The wait is over, and the news is good. Ekom Udofia has committed to Stanford, giving the Cardinal their top defensive tackle recruit and yielding the fruit of more than two years of their labor. Udofia held offers from across the country but officially visited five schools: Stanford, USC, Miami, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. For the last several weeks, he has been down to a final three and today announced his college commitment to the Cardinal over the Trojans and Hurricanes.
"I just felt most comfortable with their coaching staff, who I've known for a long time," the Scottsdale (Ariz.) standout says of his Stanford decision. "I like their defense and how they would use me. The opportunity to play with my brother [Udeme Udofia] is so unique, too. It's close to home for me and my family."
The relationship that Udofia has with the Cardinal program extends back before the Stanford staff offered him in late 2002 as a sophomore. He has been coming to campus for visits and vacations with his family ever since his older sister matriculated to The Farm five-plus years ago. She graduated last spring and may make a return to Palo Alto next year with her "little" brother if she gains admission to the Stanford medical school.
"I've been going there for so long, and I came away impressed with all the visits," the All-American allows. "My official visit [in September] was really just a free trip to see a game, with free meals. I already know most of the people on the team."
But it was an event in October which shook up Udofia and forever changed the way he looked at his college decision. On the first play of the eighth game of the year, he was triple-teamed and had his left fibula broken in four places, while his ankle was broken and torn up. The horrific injury not only ended his season but left him in a wheelchair or on his bed, with a lot of time for introspection.
"I had a lot of time to think. I was mostly lying in bed for four weeks," he recalls. "It really made me think about how the majority of my life will be after football, and what the value of my education will mean to me. Stanford has one of the best educations you can get."
That epiphany put Stanford in a prime position for Udofia's services, but there were other items he needed to check off. When Buddy Teevens was fired in late November, and then two weeks later Walt Harris was hired, the recruit had to investigate the new head coach of the Cardinal.
"Basically, I needed to know his background," Udofia says of Harris. "I wanted to know his history of turning around programs, and he did that at Pittsburgh, so that was great. I was impressed by him and his confidence that he can turn Stanford around."
"I see great potential in their team," he continues. "They lost a lot of close games this year, and they need just a few changes to turn around in a big way. I feel like I can make an impact there from Day One."
Therein lies part of the attraction for Udofia. In looking at his final three schools, he had a pair of recent National Champions in USC and Miami, while Stanford has suffered three straight losing seasons. All three schools pitched the opportunities of early playing time, given their depth charts and graduation losses, but the 6'1" 335-pound pass rusher saw a chance to write his name down in a special part of the history books on The Farm.
"If those two programs are already established, then I could come in and help them keep it going," he opines on USC and Miami. "I've been blessed with enough talent to be great wherever I go, but do I want to be somebody who helps keep a program going or do I want to be the guy who leads a turnaround? I think it's better to be known as the guy who built the success. I can have more impact there."
Today's announcement comes as some surprise to the recruiting community, but it also comes more than two weeks later than Udofia expected. He had planned since his junior year to announce his college commitment live on national television at the U.S. Army All-American Game, but on that Saturday in San Antonio, he got cold feet. He says he was about to commit to the Cardinal when he felt a panic of uncertainty.
"I just needed to make sure Stanford was absolutely the right decision," he admits. "I needed to see more film of their defense and get to know the new coaches. At that time, they hadn't even hired the defensive line coach yet, and that was a big deal to me."
Since then, the Cardinal rehired longtime defensive line coach Dave Tipton, who in joining Walt Harris is on his fifth Stanford staff. Tipton went into Udofia's home on Saturday, along with outside linebackers coach Tom Quinn, who has been the Cardinal recruiter in Arizona the last several years. They made a detailed presentation that was well received.
"It was a big help," Udofia assesses. "I got to watch film of all their defensive schemes and really see how they would use me."
Ekom Udofia has already been named to five All-American teams and is one of the all-time top defensive line catches in Stanford history. The expectations will be sky high, even though Udofia was projected at the time of his October injury to require a full nine months of recovery. He proclaims that he is two and a half months ahead of schedule and believes he will be back to full speed by late April or early May. Should his prognostication hold true, he could regain his conditioning in time to allow him to compete for playing time and make the impact he and the Stanford coaches feel he can make right away. But if his recovery does take the full length of the original doctors' estimates, then he would have a nearly impossible time getting into shape by the start of August camp.
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