly didn't sneak up on anyone. Add Donnie Spragan, the "Man-Child" and the fight isn't fair. Based on superior reputations at the time… Advantage: 1996

Defensive Line:

1996: (4) Sam Benner, Blue Chip AA, SuperPrep All-Far West, Tacoma-Trib Western 100; Willie Howard, SuperPrep AA, 18th-best DL, 950 SAT; Dorian Kass, SuperPrep All-Regional, Blue Chip AA; Jim Telesmanich, SuperPrep and Blue Chip First Team All-East, USA Today Honorable Mention AA, All-State in NJ.

2003: (5-6) Emmanuel Awofadeju, First Team All-Region, Honorable Mention All-State in GA, Rivals #29 DE; Nick Frank, First Team All-State in LA, SuperPrep All-Southwest; Chris Horn, sleeper, First Team All-State in WY; David Jackson; Mike Macellari, SuperPrep and Prep Star All-Midwest, Rivals #20 DE; Udeme Udofia, SuperPrep All-Far West and #10 player in AZ.

Very close. Trench Dog Willie Howard became a team leader and gutty star, but forgetting the benefit of hindsight and focusing on sheer potential, versatility, number of bodies and the Nigerian momentum factor… Pick 'em

Defensive Back:

1996: (2) Che Holloway, SuperPrep All-Region in Orange County; Mark Sanders, All-County in PA. (Than Merrill had potential in the secondary, but was recruited as a QB.)

2003: (2) Nick Sanchez, First Team All-State in FL; Brandon Harrison, Second Team All-State in LA.

Not much hype in the '96 backfield, at the time or after. The new guys are from the Deep South. Former Card ILB Jon Haskins (‘98) once said they play real football in Florida, none of that "sissy stuff." We believe him. Enough said… Advantage: 2003

Special Teams:

1996: (1) DeRonnie Pitts, as a punt returner.

2003: (3-4) Jay Ottovegio, a premier punter/kicker in the U.S., #2 by Rivals and Insiders. Lethal return potential of David Marrero, Mark Bradford, Jai Miller, etc.

Pitts was a very sure-handed punt returner with sweet moves, but in 2003, we have a handful of potential game-breakers with 40-times two or three (or five) tenths of a second below DeRonnie's… Advantage: 2003

Overall Class:

1996: (18 + 2 transfers) Solid, but with just four SuperPrep AAs (Johnson, Howard, Coughlin, Giles). Coach Dave Tipton carried a lot of the load. 20 players from 12 different states out of 27 scholarships offered. Not bad. Rated 5th in the conference and 29th overall by Allen Wallace's SuperPrep magazine.

2003: (25) Impressive and deep in offensive backs and receivers. Nine SuperPrep AAs. Drew from 10 different states, including an amazing 13 players from the South. No major holes except perhaps a speedy cover corner and a nose tackle.

This year's squad simply has more promising offensive skill players than in 1996 – more speed, more guys from the South, including five kids from Florida, a bunch of sub-4.5 times, and numerous Nigerians… Advantage: 2003

Hasty, Superficial Conclusion: Recruiting. It's about quality and numbers, but it is also about filling needs. Buddy Teevens, David Kelly, Tom Williams, and Co. can recruit. No question. Now it is up to the kids and coaches to produce on the field. The program had a tough year. To paraphrase Oscar Goldman from the 70s television show The Six Million Dollar Man, "The 2002 Cardinal… a football team barely alive. Gentlemen, we can rebuild it. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world's first Bionic Team. The 2003 Stanford Cardinal will be that team. Better than it was before. Better… stronger… faster!"

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