At 1:00 PM Mountain time (Arizona local time) today, Allen Smith made his long-awaited and highly anticipated college decision announcement. Though the revelation transpired at his high school, Corona Del Sol (Tempe, AZ), it was simultaneously covered nationwide on a heavily attended chat session on ESPN.com. The 6'5" 315-pound offensive lineman had taken four official visits, plus two late unofficial visits on his dime, to fully explore his top four schools.
To the delight of Stanford fans around the globe, the elite student-athlete announced in favor of the Cardinal, over Notre Dame, Arizona State and UCLA. He had offers from all four, plus others up and down the West Coast and back East. It was a decision made after much deliberation, and with an extensive amount of personal exploration and reflection.
"For all those who know me, they know that this was a heavy decision for quite a while," Smith says with a sigh of relief. "I finally settled on Stanford because I felt that it was the place where I could nourish my full potential both as a football player and as a regular student. In the end I felt that the players and people at Stanford were the correct fit - where I wanted to be in the next four to five years of my life. Above all else, the Cardinal is a team I can play my heart out for."
Allen Smith is an unusal character who balances both emotion and cerebral reason. As such, he tried to make a decision to satisfy both his heart and his mind. It was his heart that had its strings plucked so many different times by all four schools during this rollercoaster recruitment, and that has made it one of the most intriguing races to follow in the 2004 class. Smith would speak in glowing terms about each school after its resepctive visit, exciting their recruiting-crazed fans, but then turn in another direction the next week with new input and experiences. His unofficial visit to Arizona State a week ago sent the prospects for the Sun Devils sky high, but so too did a very positive visit to South Bend this past weekend.
"After every visit I tried to decompress for a couple of days before I truly analyzed it," he describes. "Everything I felt and thought about the school, I documented. So as to not be shadowed by influences of Notre Dame or ASU after the unofficials, after I returned I simply took out what I wrote originaly about all the schools. The critical test was to see if any of my feelings had truly changed. After all that, Stanford was still on top."
As complex as the individual, so too is his explanation for why he felt the Cardinal stood atop the heap when he came to his final decision.
"I knew when I started this whole process that I needed a team that stood for more than just football, because I view myself as more then just a football player," Smith allows. "I wanted a school where I will truly be playing for every other athlete on campus when I am playing for the football team - just an extension of the spirit and will of the campus itself. In the end I found that Stanford was the only place where football was just one of the many extensions to help student-athletes achieve individual perfection. So if I strive for perfection, and so does Stanford, then it becomes a match made in Heaven."
Many theories have abounded as to which dimensions of the Cardinal made that "match." One of them was the fit between his computer science passion and the elite department at Stanford. How big was that in his decision?
"It has me very very excited," he says of Stanford's computer science department. "Because I know that I can do some excellent research and recieve the top of line education with the resources availible to Stanford. Honestly, it did not play a big factor in my decision, but it's great for a tie breaker."
Then perhaps his mother was a factor that pushed in Stanford's favor? After all she is a woman with incredible academic standards that has already put two of her boys at Dartmouth and Virginia. The Card should have had an edge with a mother who is also a tenured professor at Arizona State, though Smith gives a surprising answer.
"My mom has given me excellent guidance through my young life, but she felt strongly that this decision was one I should make on my own. So while it was nerve-racking for her, she got to find out like everyone else today," the recruit reveals. "She did not really push me in any direction in this process. She said, 'Allen, all these schools are academically acceptable. Do your thing.' I did, and she couldn't be happier with my decision."
As is often the case, it was the kids he met during his visits that were the biggest eye-opener for him. In Stanford's case, it was what pushed him over the top. He had looked so long and hard at the Cardinal and was very sold on their academics. The official visit he took the weekend of January 16 was his long-awaited chance to finally explore the program and its people from the inside.
"There was nothing to learn about Stanford on my visit," he begins. "Prior to coming I had learned just about everything there was to know, due to the fact that Stanford had been a goal of mine since I was age four. The experience I had with the Stanford players had to have been what sold me on the school. There were different types of kids that I met at Stanford, which is to say that everyone was outstanding in their own right, but no one flaunted or wore it on their sleeves. And as focused and intense as they were about the game of football, they all understood that in the end it needs to be fun."
