This weekend may have been highlighted on the Cardinal sports calendar with a landmark victory for men's basketball in Anaheim against #1 Kansas, the NCAA Final Four for men's water polo on campus, and the continued march of women's volleyball toward their Final Four, but five fabulous football recruits came to The Farm for the first of three major visit weekends at Stanford. The quirky quintet is a fascinating blend of personalities and geographies. The five recruits hail from five different states, and they come with different backgrounds and experiences. As expected, all are high on academics and deadly serious about football. All good kids, they instantly clicked and forged strong bonds.
"They were all high character guys and we all got along well - like we were already teammates," says Ohio athlete Ray Jones. "Several of us were committed coming in, and I believe Pat Maynor committed as well. So it provided for a team bonding experience instead of a recruiting one."
Jones was one of three who had already made firm verbal commitments to Stanford before this weekend, and he spent ample time last summer exploring and enjoying the campus and coaches during the overnight football camp. That didn't stop him from utilizing the 48 hours on The Farm to the fullest. The schedule was packed, from meetings with coaches to the faculty brunch to the golf cart tours, but the evenings left opportunities for youthful wild times at campus parties and in San Francisco. That was not entirely expected for Jones and the other recruits, given that this weekend was sandwiched between the always stressful Dead Week and Finals Week at Stanford.
"With exams this week, the students put in a lot of study time, but even with the finals coming up they still had fun," the Ohio star observes. "That says a lot about the character of the students. They aren't one or the other. They can put in a lot of work and still have an enjoyable time."
If you haven't followed Ohio football closely this fall, then you might not know of the tremendous season that Jones and his Columbus Academy team enjoyed. They dropped a pair of early games to big schools in higher classifications, but then ran the rest of the table to a 13-2 finish and state championship. It was the first championship for the Vikings since 1987.
"The playoffs were crazy," he tells. "We set scoring records in our first three postseason games, with 44, 65 and 76 points. Then all of a sudden in our fourth game we go to overtime and win 13-8. I didn't do anything really special in those games to write home about, though I did scoring the winning touchdown in the overtime game and one of our two touchdowns in the championship game. I was just one piece of a great machine we had. It was one of those seasons where things just happened."
When Jones talks about the bonding he enjoyed with the other recruits, he isn't just dishing out sound bites. The chemistry he enjoyed for many years with his teammates at Columbus Academy was a big reason he feels they ran wild this year. Of the 17 seniors on his team, 14 had been together since kindergarten. And that helped him to take a completely selfless attitude toward a season that could have been a blockbuster one for him, but instead saw him share touches with offensive teammates.
"I'm really satisfied with the year," he allows. "Since we have a multi-faceted offensive attack, lot of guys got the ball. The main thing I learned this season was how great it is to be multidimensional."
Jones was hosted this visit weekend by redshirt sophomore Stanford running back J.R. Lemon. It is an interesting choice to situate a running back (and safety) recruit with the current leading tailback who projects as "the man" the next two years for the Cardinal. But Jones raves about how much he enjoyed his host, who offered insight to the school, program and the running game. The recruit could not also help but notice the reaction that Lemon and his Stanford teammates drew when they headed off-campus for dinners and entertainment.
"During the whole visit, I noticed how Stanford football players get insane amounts of respect wherever they go. That was pretty cool."
But these times for Cardinal Football are not all fun and games, are they? Fans have tough questions they are asking about the progress of the program, and those questions have an even greater interest to recruits. Prospective student-athletes have little interest in boarding a sinking ship, and Ray Jones was certain to ask the players during this visit how they feel about the direction this Stanford team is headed.
"The players are all excited about the future and especially Coach Teevens," Jones reports from his visit. "The team is young, as everybody knows, and the young players that are playing now are going to have a lot of experience behind them."
Another recruit who has opinions on the direction of this program is local cornerback standout Wopamo Osaisai, who attended all six of Stanford's home games this year. That means he was regrettably subjected to the train wreck of the Notre Dame game, which you would not wish upon your worst enemies - much less your prized recruits. And unlike many fans, Osaisai sat through the entire four quarters of horror.
"There is no question I was disappointed that they lost like that," the Pinole (CA) recruit comments. "But I am still high on them. They have a great program with a lot of promise. This is a program on the rise. The team will be completely different next year. They have a lot of young players - only graduating 13 seniors. The guys I talked with are really fired up - Mark Bradford, David Marrero, Brandon Harrison, Tim Sims, Leigh Torrence, Stanley Wilson. They all are ready to work hard for next year. The team is young and up-and-coming."
That certainly is a different outlook on Stanford Football than what we have seen lately from fans on the message boards, or the occasional column in the local fish wraps. You would think a kid with an eye on the defense would be be shell-shocked at what Cal's Geoff McArthur did to Stanford's secondary at the Big Game, or perhaps the big chunks of yardage on bombs by Notre Dame. So what is/was wrong with Stanford's defense in the eyes of this perceptive recruit?
"The defense isn't bad. They were just put in bad positions when the offense didn't get the job done," Osaisai opines. "They are a young team prone to problems. It's a question of focus. The talent is there; it's about execution. A lot of times when they lost it wasn't because of poor defense. They had a pretty stellar defense the whole year. Execution cost them against Cal. You get four turnovers in the first half and only come away with 10 points?! In the Washington State game, they gave up big plays and had costly penalties. This team played pretty good, but little mistakes cost a lot."
