After hauling in six signees from Florida across the 2003 and 2004 recruiting classes, the Cardinal came up empty this past February in the Sunshine State. Heading into the start of Stanford's camp on Monday, a full five Floridians on the roster sit atop the depth chart at their position and project as starters.
So we pay attention anytime a Florida kid comes onto our radar. There are the "big fish" visible to the free world, like Sam Young. But as we transition from summer to fall, we have our eyes peeled for the lesser profile prospects on the rise. One of those is in Tampa (Fla.) at Robinson High School. The Knights were a woeful team coming off a 2-8 record before head coach Mike DePue took over in 2003. He opened up their offense with an aggressive attack that sent Robinson HS to a 9-3 record in his first year.
Last fall, Darrell Stevens was the featured receiver in the aerial attack, recording a team best 40 catches for 693 yards and 10 touchdown. The 5'11" junior wideout led all of Hillsborough County in receiving scores, but he was left with a sour taste in his mouth for the 2004 season.
"We went 8-2 last year, but our two losses came to the two top teams in our district. Only the top two go to the playoffs, so we just missed out," Stevens explains. "That was a hard lesson to learn. 8-2 is such a good year, but not good enough. That opened our eyes. We have to focus on our district games; we have to treat them like the playoffs."
Back at Robinson in 2005 is Stevens' classmate and quarterback, 5'10" Marcello Trigg, which has observers in the area expecting great fireworks this fall.
"Last year was big," says Stevens. "But this year will be even bigger. We're going to air it out again this year, and we'll keep throwing deep on the first play of the game - to set the tone for what to expect. We're going to run the ball, and our O-line is going to block. It should be big."
"Personally, I've definitely improved in my knowledge of the game. I know the playbook by heart now. I'm a senior," he continues. "Physically, I've gotten stronger. I had problems sometimes getting off the line of scrimmage, where I wasn't strong enough. My first step off the line is going to be more explosive this year. I won't struggle like last year with that. I'm quicker, stronger and smarter. I've got a lot going for me."
As one measurement of his physical improvements, Stevens ran the 40 in 4.6 times at a pair of camps in the late spring. With hard work focused on his speed training, however, he slashed his time to a 4.53 at USF in the latter part of the summer. That spells bad news for defenses in Tampa this fall.
Prior to his newfound fleetness of foot, Stevens earned some solid recruiting attention in the spring. Stanford, West Virginia, Boston College and Tulane were some of the schools who brought the most effort through written and verbal communications. But one school jumped ahead of the pack with a quick trigger.
"Wake Forest offered me in the spring," Stevens reports. "Their coach saw a practice and liked what he saw. He called me that night and offered me a scholarship. That opened my eyes; it showed me what I was capable of. I didn't take it and commit to my first offer, though. I figure I can work some more and see what I can get."
With a self-reported 4.4 weighted GPA, the Tampa product has a keen eye out west for the Cardinal. Though a recent St. Petersburg Times article on Stevens called Wake Forest and West Virginia his leaders, he wants to set the record straight.
"Did they say that? I don't think you can count Stanford out of anything," the recruit rebuts. "When you go to Stanford, you have a big opportunity in front of you. Stanford is tops in academics of the schools on my list, and that makes them a high priority. Everything for me is about academics. I have so much support at home, and my family wants me to make the best decision for me, wherever that ends up being."
Stevens also speaks fondly of his lead recruiter for the Cardinal.
"Nate Hackett has been recruiting me hard. I really like him. He's a really nice guy, and I always get post cards and emails," the recruit offers. "It sounds like things are really open there [at wide receiver]. They've shown me a lot of interest since the spring."
Though he has strong interest for a few of his suitors, Stevens is patient and says he will not let himself rush into a college decision.
"I've seen schools close to home, but I haven't taken visits to some of the schools further away," he explains. "I need to see Stanford. I need to see West Virginia."
While a visit to the West Coast is high on Stevens' mind, he has a more immediate focus in front of him.
"I took the SAT and was really disappointed in my score," he laments. "I will take the SAT the next time they offer it - as soon as possible. I think they have it in September. I have a Princeton Review book I'll study."
Though the test prep books are piling on top of his senior classroom textbooks, Stevens does not have much time at his desk before football takes hold once again. Robinson High School plays next Friday (Aug. 19) against Tampa Catholic in a preseason exhibition contest. The next weekend they kick off the regular season. College recruiters and recruiting services from coast to coast will have their eyes on Darrell Stevens, another intriguing story from the storied Sunshine State.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our website, as well as our full-length feature articles in our glossy magazine. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up) and The Bootleg Magazine (sign-up)!