A subplot with the various players he met at the different schools was how he raved about his hosts. His official visit to Notre Dame back in the fall particularly got him jazzed about freshman offensive tackle Ryan Harris. Smith made no secret about how much he bonded with the standout OL, and many thought that might be what put him over the top for the Irish. How did his Stanford host, redshirt sophomore nose tackle Babatunde Oshinowo, stack up? Did big Baba give as good a visit/hosting experience?
"While I loved Ryan Harris when on my Notre Dame visits, because he and I became good friends over my recruitment," Smith answers. "What set my Stanford host, Babatunde, apart as my 'best host ever' is that Ryan never took me to Krispy Kreme donuts on demand."
Smith lets out a big laugh. "Baba did."
On a more serious note, there is also the question of how such an elite recruit, ranked #19 in the nation among offensive linemen, picked a Stanford program that went 4-7 last year and in particular suffered a whipping at the hands of Notre Dame (57-7). How could he pick the Card over the Irish with what was broadcast on national televsion in the Stanford season finale?
"The bottom line is I'm a competitor," Smith responds. "And the reason recruits like me are brought in is to help programs. So what's in the past is in the past. It's my job to help shape the team for the future. There was nothing the Stanford coaches had to do to convince me. It never even came up because I will win. Winning is as important to me as any competitor, but what separates a winning team from a losing one is attitude. What separates a National Championship team from just a winning team is a few good recruits, and an even more competitive attitude. I believe Alex Fletcher and I, along with the other recruits that come in with our class, are bringing a little bit of everything."
And believe me, this kid is fired up about winning. He hates losing as much as any other recruit in the country, be it in football or his current basketball season. Smith wants to win championships and also talks at length about how he chose Stanford to develop him for his athletic goals after graduation. He is not just picking Stanford to nurture his brain for academic excellence; Smith wants to play in the NFL.
"I have seen some greats come out of the Stanford Football program, such as John Lynch, and recently Kwame Harris," the newly committed recruit declares. "I believe that I can accomplish what they did, making it to the League, but I also know that unless I was fully commited to the team - the work and effort that would be required to do it - I will be hard pressed to find my way. That is why giving my heart to the team will allow [offensive line] Coach [Steve] Morton, who has had great success with O-linemen, to shape me into a player more then just ready to play. He and Stanford will make me into a player that will excel at this level, and the next."
And one final dimension Smith could not ignore was the weather. He had sunny warm days during his January weekend at Stanford, but faced a more frigid fate when he took his unofficial trip to Notre Dame last weekend. Though an intellectual like this kid would stereotypically be grounded in athletic and academic numbers, he just could not ignore the weather.
"Honestly it was by far the hardest decision I have made in my short life," he bemoans. "Notre Dame had a lot of appeal for me that Stanford was hard-pressed to match, and the players there were almost as extraordinary as those at Stanford. I felt like I was family there. But hey, in the end, sunny California rarely gets beat by dank South Bend, Indiana."
Allen Smith has always been gracious in giving his time and emotions during many interviews for stories throughout this recruiting battle, and he was kind enough to give me time today after his announcement, driving to Yuma for a basketball game this evening. But he asked me to also please do him a favor and pass this message along to the many Stanford fans reading this commitment story. As excited as Cardinalmaniacs™ have been about him, he wants to convey his excitement about coming to The Farm.
"Cardinal fans, and those who have watching and tracked me through my recruitment, I am happy to say the long journey is finally over," he says with a warm sigh of relief. "I would rather have it end no place else than Stanford University. What my fellow recruits and I bring to Stanford will shock you. This is a different team - the attitude, the commitment, the talent is all on the next level. The Cardinal in the future is going to be one hell of a show to watch. We will win. There is no doubting that, so now it's just about what side of the ball you want to be on. Either our side or the losing side - the choice is yours. I already made mine."
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