Card Pushing For Cushing

Stanford has not had wild success recruiting the Northeast the last several years, though that might have turned in the 2004 class with the signings of Alex Fletcher and Austin Gunder. Riding that momentum, the Cardinal coaches are zeroing on an elite target from New Jersey who has a freaking profile of size and speed. 6'3" 225-pound junior linebacker Brian Cushing has the brains, brawn and attitude to be one of the best...

There is a rather gaping hole in Stanford's linebacker recruiting these days, with just four scholarship LBs from the last three combined classes.  The Cardinal coaches have been deliberate in their selectivity, given how much talent they hauled from the 2001 class, but now that junior recruiting is well underway for the 2005 targets, it is high time the Card corralled some elite LBs.

It is huge news then that I am able to report to you this Friday afternoon.  Not only has Stanford identified one of the top linebackers in the '05 class on the Eastern seaboard, but they have also made an impactful impression upon him with an early offer.  Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Bill Cubit (the lead regional recruiter for the Northeast) offered Brian Cushing from New Jersey powerhouse program Bergen Catholic on February 3, shortly before Signing Day.  That was not the first offer for the First Team All-State linebacker though - Rutgers took the first plunge two weeks earlier.

As news is starting to spread of his offers and hot recruiting profile, Cushing is enjoying a spike of interest in just the last 24 hours.  Yesterday he was offered by Boston College, and today the most surprising offer of all dropped on him.

"Syracuse just offered me today," he reveals.  "I had never gotten even so much as a letter from them.  This came out of nowhere.  I was just in shock."

In contrast, the BC offer was one he was expecting.

"Boston College was going to offer me two weeks ago, and they came by my school but I was home sick," he explains.  "They had just started recruiting me then, so they obviously got pretty excited in a hurry."

This rush of attention is surprising and rewarding for Cushing, who thought he might slip under the radar of top college programs.  He was not the biggest star at Bergen Catholic his sophomore year, and due to conflicts with baseball at his school, he missed both football combines/camps he had hoped to attend last spring.

"In the beginning of the season," he says of this junior year, "I wasn't getting much attention at all.  No letters.  One letter came from Rutgers and I was shocked.  My expectations were driven pretty low.  I know that not going to camps hurt me, but I also wasn't being pushed much.  That really fueled me, and I said I wasn't going to stop until I was All-State."

"I've been underrated my whole life," he adds.  "That's why I play with such tenacity."

Cushing is a young man who reached that goal with First Team honors at linebacker this past fall, though he played more positions than that one descriptor would indicate.  He spent a good deal of time at safety, but he would also play up at the line of scrimmage with his hand on the ground.

It is rare that you see a player with the kind of versatility who can play at all three levels of a defense, and even more rare to do that at a program like Bergen Catholic.

But then again, Brian Cushing is a very rare specimen.  He stands 6'3" and weighs 225 pounds, and last summer he ran 4.4 40's at both the Maryland and Rutgers camps.

"I'm a freak," he laughs.

His stats no doubt back that up, with 120 tackles and 9.5 sacks to go with seven interceptions.  Cushing also is an impact player on offense as a wide receiver, hauling in 13 catches for 456 yards and seven scores.  He will continue to play both ways next year, but colleges unanimously are salivating for him on defense.

Boston College's linebackers coach, Bill McGovern, was the man who made the offer for the Eagles yesterday, and what he said to Cushing may have made more of an impact than the offer itself.

"He said that I would play immediately as a freshmen at outside linebacker next to Brian Toal," Cushing recounts.  "He said they guaranteed that.  No other coach has gone that far and said that, so it got my attention."

BC is one of two schools where Cushing says he is "definite" to camp this summer; the other being Michigan.  He is still deciding between Virginia Tech and Penn State for a third and final camp.  He will also take part in the Nike Camp on Virginia's campus on April 18.  Of interest to Stanford fans is his stated plan to visit The Farm during spring football that month as well.

This is a truly national recruitment, though, and the Cardinal are not the lone West Coast school high on his list.  After a talk with his high school coach this past week, he has decided to add USC to his list of top schools.

"It's just the fact that they finished number one in recruiting this year, and my coach recommended that I look there," Cushing explains.

If you are getting dizzy with the names and preferences of these many schools, this will help you sort things out:

  • "My top two schools are Stanford and Michigan."
  • "After that, Virginia Tech is really close - so is BC.  I'd put Ohio State and USC in that group, too."
  • "Then I would put Penn State, Rutgers and now Syracuse."

