No offense intended to the other blue chip recruits out there who read here, but there is a special interest that Cardinalmaniacs™ have held in Scottsdale (Ariz.) defensive tackle Ekom Udofia that few prospective student-athletes have matched in recent years. Udofia was offered more than two years ago in 2002, which is almost completely unheard of in Stanford Football recruiting. He has enjoyed a nationally elite recruitment and been ranked as one of the best at his position by recruiting services consistently. Additionally, he brings unquestioned athleticism and ability to a position that has historically been one of the most difficult to recruit for decades for Stanford Football.
Consider that Udofia saw his season shattered as the same happened to his left ankle in October, yet his suitors have not let up in their pursuit. The 6'1" 290-pound pass rushing monster was getting triple-teamed on the first play against rival Saguaro when his lower leg was rolled up and splintered under him.
"It was weird how it happened, and it felt like it was in slow motion," Udofia recalls of the painful experience. "My leg buckled under me and I felt it snap. Then it kept snapping lower and lower and lower until it hit my ankle."
All told, Udofia broke bones in his ankle as well as four breaks in his fibula. The Chaparral High School senior had the cast removed from his left leg just yesterday and is moving from a wheelchair to crutches. His official visits were to have nearly wrapped up by now, but several had to be rescheduled while the defensive tackle had pain and difficulty getting around. He is being fitted with a boot and will finally board a plan this weekend when he resumes his visit schedule, traveling to Miami (FL). The following two weeks will take him to Oklahoma State (Dec. 10) and finally Oklahoma (Dec. 17). Udofia already official tripped to The Farm in September and USC in October before the injury.
The prognosis is a full recovery that will take six to nine months. That major of an injury should rightfully scare off a number of schools, but there has not been a hint of change in interest from Udofia's top pursuers. And at this point, he is open to them all while he is still making his way to see their campuses.
"It's hard to say," Udofia answers to the question of his leader(s). "I'm trying to not even think about that right now. I guess if I had to decide today, it would probably have to be between the schools I have visited. But things will all change after I take these last three visits."
There are dozens of questions that surround how the pass rushing dynamo views Stanford today. The Cardinal started with a 4-2 jump at the beginning of the year but closed with five straight losses and ended a very disappointing 4-7. Udofia has told The Bootleg for more than a year that the results he saw on the field would be critical for his evaluation of the Cardinal. But then the news broke this week about the firing of Buddy Teevens and the search for a new head coach, which removes an individual who the recruit enjoyed personally through countless unofficial visits to Stanford. But if there was one way to help erase the damage of that final losing slide, a change at the top of the program might have done it.
"Coach Teevens was a really nice guy and I liked him," Udofia begins. "It's kind of shocking but I had a feeling it would happen, and I talked to Coach [Tom] Williams Sunday night when it happened. He said everything will be fine."
"Hopefully this change will get the offense going," the defensive recruit continues. "I came away from that USC game really excited. If they had played every team like they did against USC, they would have gone 10-1. They would always come out in games doing good things in the first half, but you noticed that teams would adjust at halftime and beat them. They need to get better at that."
In total, does the change net as a positive, then, in Udofia's eyes?
"It shows that Stanford is really making efforts to get the team better," he replies.
Udofia has set a timetable for a decision by January, with plans to announce on the 15th at the U.S. Army All-American Game, which is an exclusive partner with Scout.com. His official visits will have concluded in less than three weeks, and soon he will be able to sit down with his family to make his college decision. The absence of a head coach uniquely disadvantages Stanford at this time, though the level-headed recruit is not yet panicked about that status.
"It makes it kind of weird," he offers. "I would definitely like to see who they bring in, and you hope it is a great coach. But at the same time, nothing changes the education you can get at Stanford."
Like most any high school senior pondering his collegiate gridiron experience, Udofia wants to win. Though it was the offense that sagged the most in 2004 for the Cardinal, the defensive tackle is not anxious to see a string of 4-7 seasons where he chooses to matriculate. Interestingly, though, the #49 overall player in the nation has a focus somewhere somewhat to the side of the head coaching hire.
"It's not like the head coach will be my position coach," Udofia explains. "As long as my defensive line coach is alright, then I'll be alright. I think Coach [Dave] Tipton will still be there. I don't think there is a need to change him, really - or any of the defensive coaches. The defense played well this year."
It was another defensive coach (and Associate Head Coach), Tom Williams, who was in the Udofia home last night to visit with the Arizona athlete. Discussion covered a range of topics, from admissions to the future.
"It was good," the recruit sums up. "My family asked him a bunch of question, and he answered them to the best of his ability. He said Stanford is on the right path and will get a great coach."
Williams was also there to check up on the status of the school's admissions application. Though Udofia has been in the crosshairs of Stanford longer than any other target in this 2005 class, he has taken his time in working through the lengthy paperwork and process. His season-ending injury took away the competing time that football required, and now his application is all but complete. Udofia says he has finished all of his portions of the application and has two of the three teacher recommendations required. He was hopeful last night that he could get the final recommendation early today and bring it to Williams' hotel before the Cardinal coach leaves town.
The standout student-athlete carries a 4.2 GPA with a rigorous class load at Chaparral, and he has scored a 1220 on the SAT.
"It's a relief, definitely. I was always putting it off, but it's good to get it over with," Udofia emotes.
The timing of this application will likely allow the top target to hear back the all-important admissions answer before he makes his college decision, but Udofia is quietly confident at this point. With the essays now behind him, he turns his focus to the slew of upcoming trips, starting with Coral Gables (Fla.) this weekend. One concern that Stanford fans might have, and the same would apply to USC, is the distance between his first official visits and these final three that will come immediately before his college choice. Will the memories and emotions of his trip to Palo Alto not have faded by Christmas, with a full three months gone by?
"I won't let it be a factor," the Scottsdale man maintains. "My Stanford visit was good. I've been there so many times already; I kind of knew my way around already. But it was a little different for me. I got to do some different things. I got more access - got to see the locker room before and after the game and got to be on the field for pre-game warm-ups. And they pay for your meals, so that was great!"
The recruit was hosted by his older brother, redshirt freshman Udeme Udofia, who in the Stanford 3-4 defense is currently a "rush" outside linebacker. As he grows physically, Udeme projects as a "Sam" outside linebacker or possibly a defensive end - particularly if there is at some point a return to a 4-3 front. The two brothers are quite close, and that made for an easy visit. But did the younger Udofia miss out by not getting to know another player more personally had he been hosted by somebody else?
"I liked how it was," the Chaparral senior standout offers. "I've been getting to know the players on the team for five years now. Back when my sister was a freshman at Stanford, she knew some of the guys on the team and I started to get to know them then. I've been back so many times since, and I feel like I know almost everybody on the team."
The visit appears to have been a success, but there is still an admissions answer, a head coaching hire and three official visits still to come in the next few weeks for Ekom Udofia. Though this story has been proceeding for more than a year, it still has several chapters yet to be written. The Cardinal are not in a bad position, but have some hurdles still ahead to clear before they might land this heralded defensive tackle.
"I definitely like Stanford a lot," he allows. "They are right at the top. But it's hard to say what I will do before I take all my official visits."
So the waiting game continues. We will continue to watch and listen and keep you updated with all the latest on this critical Cardinal target.
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