The entire recruitment of Franklin Okam has been a clouded mystery - I won't lie to you. It is very difficult to truly understand what the young man is doing, and more importantly what he is thinking. Though Stanford was one of his top seven or so schools through the spring and summer last year, the Card faded off his public list as the fall wore on. By the time the holidays struck, Stanford looked to be a distant roadmarker in his rearview mirror. Then suddenly in January, Okam announced he was taking one of his precious official visits to The Farm. For months, the public consensus view has been that this five-star defensive tackle will come down to a Texas-Oklahoma battle, and indeed he has spoken in glowing terms about both programs throughout his recruitment. They earned two of his official visits, as did Florida and Oklahoma State. The #3 defensive tackle in America is on campus visiting Stanford today for his final official trip of his college recruitment. He is also just days away from National Letter of Intent signing day, on February 4.
Reaching Okam on the phone is not an easy task, and when you do get his ear, he is not one to give up much of inner thought process. Instead we are left to speculate on just what the 6'4" 300-pound defensive lineman is doing with Stanford at this point. Why did he bump the Cardinal off his list and talk for so long about how he saw himself going to school in "Big 12 country" and now suddenly bring them back into the picture? Remembering that this is an extraordinarily smart young man, probably craftier than most of the recruiting reporters and coaches with which he speaks, I offer three theories I have bounced around as to this recruitment.
- The Decoy. One possibility is that Franklin Okam is wrestling with a tough decision between schools near his Dallas home, torn between Texas and Oklahoma. Those two schools fit his stated criteria of playing for a national power (and ultimately a national title), while at the same time staying close to home. They have recruited him for well over a year, and he has never given a public report where he did not speak highly of these two schools at the forefront of his thoughts. At the same time, Okam is a quiet and introspective man. He has tremendous pressure bearing down on him with phone calls and in-home visits from countless college coaches, and he probably wants time to himself in the final days of his decision. A trip out West would give him a pleasant diversion from his home surroundings, and more importantly it would give him radio silence. College coaches are not allowed to call recruits while they are on official visits, and he of course does not have any college coaches from UT, OU, OSU or UF at his doorstep. By taking this Stanford visit, he takes himself away this last weekend before Signing Day. He returns to Dallas late Sunday night, and come Monday is protected by the NCAA dead period. That means no college coaches can come visit him through his Wednesday signing. Though not palatable to Stanford fans, I would propose that it is possible Okam is using this final visit to Stanford to get away during the last hectic weekend before Signing Day. This could all be a decoy...
- The Misdirection. The other end of the spectrum postulates that Okam has been fond of Stanford all along. Under this construct, the clever college recruit has pulled a ruse over the entire country by going silent on his Stanford affections for months. One reason I believe this to be possible is the fact that he made no public comments to any recruiting service about his Stanford official visit until I called him this month and dug it out of him. I sometimes wonder if he was deliberately keeping that news quiet before I unearthed it. The reports earlier that week only spoke of Oklahoma, Texas, Florida a bit about Oklahoma State. That seems odd, because I do not believe he suddenly decided to visit Stanford the day I called him to check in. You may ask what motivation Okam would have to orchestrate this form of deception. I would offer that the answer is he did not want to endure the negative recruiting that is employed against Stanford. He knows that Texas, Oklahoma and Florida look down their collective noses at a school like Stanford, where the smart kids go to play some lesser, bastardized form of football. He knows the lines those schools will feed him - what a waste his talent would be in Palo Alto. So why not steer clear of all the insults toward his Stanford interest...
- The Truth. A final scenario answers to Occam's Razor - the simplest explanation with the least twists and turns. Okam (not to be confused with Occam, the English philospher) may not speak too freely of his inner-most thoughts, but he did tell me last summer quite plainly that he wanted to see Stanford win games the coming season. While the Cardinal doubled their 2002 win total to four victories in 2003, the overall results were magnificently unspectacular. The Card were badly blown out in four games, and they ended with a very disappointing 0-3 skid with a bowl game in reach. It makes the most sense, ignoring all else, that his interest in The Farm waned with these losses. If Okam omitted Stanford from his list, it was in line with his stated criteria. What puzzles, though, is how the Card climbed back into contention and earned this visit... when they won no more games these past two months. The event that did transpire was in San Antonio, and not Palo Alto. Okam faced off with Alex Fletcher at the U.S. Army All-American Game, and there the 300-pound defensive line talent met more than his match in an elite offensive line talent. Fletcher tussled with Okam and more than one put him down on the ground. Don't underestimate the statement that made on the field, which carried more weight than any words, brochures or phone calls sent the previous nine months by Stanford coaches. The two high school senior phenoms talked in San Antonio, and Okam admitted he hadn't believed that elite football talents like Fletcher could be found at Stanford. It was a verifiable eye-opener. Okam saw the light: bigtime football may yet exist on The Farm. So he agreed to work on the admissions application and come out for an official visit.