All schools are recruiting him for linebacker, with the exception of Syracuse, who says they like him at strong safety.

Cushing adds that when he swings out to see Stanford during their spring practices, he will probably see USC.  "Might as well while I'm out there," he notes.  "I'll take another unofficial visit to Rutgers during the summer.  And BC says they want me to go to their spring practices and their Junior Day."

With four offers in the last three weeks, and plenty of signs that Michigan is soon to follow suit, this looks like one of the hotter recruitments in the Northeast in the 2005 class.  Many observers say that Cushing is the #1 player in New Jersey, and he aims to back that up.  He might have made a case for best player in the state - regardless of class - this past fall when he throttled Brian Toal in their matchup.  The five-star senior fullback fumbled three times as the junior upstart laid a helmet on him, and in the process laid claim to the hardest hitting athlete in the Garden State.

Cushing was First Team All-State in New Jersey this past fall and was also named Bergen County Defensive Player of the Year.  In the weight room, he can bench 185 pounds 28 times (315 max bench; 380 max squat), and in the classroom he boasts a 3.5 GPA.  Put that together with his 1240 PSAT, and you can understand why Stanford is all over this kid.

Bill Cubit is not alone in the effort, as Cushing has been talking with Stanford 2004 commit Alex Fletcher, who lives just across the state line in New York.  Interestingly, both have a very similar fierceness and intensity to them in all manners of competitiveness.  It must be a NY/NJ thing - perhaps something in the water.  The two recruits have compared notes, but the biggest impact came when Cubit made the offer last week.

"I was pretty excited, knowing how good Stanford is academically and in football," he explains.  "Distance used to be something me and my parents thought about for my college, but that went out the window once Stanford offered."

The other co-leader right now is the Michigan Wolverines, who made their impact in mid-January.

"Their linebackers coach came to my school and talked to me in person for about a half-hour," Cushing explains.  "Michigan has always had a great tradition, and the coach said I could play a variety of positions there.  Football is a big deal there and they pack their house with so many people for every game - I get pump just thinking about it.  They've sent me a lot of letters.  They say they are going to offer as soon as I get them film.  I'm getting a lot of mail from Virginia Tech and Penn State right now, too."

"To get the offers now is great," the prep star beams.  "All my hard work is paying off."

This is not a player who is about to rest on his laurels, though.  Cushing is working hard in the offseason and has already added 11 lean pounds since a crushing 14-13 defeat to nationally ranked Don Bosco Prep in the state championship game.

"As a team, the goal is to win the state championship this year - go 12-0," he pronounces.  "Individually, I want to break the single season tackle record - 170."

"I know I can get better, and my number one focus in the off-season is speed," Cushing adds.  "I want to be able to run par 4.4 and be one of the most feared players in New Jersey, due to my speed and how hard I hit.  The other goal is to be a leader.  I've got to keep the team up at all times with my intensity - always keep them in the game.  I have to be the leader of this team, and I can't ever get down on them."

Bergen Catholic Football will not quite be his next competitive season, though.  Cushing is getting himself ready for the rapidly approaching baseball season, which starts March 5.  Though he knows that his meal ticket in college will be punched by the pigskin, he has the size and tools as a high level baseball player.

Unfortunately, a little rift between the football and baseball head coaches at Bergen Catholic have left him in the middle of a war zone at times.  They each resent the time given to the other program, and when Cushing broke his hand last winter while doing some football lifting (squat bar fell on his hand), his furious baseball coach suspended him for the season from the varsity baseball squad.

Dejected but undeterred, the two-sport star destroyed competition his sophomore year on the JV squad, hitting better than .750 at the plate and dazzling on defense in center field.

Don't think that this hot recruit will use baseball as a shield behind which he hides from football recruiting pressures, though.  He has plans on making a decision in the next six months, if he can.

"I've talked with my guidance counselor, my parents and my coach, and I want to commit before my senior season," Cushing declares.  "I've talked to several people and they all say it takes so much pressure off you.  But if I'm not sure what to do at that point, then I won't do it."

Though he thinks about location and weather, the Jersey junior says two criteria loom above all others in his college decision.

"Number one is something that has always been there with me and my family - education," he allows.  "That's what we've said since day one.  Next is playing time."

There is no question that Brian Cushing is a preeminent recruit in this junior class, and though it seems like an eternity until Signing Day 2005, keep in mind that some recruitments like this one may be done early.  The race is on, and we will keep you closer than anyone in the nation on Cushing's recruiting updates throughout his journey.

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