With all the craziness surrounding Stanford Basketball these days, I have not yet had time to flesh the events and impacts this past weekend for Football recruiting. The annual Nike Camp was held on Stanford's practice field on Saturday, bringing nearly 600 promising prospects to the Cardinal's doorstep. On Sunday the program held its Junior Day with approximately 55 top student-athletes spending a day on campus with coaches and players. It is a powerful weekend for a recruit to see so much of the Stanford campus, facilities and people - the effects often carry through to Signing Day for some kids. For Kansas City (Mo.) tight end Ben Ladner, the effects were immediate and impactful.
While sitting in Buddy Teevens' office Sunday, the 6'3" 265-pound athlete gave his verbal commitment to the Cardinal. Spring commitments to Stanford are a rare occurrence because recruits cannot yet apply through the admissions office before the end of their junior year. Scant few prospects will go out on a limb to make a commitment before being accepted by the University, simply because they are sending a signal to other schools to stop their recruitment. Should the recruit fail to clear the admissions process, they would be "stranded" without a lifeboat.
Ladner is not your ordinary recruit, however. With a 1560 SAT and a slew of AP courses this year at the Pembroke Hill School, arguably the top school in the metropolitan Kansas City area, his admissions prospects are fantastic.
On Saturday he showed why his football future was just as attractive, running a jaw-dropping 4.60 in the 40 at the Nike Camp. That was a full tenth of a second faster than the two top linebackers at the event, Ryan Reynolds and Rey Maualuga, who are likely top 10 at their position nationally. It does not take a veteran coach of the gridiron to figure out the advantage Ladner would have in passing situations over these linebackers, and he showed nice hands and agility in receiving drills to boot. He recorded a 30.8" vertical leap, and looked light on his feet. The KC masterpiece also wowed with his marks in the weight room, ripping off 40 repetitions of 185 pounds on the bench press.
"It wasn't bad, but it wasn't what I wanted," Ladner laments of his impressive showing on the bench. "I was shooting for 46 rep's because the record was 45. I have done 45 before at home, but oh well. It doesn't bother me much, though, because nobody had questioned my strength coming into this. It was my speed they wanted to see, and I got that done."
We had previously reported on two offers to the TE/DE - first from Wyoming and then from Stanford. Ladner has been given a handful more offers that were verbally communicated to him, but he treats them with little import. That is actually a refreshing departure from the recruits and high school coaches who have a bad habit of embellishing offer lists. A third written offer did arrive at Ladner's house on Friday just before he left for the Bay Area, though - this one from Wisconsin.
Had the Kansas City star not pulled the trigger Sunday during the Junior Day, he was poised to receive many more FedEx packages with communicated offers, given his off-scale performance at the Nike Camp. The question must be asked, though, as to how firm his Cardinal commitment is at such an early date.
"Barring a change in the coaching staff or my not getting accepted by the school, I am 100% committed to Stanford," he decisively declares.
As for why he felt so compelled to make a commitment, Ladner cites three things he saw and experienced on Sunday.
"First of all, the campus was amazing. It lived up to my every expectation," he begins. "Second, I have said all along that the strength program at schools would be a deciding factor for me. When I talked with the Stanford strength & conditioning coach, I was sold. Their weight room was as impressive a facility as any I've seen, and I've seen quite a few. More than that, though, I liked hearing about how in the off-season they compete every week. Finally, they held a player panel that really impressed me. The players talked to us and answered our questions. The way they interacted with each other and with the coaches was incredible."
"Later I talked with Coach Teevens for a while - what position I would play and my chance to play early," Ladner continues. "I decided to commit right then and there."
With the news of his commitment now written in the history books, Stanford fans will ask the forward-looking questions on this Missouri man. So what did he and Teevens discuss on the subjects of playing time and projected position?
"He said that every freshman comes in with the expectation that they will play their first year, and I love that attitude," Ladner relays. "I don't care what Rivals said about the camp. They had me number two, but there is no question I was the number one tight end there. Stanford is pretty stacked at tight end right now, but I could play either way. Coach Teevens said that at 265 and 4.6, I could be a big-time tight end. At 285 and running a 4.7, I could play at defensive end and become a [NFL] draft choice. Wherever I can play first, I'll play."
The Pembroke Hill standout is the second commitment for Stanford in this 2005 class. The first was Sacramento defensive end Matt Kopa, who also dominated at the Nike Camp and then attended the Junior Day. Ladner and Kopa had a brief chance to talk together on Sunday, to form an initial bond.
Ladner also cites positive impressions of tight ends coach George McDonald on Sunday for his quick commitment. "He is 28 years old and really relates to the players well," the recruit reports of McDonald. "He can joke around with them, but he also can get in their face."
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