Theory #3 is the easiest to believe because it is the least extraordinary. As the facts lay themselves out, that is the story. I have considered the first two explanations at length, though, because I know that Okam is smart enough to orchestrate either of them. I think they are not so fantastic that they should not be considered; I would not otherwise present them to you here.
These are theories; here are some facts to consider, which may shape your view of Stanford's chances with this talented student-athlete.
First of all, you should know that the Hot News from earlier this past week was not properly interpreted. The Hot News from the Oklahoma State publisher stated that Okam and his mother would sit down after returning from this Stanford visit to talk about his college options. Many Stanford fans took that commentary to mean that the recruit's mother was accompanying him on this visit, but that is not true. Franklin Okam took his official visit to The Farm this weekend all alone.
You might take that fact to mean that his mother does not support Stanford, but this could not be further from the truth. She has been a Cardinal voice in his ear throughout this recruitment. The reason she did not make the trip is that she does not like to fly. This brings up an important issue that bodes poorly for Stanford. You have heard Franklin Okam speak so many times this recruitment about wanting to stay in "Big 12 country" is that he wants to stay close to his single mother. You may not know, but Franklin is the man of the household, and for him to take off two time zones away is a very tough thing. I have to believe that his mother's inability to even take this official visit to Stanford is a powerful signal to the son that he can't comfortably go far from home...
Another important note is the progress that Okam has made recently toward his Stanford admission. While other college coaches have spent the last week in Dallas selling this nationally prized recruit on their playing opportunities, depth chart and NFL prospects, the Cardinal coaches have spent the week monitoring and facilitating the rapid completion of his admissions application. In fact, Thursday night when Okam came back from his Oklahoma State official visit, he had two coaching staffs in his home. Texas brought head man Mack Brown into the house to sell him during their final face-to-face pitch, but Stanford and Buddy Teevens never even sat across the room from the recruit. During the Cardinal's in-home visit, Okam was at the library working on the last parts of the application. The Stanford coaches instead spent that rare opportunity in the Okam household with only his mother.
The good news is that Okam submitted his completed application to Stanford before he arrived on campus for this weekend's official visit. Knowing what I know about how intelligent and accomplished a student Okam is, I fully expect him to be accepted. The only question is when.
But here are two things we learn by the fact that Okam worked so hard recently to fill out his application:
- He probably was not playing us all with a secret love of Stanford through these last few months, as I had pontificated in Theory #2. If he really had kept the Cardinal at the top of his mind all this time, he would not be so delinquent in his submission timing. Toss that line of thinking in the can.
- He also has not likely taken this trip as a fanciful departure from his home environment just to "get away" in his final days of decision. Filling out the Stanford admissions application is serious business, and Okam has spent serious time the past couple weeks toward that task. Though it still seems plausible to me that he could go through this trouble to take this trip, just to get away from Texas and Oklahoma, I don't find it likely. For a student as serious as Okam, it would have been an insult to devote his cerebral intellectual energies to write the essays required of him. Again, I could have believed Theory #1 had he filled out the application further in advance so as to save all the anguish the past couple weeks. But I don't believe it now.
I will not likely be able to reach Franklin Okam tonight as he arrives back in Dallas, after returning from his Stanford trip. Perhaps in the coming days I will speak with him about how this visit impacted him, but I can share this. His primary visit host was Babatunde Oshinowo, who is the perfect fit. Both are oversized defensive tackles with NFL ability; both also are ridiculously smart kids. As a bonus, both are also Nigerian kids.
While big Baba was the host, Okam also spent time with Timi Wusu. You might think this to be an extension of the Nigerian connection, but there is another angle. Don't forget that Okam is deadly serious about his medical academic pursuits, and his recent official visits have been as much about doctors and medical facilities as they have been about weight rooms and practice fields. You have undoubtedly read about the hospitals and medical staff that have been shown to him lately at Florida and Oklahoma State, but Okam was blitzed this weekend by an entirely different level of medical excellence. He was handed a mindblowing list of Stanford Football alumni who are currently doctors, as well as those currently in medical school. Timi Wusu may be a defensive freak on the football field, but he is also a dedicated student in the classroom on a premed track. Other programs can point an isolated freak few examples over time that have seen intersection between football and medicine, but this is one battle Stanford wins hands down, and they hit him over the head countless times with objective and overwhelming data.
We have 72 hours or so until Franklin Okam's final announced decision, but my best information at this time is that he has a final two of Stanford and Texas, with roughly a 50/50 split between his two loyalties. To come this far this late in the race for one of the top three defensive tackles in America - well, it's exciting stuff for Cardinal fans. Now hang on tight for the final rollercoaster ride until Signing Day.
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