The Big Switch

Of the numerous recruits on hand last month to watch Stanford and Cal battle in the Big Game, one of the most conspicuous was 255-pound Levirt Griffin. The defensive lineman had committed in the summer to the Bears, and he greeted several players as they raced victorious off the field in late November. Few could have imagined that one month later, Griffin would be a Cardinal commit.

One of the hidden details of the 108th Big Game played last month at Stanford Stadium was the presence of four-star defensive end Levirt Griffin in attendance. The 6'4" pass rusher from Modesto (Calif.) High School was offered and pursued by both Stanford and California through the spring of his junior year, when Griffin pulled the trigger with a quick commitment to the Bears in June.

Despite his verbal pledge to their cross-Bay rivals, Stanford continued to recruit the talented student-athlete. Griffin had already taken three unofficial visits to The Farm prior to his Berkeley jump in June, demonstrating his sincere Stanford interest. The Modesto man had some uncertainty, however, regarding his prospective admissions profile for the Cardinal. A strong student in the classroom who took International Baccalaureate classes at his high school, Griffin came up short of his expectations on both the SAT (1620) and ACT (24). A retake of the SAT provided a big boost, to the tune of 200 points, which propelled Griffin's admissions outlook greatly.

At the same time, the Cal commit had some second thoughts about his early college commitment. As he took more trips to the Berkeley campus, he felt some unease.

"I had visited Cal a lot, and at first that was where I wanted to go. Each time that I visited, I liked it," Griffin explains. "The players and coaches were good, but I didn't quite get the right feeling with the overall atmosphere."

Midway through the fall, the hallowed defensive lineman told the Cal coaches of his mounting reservations. He had to take a look at his options anew.

"They were kind of shocked. They said it would have helped if they had known sooner," Griffin says. "After I told them that I had to look around, they said they would also have to look around at my spot to protect them."

Griffin worked on his Stanford admissions application through the fall, and finally completing and submitting it in November. A few weeks later, he received that fateful phone call.

"It didn't take that long. Coach [Walt] Harris called me and told me after he got word from the Admissions Office that I had been accepted," the recruit recalls. "I was really excited because not many people get accepted to Stanford, and it's a great opportunity."

Ironically, Griffin had spent much of that day on Cal's campus before Harris called with the big news. Griffin estimates that in the last six-plus months, he took 10 trips to Berkeley and eight to Stanford. He was determined to make as complete and careful an evaluation as possible of his top two favorites, both academically and athletically.

"When I found out that I was accepted, I knew where was the place for me to go. I didn't say I was committed to Coach Harris right when he called, but he had an idea. I called back and told them the same day," Griffin offers. "I felt like Stanford would be my best option and the best fit for me, after evaluating both schools better."

"I was really comfortable with the whole team aspect. The players felt more welcoming to me," he explains of the Stanford switch. "I like the surrounding area around campus, and the education is of course good, too. I heard good things about the departments I'm interested in, like computer science and business."

Griffin finally reached Cal defensive line coach Ken Delgado yesterday to give the bad news. It was disappointing although not unexpected.

"I had told them a while back that I was looking into other schools," the recruit relates. "They had an idea. It wasn't a shock."

Before you feel too bad for the Bears, they have emerged from the escapade just fine. Griffin's notice prior to his ultimate change in commitment allowed Jeff Tedford to tackle a junior college defensive end, Rulon Davis, who took an official visit and signed an early National Letter of Intent all before Christmas. Ironically, Davis had previously given his verbal commitment to Nebraska - one decommit giving way for another.

For Stanford, this is perhaps the biggest story of this recruiting year to date. Not only is it a coup to take Griffin from the clutches of the Cardinal's oldest rival, but his talent and ratings bring a boost to Stanford's class. Levirt Griffin had been the top overall ranked 2006 verbal commit for Cal, and he now holds that honor for Stanford. Griffin is ranked the #11 defensive end in the nation by Scout.com. He is #1 at his position in the West and the #26 overall player in the 2006 class.

Griffin is a fantastic athlete, with that desired combination of size, speed, quickness and strength. His play on the basketball court for Modesto High School is a window into the quickness of his feet and his leaping ability. At the time of his Cal commitment, he may have been regarded by some observers as "undersized," but that was a mirage. Griffin had a bout with mononucleosis in the spring which brought his weight down to 220 pounds and prevented him from attending invitation combines. He was in fact scheduled to participate in the Scout.com All-American Combine in May held in Memorial Stadium on the Cal campus, before mono wiped him out.

Those who knew Griffin, however, saw from his junior film and his size 18 feet the beginnings of an exciting athlete. He earned offers from half the Pac-10, plus Oklahoma, before he finished his junior year. His recruitment would have been among the most hotly contested out west this fall, had he not made the early pledge in June. Griffin hit the weight room throughout the summer, rising to a more filled-out frame at 255 pounds. By the start of his senior season, he was not only bigger, but he also gained a good deal of strength in his upper and lower body. He power cleaned 285 pounds, benched 315 and squatted 435 - all while increasing his speed and quickness. Despite double-teams and constant attention from opponents' offensive gameplans, Griffin was able to put together a 2005 campaign with 57 tackles and seven sacks. He earned First Team All-League and All-District honors.

Due to both his talent level and the controversy surrounding his zigzag recruitment, the Levirt Griffin story is one that will have fans on both sides of the Bay talking for weeks to come. A sore subject for Cal, but a cause for Cardinal celebration, it adds one more dimension to the heated rivalry that extends well beyond one Saturday in November each year.


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