If there are two areas where Stanford underperformed in their recruiting efforts this recently concluded 2004 signing class, it was defensive line and California recruiting. Understanding that both the geographic and position areas need heightened improvement for 2005, it is with great interest that we have discovered Matt Kopa. The 6'6" 265-pound two-way lineman from Elk Grove High School, just south of Sacramento on Highway 99, is one of the bright rising stars in West Coast recruiting with both regional and national heavy interest. At left tackle this past fall for the Thundering Herd, the jumbo junior lineman graded out at 85% or better in every game and earned First Team All-League honors in the competitive Delta League of Sacramento that include Jesuit and Laguna Creek.
Elk Grove has 65 players on their varsity squad, so head coach Dave Hoskins kept Kopa focused on the offensive line in games to start the season. But the strong and athletic junior proved too compelling to keep on the sidelines when the Thundering Herd played defense.
"We try to platoon players as much as we can, given our depth," Hoskins explains. "But Matt was just so good in drills that we had to play him [on defense]. As the season went on, he just got better and better."
Though he was moved into the starting lineup only midway through the season at defensive end, Kopa recorded 18 solo tackles and 22 assists as a pass rusher. Even more impressive, the midseason promoted player caught enough attention with his play that he earned All-Metro honors as a defensive lineman.
"I think I did a good job securing my gap," Kopa opines. "I limited half the field in games. They really couldn't run on my half of the field."
"He's basically a kid learning the position," Hoskins explains. "He's a developmental guy just growing into his body. His main thing is his ability to negate an offensive tackle, plus he runs down the play so well for his size. He's just learning how to use his hands though. We just taught him a swim technique, and he's like a kid with new toy."
One reason Kopa has made himself such a good defensive presence so quickly is his high football IQ, buoyed by his tireless work ethic. Hoskins praises how his star junior shows up twice daily for workouts at 6:30 in the morning and 3:30 in the afternoon.
"I know I have a lot I can still improve," Kopa admits. "My quickness off the ball. I can work on my speed rushing technique. And you can always get stronger."
"Physical toughness is the number one thing for him to improve on," Hoskins adds. "He's just learning the game and needs time before he can put it all together. Strength and speed are his assets, but he has to get the footwork, pad level - all those other things together."
The DE/OT has more schools on him than he can name right now, but he names a top nine of Stanford, USC, Boston College, Cal, Washington, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas State and Oregon. Kopa says that his recruitment has been "half and half" between OL and DL, with the Cardinal talking mostly defense.
"They like my movement on tape, and they like my fundamentals," he notes of his conversations with the Stanford coaches. "I'll play in college wherever it helps the team."
The junior recruit and his parents trekked across I-80 this past Saturday to take an unofficial visit to The Farm for not one, but two days. They met with the Cardinal coaches and then toured the facilities and weight room, followed by tours of the campus. The Kopas had the pleasure of watching the first half of Stanford's men's basketball game at Maples Pavilion against Oregon. They left at halftime to meet with head coach Buddy Teevens for 40 minutes. With more yet to see, the family stayed overnight at a local hotel and toured more of the Stanford campus on Sunday.
"Stanford has a great atmosphere," Kopa reports. "The school is a unique place and opportunity. The campus is beautiful and the coaches were nice."
But for the 4.0 Elk Grove student, yet to find a 'B' on a report card in his high school career, Sunday was not the end of his Stanford interactions. The Cardinal coaches watched more of his tape that he brought them that weekend and sent him an email to call them on Monday. When he called up the Stanford football offices, he spoke with Teevens and was given his first scholarship offer.
"I was actually shocked," the recruit reveals. "Getting a full ride scholarship from Stanford is an honor. I hope everything works out. I'm looking forward to helping turn the program around, and I'm looking forward to visiting again."
Kopa goes on to name Stanford as his current number one school, leading a top three that also includes USC and Oklahoma. The Trojans had him in their camp last summer, where he was one of the top underclass performers, and they are recruiting him and his Elk Grove coaches earnestly. USC has asked him to camp with them again this summer, which is possible, though the only firm summer camp plan he has set thus far will take place at Stanford.
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