A Blaise of Glory

All the focus of Cardinalmaniacs currently falls on a pair of jumbo athletes who would elevate the power and prestige of this recruiting class. Quietly, a third contender is still in play, and he officially visited Stanford just a few days ago. <b>Blaise Johnson</b> has the Card in his final five, and could add speed and athleticism at the thin skill positions in this class...

Stanford scored one of their biggest prizes last year from Corona del Sol High School in Tempe (Ariz.) with offensive tackle Allen Smith.  The Card are again aiming for the Aztecs in 2005, this time recruiting quarterback Blaise Johnson.  The 5'11" 187-pound athlete camped at The Farm last June and was squarely on the Cardinal's recruiting radar, but he hurt himself with a 1060 SAT that left him on hold for most of the fall and out of the Stanford spotlight.

"A lot of the times the Friday before an SAT I would have a game where I wouldn't get home until too late that night," Johnson explains.  "For a little while, Stanford stopped recruiting me.  Then I retook the SAT in December and raised my score by 100 points.  They said that got me into the ballpark for admissions for them.  I sent them my final senior film and filled out the application in two weeks.  My application is being processed now."

With his late test retake, score and application, the Arizona athlete finds himself at the tail end of Stanford's recruiting timeline.  Johnson took his official visit to The Farm this past Thursday and Friday, and not only is he the last recruit to officially visit Stanford this year, but he is also the last visitor still waiting to gain admission.

"Obviously with Stanford, getting admitted is a major part of the University.  If you don't get admitted, that's the end of the story," the recruit acknowledges.  "Getting admitted would changed my picture.  Stanford has always been a school I've been interested in - since I was a kid.  I've been there twice before and love the campus.  The education of course speaks for itself.  Pac-10 football is as good as it gets.  And the fact that Allen Smith chose to go to Stanford says something.  He's a person I really respect and I've looked up to."

Allen Smith was seen Thursday night with Johnson at Maples Pavilion during the recruit's official visit, predictably hosting his former teammate.

"Stanford was the first school to really recruit me," Johnson adds.  "They were my first phone call last spring."

But the Cardinal are not alone in the late-stage push for this option quarterback athlete.  He previously took official visits this month to Air Force (Jan. 7), Nevada-Reno (Jan. 14) and BYU (Jan. 21).  Johnson took his official visit to Stanford on the odd Thursday date because he previously had committed to the UNLV coaches to give them an official visit that started on Friday and went through the weekend.  Here is what he had to say about these four schools, all of whom have offered, before his weekend visits:

Air Force - "The prestige of the Academy is something that interests me.  They are the only school recruiting me as an option quarterback, and that sounds like a lot of fun.  But I don't have a military background.  For people like me without that background, the experience at a military school is a very hit-or-miss situation."

BYU - "The facilities kind of blew me away.  But they are an LDS school, and I'm not Mormon.  It would be a culture change, for sure.  I could be possibly outcast."

Nevada - "I felt very comfortable there.  It's a pretty nice town.  I love the coaching staff.  They had three feet of snow there, which turned me off a little.  They don't have quite the prestige of a place like the Air Force Academy."

UNLV - "I don't know much about them, but I will after my last visit.  It's pretty close to home, which would be great for my family.  My family are huge supporters of me, and UNLV is only a five-hour drive from home.  They also give me a chance to play really early.  They have 10 to 12 positions right now where they say I could play for them, on offense or defense."

Johnson says all his schools are about even, though if he cannot gain admission to Stanford, who might have at least a slight edge among the other four?

"Maybe Reno," he offers.  "That is the place where I felt the most comfortable, and I knew what I was getting into as soon as I walked onto campus.  But I like all these schools, and that's why they are all in my final five.  There are a lot of ups for each school, but there are also some catches for me to consider."

The Corona del Sol senior earned great acclaim in the Grand Canyon State for his stellar senior season.  He was named Central Region Player of the year and First Team All-State as a defensive back by both the coaches and the sportswriters.  Johnson was the toast of Tempe at the end of the year for his play at both quarterback and defensive back, but it was on a few months ago that the senior standout and his Aztecs were in chaos.  They started the season 1-2 before some changes that netted eight straight wins and quarterfinal appearance in the state playoffs.

"I really didn't know what to expect coming into the year," the utility athlete explains.  "My coach is predominately a running coach, and our offense is pretty much all built around a running quarterback.  I played quarterback my junior year until I got hurt (high ankle sprain); our backup QB did a pretty fair job.  The thought this year was to use me as a running back and keep him at quarterback.  I was used at some wide receiver early on, too.  That didn't work out too well, and after our first three games, I switched back to quarterback."

Not only did the Aztecs roar to an eight-game winning streak, but they did so in blowout wins.  The first six of those victories came by an average score of 47-11.  Johnson played only through halftime throughout that streak, and not until the playoffs did he play a complete game.  He averaged 10 yards per carry in Corona del Sol's option offense, totaling 900 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns, and he threw for another 750 yards and 10 scores.  By his math, Johnson only played six full games this year when you add up the quarters he was on the field.

Uncertainty also surrounded the Arizona senior's role on defense.  Coaches can be understandably nervous about playing their quarterback on defense, where there is high risk for injury that could derail their offense.  Johnson was not allowed to play defense his junior year, but he coaxed his way into a starting safety job at the inception of his senior season.  Like his role on offense, his position on defense morphed as the year progressed.

"The coaches learned I was a pretty good cover guy, so they added a defense called 'lockdown' where I would move to corner and neutralize the other team's best wide receiver," the two-way standout describes.  "I was used early in the year as a safety valve.  My coach said, 'Don't let anyone get by you.'  But playing lockdown was a lot of fun.  I got to test myself against the best, particularly at the end of the year in the playoffs.  They really called up on me to step up."

Cornerback is the primary position where Johnson is being recruited, among his five final schools, other than Air Force.  Stanford says he could play cornerback, safety or wide receiver, but most likely he would be a corner or wideout.

"I always felt more comfortable at corner," he says of the different defensive backfield positions.  "That's how I grew up, in more of a coverage role."

Johnson has run a 4.50 40 that was electronically timed at his school, which bolsters the case for his athleticism.  Stanford has made a name for itself in this recruiting class by landing big-bodied athletes playing at or near the line of scrimmage, but the speed athletes at skill positions have been hard to come by for the Cardinal.  Most of the top prospects failed to garner grades and/or test scores to put them in Stanford's recruitable range, so an admissions acceptance for Johnson could enable a coup for the Card.  We will check back with the Arizona athlete early this week to see how his final two visits and his admissions answer panned out.


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