This is precisely what the May evaluation period is all about. During the previous months, college football staffs around the country receive junior film on a breadth of prospective targets. Some recruits jump out at you with how they move on film and how they handle the competition, but it's hard to make that all-important scholarship offer until you have seen the kid in person. For local or regional recruits, you may encourage the prospective student-athlete to come to your campus for an unofficial visit or perhaps a Junior Day. But when you are Stanford and most of your recruits are in another time zone, those options are often unavailable.
For this reason, you embrace the May evaluation period. This is the first time since the last recruiting cycle that coaches can get out on the road and make on-campus trips to high schools. While the visiting coaches are not permitted to speak with the recruits, they get the chance to eyeball their targets, often for the first time.
Stanford has the NCAA maximum of seven coaches out on the road right now in this their first of four weeks for these evaluations. Offensive line coach Steve Morton has recruiting regions in the Heartland as well as the Pacific Northwest, and his very first day brought him to The Pembroke Hill School in Kansas City (Mo.) on Monday. We could see this coming, with the Cardinal's fervent recruitment of DL/TE Ben Ladner. Sure enough Morton's visit led to a phone call from Buddy Teevens 48 hours later.
"Coach Teevens called me Wednesday night to offer me a scholarship at Stanford," the coveted 6'3" two-way standout reveals. "I had talked with Coach Teevens before and he basically told me that I was a scholarship player in their eyes - they just needed to come take a look at me in person. Coach Morton was in Monday and met with my coach and my counselor. Coach Teevens knows my counselor from their days together back at Dartmouth."
"I'm definitely excited," Ladner elaborates on his reaction to his second college offer. "Stanford has always been one of my favorites."
The Kansas City star is in intense training right now as he prepares for the Nike Camp on Stanford's campus that he will attend in two weeks. That particular camp is famed for its size and exposure, bringing more prospective student-athletes in football to one combine than anywhere else in the nation. A concomitant collection of college coaches will be on hand, and Ladner is aiming to prove something.
"I hope to run the 40 in the high 4.6's or low 4.7's," he describes. "I don't know who all will be there, but I'm hoping to win the bench press. My personal best is 43 reps [at 185 pounds]. I've heard Ryan Reynolds will be there, and he'll expect to put up big numbers, too. I'm looking forward to it."
Currently Ladner holds offers from Stanford and Wyoming, which head up a list of five schools who he says are recruiting him harder than all the rest. One of the remaining trio is Arkansas, where the Missouri man will take an unofficial visit with his father this weekend. The Razorbacks were the very first school to come by Pembroke Hill to visit and evaluate Ladner this spring. If you are wondering how they beat the Cardinal when Morton hit the school on his first day on the road, the answer is that Arkansas started earlier. The NCAA gives a window of six weeks for each school to take their four weeks of evaluations, and different programs choose different stretches within that window.
Another key visitor to come by for a visit was Kansas, the alma mater of Ladner's parents. Both head coach Mark Mangino and recruiting coordinator Dave Doeren came through. According to Ladner, the Jayhawks want him to attend a one-day camp in Lawrence (Kans.) before they extend an offer. Wisconsin rounds out the top five, with the Badgers "coming on pretty hard" lately.
"Coaches are coming by pretty much every day, which is kind of crazy," the 2003 All-State selection beams. "It's been a good experience."
One experience he is looking to change in the coming stages of his recruitment is his summer travel. Previously Ladner was looking to go away for three college camps, with two set for UCLA and Colorado State. But he now says that he wants to stay home and work with his teammates over the summer. The Raiders were a dominant team last fall with a 10-1 record, but they look to have a lot of young faces in 2004. Ladner will limit his summer camp work to the nearby schools - Kansas and Kansas State, and even then just for one-day stints.
The Cardinal may not have this DL/TE target on their campus in June for their overnight camp, but they will have a fantastic opportunity to impress him when he comes to Palo Alto in two weeks for the Nike Camp. Ladner is staying through Sunday, when Stanford is holding their Junior Day. Though the Kansas City native has yet to see The Farm, he is already enthused about the school and program.
"Stanford's offer really helps their case and gives them an even bigger boost," he explains. "To have someone show so much interest so early, it puts them ahead of most of the others. Wyoming is up there, too, for the same reason."
In the course of discussing these five schools, Ladner mentions a variety of positions where he is being recruited. Arkansas is talking tight end, as is Wisconsin. Kansas has him pegged for an interior offensive lineman, while Wyoming says he could make his earliest impact in Laramie on the defensive line. Stanford says that their positions of need are tight end and the D-line.
The diversity of projected positions brings one more layer of complexity to this recruitment, though you can count on a bright kid like Ben Ladner (1560 SAT) to sort things out. He indeed has some thoughts on how he views himself at the college level.
"I want a chance to grow into my position in college during those four or maybe five years," he begins. "I want to be in a position by the end to get to the NFL, and I don't think the offensive line is where I will do that. I don't think I'm big enough."
We'll keep up with all of Ladner's latest, including this pentad of schools and the numerous others recruiting him. The biggest event in May of course appears to be his trek out West, for the Nike Camp and then Stanford's Junior Day. We'll get back to you soon thereafter for his results, reactions and ruminations.
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