Stanford football would be a shadow of what it is today if not for Atlanta. Consider the complete list of ATL products Stanford signed during the Harbaugh era: David Yankey, Jamal-Rashad Patterson, Henry Anderson, Chase Thomas, James Vaughters, Ronnie Harris and Ra'Chard Pippens. The first observation is that defenders dominate that group; the second is that the average recruit off that list has become an All-Conference player, which represents a simply insane hit-to-miss ratio for any recruiting area.
Unsuprisingly, given the track record, the Cardinal continue to court 404-area talent by the fistful, especially defenders. Look no further than youngsters Greg Taboada (2013 class) and Jordan Watkins (2012), or 2014 targets KeShun Freeman, Kirk Tucker, Lorenzo Carter and Raekwon MacMillan, all defenders.
Twain once wrote that while history may not repeat itself, it does rhyme. If so, then the new ATL is the DMV, the D.C./Maryland/Virginia metro area that is the latest nexus for Stanford football recruiting.
Former Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton launched his coaching career at his alma mater Howard University, so perhaps it's merely coincidence, or perhaps his connections are paying off for the rest of Stanford's coaching staff. Whatever the case, the 202 (and Virginia's 703 and Maryland's 310) has been the ripest recruiting ground for Stanford in the Shaw era.
Quarterback Ryan Burns, from about an hour west of D.C. proper, is a headliner in the 2013 class Stanford just closed, at least to most recruiting sites. A top-ten safety nationally out of high school, 2012's Alex Carter hails from the town literally adjacent to Burns and started as a true freshman on one of the nation's top defenses. Quarterback Kevin Hogan, who resuscitated Stanford's offense to the tune of a Rose Bowl berth as a true sophomore, went to prep school mere blocks from the Capitol building and signed with the Cardinal in their 2011 class, a year before Carter. Jumping back yet one more year, 2010 brought Stanford Ed Reynolds (from rural Virginia, under two hours south of D.C.), who tied the all-time NCAA record for interceptions returned for touchdowns, were it not for a blown goal line call. Finally, the 2009 class brought Terrence Stephens from suburban Maryland, 30 minutes north of our nation's capital. He started at defensive tackle – the single position hardest to fill in all college football – as Stanford made its run to the roses.
Looking ahead, D.C. is DB central for the 2014 class, as decommit Devin Williams and target D'Andre Payne attend high schools in D.C. proper, while target Alameen Murphy is perhaps a dozen miles away.
On a personal note, I love geography, so I'm naturally fascinated by the cartographic ebb and flow of recruiting. But there's a freaky parallel too. I happened to graduate Stanford in 2008 and then moved to Atlanta for three years, right as the Cardinal landed their biggest ATL products under Jim Harbaugh. I then took a job in, you guessed it, Washington D.C. I've been in the capitol city for the last two years, right as David Shaw's staff has made its largest splash here.
I start medical school in the fall, location TBD, so as soon as I know, I'll be sure to ping the football offices. In seriousness, though, the fact that Stanford is churning so much talent out of two cities implies that there's plenty more talent out there for the taking in plenty other cities that the Cardinal are not currently unearthing.
As a concrete example, consider the Midwest. Given Stanford's successes elsewhere in areas where there are connections and relative lack of success in our nation's heartland, we can infer that the Cardinal are missing out on kids from a region of the country replete with football talent. Or we can look at Exhibit A, Missouri's Nate Lohn, who popped onto Stanford's recruiting radar only because his YouTube video happened to come to the coaching staff's attention. As a school with so many recruiting limitations, Stanford simply needs to do better establishing pipelines to reach future Nate Lohns in the Midwest, with population-rich Ohio and Pennsylvania priorities [Ed: Mike Tyler looks like a diamond-in-the-rough from Ohio, let's see how he turns out].
More broadly, the challenge, should Stanford wish to continue having 2012-esque classes once the inevitable drop off hits (no school plays in BCS bowls every single season), is to build new pipelines in the Midwest and elsewhere while keeping current pipelines flowing. An especially bright sign for Stanford football is that we do indeed see new pipelines being formed:
- Scout.com's national recruiter of the year in 2012, Lance Anderson is Mormon. He spent a year coaching in Utah. Sure enough, the Cardinal have done disproportionately well in the Beehive State and with LDS athletes in recent years. The Cardinal are in strong position for national No. 1 tight end Dalton Schultz this season, they added safety Sean Barton this past recruiting cycle (in addition to Idaho's Eric Cotton), Brandon Fanaika the season before, and Dallas Lloyd back in 2010.
- Texas is sufficiently large that it's unfair to call that a single recruiting ground, so let's look at its two major cities. With Andrew Luck and Stephen Taylor, two of Stanford's three most visible recent stars (alongside Toby Gerhart) both out of Houston, you have to like the Cardinal's chances to strike it rich with future area recruits from the town that oil built. Dallas could be another source of stars, with Ty Montgomery a product and 2014 uber recruits Brandon Simmons and Nick Watkins in the picture. Given the centrality of Texas to high school football -- and its corresponding potential for the Cardinal, Stanford will need to keep assistants on deck with Lone Star ties.
- Similarly, California should be the most fertile state of all for Stanford football, but we've seen a steadily decreasing share of in-state talent in recent years. Part of that is the pull of other cities, D.C. and Atlanta in particular, as Stanford recruiting has gone national. Still, the Cardinal can only strengthen their pipelines in their own backyard, and the fact that 2012 top-100 signees Aziz Shittu and Kyle Murphy and 2014 top-100 prospects Nifae Lealao and Keller Chryst are all Golden State-bred should help.
There's nothing special in the water in Atlanta or D.C., otherwise I'd be running 4.5 40s soon enough. Instead, it's the multi-faceted pipeline approach -- targeting a given geographic area, getting in on teammates, opponents and siblings of current recruits, all while establishing rapport with area coaches and the attention of upcoming recruits -- that is proving most successful for the Cardinal. Imagine, then, the future of Stanford recruiting as the Cardinal work to establish these pipelines in all this country's major football hotbeds.
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