Like a dying man crawling his last last mile in a barren desert, Stanford coaches and fans alike have a desperate thirst to land several top flight cornerbacks in this 2004 recruiting class. The Cardinal have freshman Nick Sanchez joining the team next month, and witnessed last fall the demonstrated talent of T.J. Rushing from the 2002 class. From the 2001 class, there is Calvin Armstrong and walk-on Nick Silvas, but neither have yet shown that they will be impact players who could start at corner or even man the nickel or dime packages. Grant Mason (Class of 2001) made the move this past spring from WR to CB and showed very well, but he has since switched back to receiver and is expected to play primarily offense this year. All told, that is a concerning portrait of cornerback depth from these last three recruiting classes, and they leave a great amount of uncertainty after the 2004 graduation of Stanley Wilson and Leigh Torrence, the current starting duo.
This story is not unusual, nor is it unexpected at Stanford. For reasons that Cardinalmaniacs™ have been ruminating since time incarnate, there is some mystical barrier that precludes cornerback talents with 4.4 speed from having a 3.5 GPA, and vice versa. Too often the Card have chased the blazers who later were found to not have Stanford academics, or those who could pass muster with the Admissions Office would be a step or two slower. Why this time-tested but inexplicable trade-off exists, we don't know. But the empirical evidence has been manifest in the form of years and years of mediocre cornerback play.
But I would not be so cruel as to map out this blueprint of despair were I not prepared to slake your unending thirst. The sweet elixir offered today presents not only phenomenal speed, but also a commensurate Stanford-class GPA... and a local residence to boot.
His name is Wopamo Osaisai (pronounced wuh-pah-moh oh-sigh-sigh), and he hails from just across the Bay in Pinole, CA. He attends Pinole Valley High School, which recruitniks might recall is the same program that produced a cornerback of note in the 2003 class - Thomas Decoud, who is headed to Cal this fall. Decoud was hailed as a bit of a sleeper in last year's West Coast and national recruiting rankings, and Osaisai wears that sleeper label like a tailor made three-piece suit.
The 6'0" rising Pinole Valley senior was born and grew up in Oakland, but spent much of his formative youth in Nigeria. He was with his family in their native African homeland from 1991-99 before returning to the East Bay. But even then Osaisai was only first introduced to football by way of his foot, as a kicker his freshman year in high school. His sophomore year he looked to graduate to a role as a position player, but a broken wrist cost him the entire season. Only this last fall as a junior did he play his first game action as a cornerback, and he understandly learned as the season progressed. He recorded one interception and a pair of deflections.
"We didn't face many passing teams, and those who did pass would start to run the ball more and more after trying to pass on me and Thomas [Decoud]," Osaisai recalls. "As the season went along, I could honestly say I was becoming a key player on defense. In 11 games, only nine passes were completed on my man, and most of those came on screen plays or crossing patterns with picks. Only once all year did someone complete a pass on me in one-on-one straight coverage. I feel I am able to jam my receiver most of the time to take that option away. I was shaky at times, but improved."
Though Osaisai gained a lot of confidence in that first full season of defense, his gains during this off-season have been just as crucial. His limited time in spring football taught him quite a lot about the mental aspects of the position, and he says that something "clicked" with his instinctive feel for the game. A particular breakout performance came early this summer when he attended a passing league at Stanford with his high school team. The Cardinal coaches had him on their recruiting radar, but their evaluation of him was radically revised after watching him flat-out dominate in play after play of blanket coverage.
"I still need to take the inside away on slants - that's something I'm still trying to perfect," the rising recruit admits. "But I feel like right now I can shut down the fades and get a good jam. I'm reacting a lot better to cuts and reading how plays develop now. It's all coming together."
But despite his rising talent and grasp of the game, Osaisai remains a virtual unknown in public recruiting publications. His limited playing background has played a part, but the bigger reason might be the time he has taken away from the myriad of spring and summer camps in favor of his track pursuits. Osaisai is a top-flight track athlete in both the 100m and 200m, and is currently building his summer season to a crescendo. He has been training and qualifying for the last couple months for the National Junior Olympics, being held at the end of this month in Miami. The Pinole speedster has run a personal best of 10.66 in the 100 and 21.45 in the 200, and recently placed 1st in both events at the regional qualifiers in Fresno. He will travel to Florida for the biggest meet of his young life, one of just 40 high school track competitors from around the country.
Osaisai finished a disappointing 7th in the California state championships in the 100m with a 10.76, and ran a 21.65 in the 200m, but he sprained his ankle and was pretty limited. The confident speedster says that he feels he can push his times down to the 10.4's and sub-21 realm in the respective events. "I tend to have a poor start out of the blocks, and I am trying to improve on that," he describes.
Though enjoying a wildly successful track year, Osaisai knows that he has fallen behind many others in his class in recruiting exposure by missing out on camps. "I didn't go to any Nike Camps and I haven't really done any camps at colleges this summer, other than that passing league at Stanford," he begins. "My name isn't really out there, which is unfortunate. I know that has limited my recruitment, and I see a lot of other guys with high profiles and offers who I can certainly match on the football field. But I don't regret doing track, and I know that a lot of schools will have their eyes opened when they see me play this fall. More offers will come."
To date, he has offers from Stanford and Washington, though that scholarship from Seattle has been muddied by the recent Rick Neuheisal saga. When the gambling incident first broke earlier this summer, Osaisai told The Bootleg of his wavering concerns. "Washington is a place I need to learn more about. They are a good program, but I don't know about the cold. And I have to see how the whole Rick Neuheisal thing plays out." His tone today has slid even further. "I have real doubts about going up there with this whole coaching situation," he comments. "I don't want to end up somewhere mired in a mess. I'm really not a cold weather person, and to top it off, the last time I talked to their recruiting coordinator they told me they have a strong interest in me and will be watching me this fall. That isn't the vote of confidence you want to hear as they sort out a coaching transition."
Another school in which Osaisai had high early interest but has waned greatly is Cal. "They used to interest me, but I'm discovering that they already have quite a few cornerbacks," he says. "It's also so close to home and I've been there so many times." He also notes that his father obtained his Masters and Ph.D. degrees from Berkeley.
He says that Stanford, Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State, UNLV and Fresno State are recruiting him the hardest, with the Cardinal taking the early lead. "My favorite right now is Stanford," he proclaims. "They've shown the serious interest in me to offer already, and from my research they have the best engineering of any school I'm looking at. My mom is going to help arrange a meeting with Coach Teevens."
But he maintains that he is not close to any commitment, particularly because he knows that his recruiting profile will rise once coaches see him early this fall. "I would like to make my commitment in the middle of the school year," he elaborates. "I don't want to rush into it. I'd like to take all my visits."
Stanford fans of course want to know the all-important question germane to any and every recruit - where is Wopamo in the admissions process? He answers that he has been working on drafts of his essays and wants to have the entire application completed and submitted in the next week. The Junior Olympics in Miami start on the 28th, and he would prefer not to have the application still hanging over him when he heads across the country for the week-long event. Osaisai pulled straight A's his junior year at Pinole Valley, taking a variety of honors and AP classes. He scored a 1060 on his SAT, but is not the least bit satisfied. "That was a really, really low score," he bemoans. "I was sick when I took that in May, and I'll take it again in the fall. I'm aiming for a 1250 or higher."
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