Osaisai was one of just two recruits this weekend still evaluating Stanford versus other schools. He has an official visit set for Washington in a few days, and his final decision will come down to those two offer schools, unless Arizona and their new head coach Mike Stoops steps up.
"Arizona hasn't called me lately," the cornerback recruit says. "I don't know where their head is oat. I know they have a new head coach and a lot of things to sort out, but I'm not going to chase them. If they want me, they will let me know."
The other undecided recruit coming into the December 5-7 visit weekend was Florida linebacker terror Pat Maynor. While some schools have said the defensive standout is undersized, at 6'1" and 190 pounds, he has the ferocity of a caged animal and hits without a conscience. Kansas State likes him enough that they want him in Manhattan for an official this coming weekend, but Maynor told The Bootleg just before he took his West Coast visit that he intended to end things then and there.
"I'm looking to close the deal this weekend if I like what I see, which I totally expect," Maynor said. "Coach [David] Kelly was at my school and told me that he knows when I come up there, I'll love it."
The campus was buzzing on Saturday that Maynor was telling his host Patrick Danahy and Stanford players and his fellow recruits that he was committing to the Cardinal. Reports say that he did just that Sunday morning with the Stanford coaches, though the Palm Beach Gardens (FL) senior stayed in San Francisco an extra day with his parents for sightseeing. They did not return home to Florida until late last night and have been unreachable thus far. I will be sure to share confirmation of the commitment as soon as I can speak with Maynor.
His Dwyer HS team finished the year 12-2, with a second round loss in the playoffs. Maynor led the defense to a stellar year, including six defensive shutouts. "It was a good year," he describes. "We won our district. We were a decent team, but lost a lot of players from last year."
Another "decent" year enjoyed by a Stanford visiting recruit was that of Pinnacle High School's Ben Muth, the 6'6" offensive tackle who committed to the Cardinal back in July. The Pioneers went 6-4, which was a pretty good season for them.
"I think I played well," Muth tells us. "I think I handled pretty much everyone I faced. I was a lot more consistent this year. I was a lot stronger, too. I just feel like I stepped up."
"I still have plenty I can improve, though," the big tackle continues. "I admit I took a play off here and there, and you can't do that. I have to get a lot stronger and quicker for the next level, too."
As far as strength and size, I had my first chance to eyeball Muth a few weeks ago when he came on an unofficial visit to see the 106th Big Game between Stanford and Cal. I saw him in the locker room with other recruits as I was doing my business talking to some disappointed Stanford players. He has a very good frame and could easily carry 300 lean pounds. Right now he weights 280, but don't expect him to add too much too soon. Basketball season keeps him lean, as he runs up and down the hardwood for his 4-2 Pinnacle team.
"Big Game was my first game I've seen at Stanford," Muth reports. "I've seen them play here before, but I'd never seen a game at Stanford Stadium. You know, it was a lot of fun. They let the lead slip away, and that meant I went from really excited to really frustrated. Watching that game, I already felt like part of the team. I wish I could have gone out there and helped."
"I had a really good time on that visit," he comments. "There wasn't a thing I didn't like about it. I think "The Walk" was the best part - that was really cool. I liked the Stanford Band, too. It was my first time to see them in person. I liked them. It's good to be different - they were funny. Not everyone needs to be marching around with shiny helmets!"
Oh, Benny, you have no idea how much you just sold yourself to a lot of Stanford fans as "one of them"...
Muth was not the only big nasty on the trip, as Mukilteo (WA) Kamiak offensive tackle Bobby Dockter made the trip. Like Muth he committed several months ago, but this official visit was an important one for him. While Dockter saw Stanford's campus once in the summer for the overnight football camp, he brought his parents on this trip for their first look at The Farm.
"This visit is like a cherry on top for me," Dockter pontificates. "I feel like I know the place and the coaches, but it will be really neat for my parents to get to see the campus and meet the coaches."
The 6'5" tackle from Washington state helped to push his Kamiak Knights to a 7-3 record despite a slew of injuries and a lack of veterans. "We were so young this year after losing a lot of senior starters," Dockter begins. "Everyone predicted we would be the bottom of the barrel, especially since we were so injury-stricken. We lost four offensive linemen during the year, including three starters."
Those injuries greatly impacted Dockter at left tackle as he played with three different left guards, each successively younger and less experienced. Kamiak uses a good deal of zone blocking schemes which require double teams at the point of attack, followed by a release into the second (linebacker) level. With unsure guard play next to him, he found himself slowing down his own play to accommodate.
"I still think I did pretty well, despite missing the guy next to me," the cerebral lineman opines. "I couldn't do all the things I wanted to do, though. I really wanted to get out in the open and dominate, but I had to slow things down. There are some little things to work on, but I still think I played really well. I just felt more comfortable this year."
Dockter is one of those guys who can play nasty on the field, too, and he had his sights set for a few targets this year. There was a dearth of "name" opponents he could measure himself against, however. And sometimes the matchups failed to materialize
"There were a few people I was hoping to to put a glove on," he admits. "When he played Mariner I was really looking forward to going up against [Washington commit] Trenton Tuiasosopo, but I only got to hit him once or twice. I did lay him out pretty bad once."
- J.R. Lemon (Ray Jones
- Timi Wusu (Wopamo Osaisai)
- Jeff Edwards (Ben Muth)
- Josiah Vinson (Bobby Dockter)
- Patrick Danahy (Pat Maynor)
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