Signing Day drama is nothing new to Cardinalmaniacs™. Take these events that closed in the final 24 hours before Stanford's press release hit the wires with their recruiting crop:
2000: Defensive back Oshiomogho Atogwe was given a scholarship and admitted to Stanford as an 11th hour addition to the class. A complete surprise that underwhelmed and disappointed most observers, Atogwe turned out to be one of Stanford's best defensive performers of the last decade... But the press release you saw on Signing Day was incomplete, with two megastar recruits still uncommitted and unsigned for another three weeks. Quarterback Teyo Johnson and linebacker Amon Gordon were added to the class in late February, giving Stanford fans their first ever publicly extended drama beyond Signing Day. This would be trumped many-fold five years later.
2003: Though they made their commitment announcements a few days earlier, both wide receiver Mark Bradford and linebacker Michael Okwo were late in submitting their admissions applications to Stanford. The Admissions Office hurried the process, but decisions were not rendered for the two Cardinal hopefuls until midday. Bradford and Okwo were both elite recruits with their pick of schools, including USC. The Trojans rang Bradford on the phone regularly during Signing Day to try and entice him to take the path of least resistance and sign with USC. He held out for his Stanford admission. Okwo's faxing of his Letter of Intent came so late that Stanford's press conference was delayed that afternoon.
2004: Unlike the above years, this one was full of disappointment for the Cardinal recruits who went down to the wire. Five-star defensive tackle Franklin Okam, who was a freshman All-American in 2004 and started for the national champion Texas Longhorns in 2005, took a surprise official visit to Stanford the weekend before Signing Day and agonized over a decision between the Cardinal and the Longhorns. Recruiting experts all over the nation were blindsided by Stanford's surge into the equation, but it mattered not for The Farm's faithful. Okam opted to stay close to his mother and committed to Texas late the night before Signing Day... Defensive tackle/end Ted Bentler was a four-star prize who committed to Iowa at the beginning of his junior year, an event almost unheard of in football recruiting. Yet he flew out for Stanford's Junior Day that spring and applied to the school. He was accepted and took an official visit in early January that completely eluded by the Hawkeyes and the recruiting services. His decision went deep into the eve of Signing Day, and like Okam he opted against Stanford.
2005: Making up for the previous year's Signing Day defensive line disappointments, Stanford earned a big late addition when consensus All-American defensive tackle Ekom Udofia announced live on ESPN2 on the eve of Signing Day that he would compete as a Cardinal. While Udofia's older brother and older sister both matriculated at The Farm, he was chased by every top program in the nation. His final announcement picked Stanford over USC and Miami, a very public and celebrated victory for the Cardinal... The drama that continued to unfold on Signing Day, and the days, weeks and months that followed, was like none other we have seen. The story behind tight end Erik Lorig is still too convoluted to describe with any brevity here, but the swings and rumors that followed long after Signing Day are the stuff of legend. He ultimately committed to Stanford in late May, after the National Letter of Intent signing period closed.
Stanford has been sitting on 16 commitments for more than a week now in 2006, after the Cardinal nailed down a pair of official visitors during their second and final weekend hosting recruits in January. Since then, there has been nothing in the way of verbal commitment activity, either positive or negative for the Cardinal.
Now we are witnessing a flurry of activity that transpired Tuesday and will continue today on Signing Day. Stanford has held four recruits remaining on their board, with sizable mysteries surrounding three of them. The least puzzling of the quartet was finally resolved Tuesday when Joe Dembesky was admitted to Stanford. The 6'5" offensive tackle recruit from Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian School was offered by the Cardinal in early January and told us that Stanford immediately rose to the position of his top college favorite. Northwestern also tendered a January offer, but Dembesky declared that he would rather attend Harvard, should he not pass successfully through Stanford's admissions application process.
Dembesky completed his application last week and found out Tuesday that he had been admitted. With his reported 3.75 GPA and 1940 on the new SAT (1310 on the old scale), we did not honestly hold much suspense or doubt of his admission. Stranger things have happened in the mysterious black box of Admissions, but Dembesky looked probable for good news. With that finally and officially in hand on Tuesday, the SoCal offensive lineman can be confidently counted as Stanford's 17th addition to this class.
Dembesky is relatively unheralded by recruiting services, only lately adding weight to his long and lean frame. If the Cardinal coaches made the right call on him, then he is an important addition to this class. He joins John Kyed as just the second offensive tackle for the Cardinal in 2006, and just the third combined tackle in the last two years.
Scout.com Southern California recruiting analyst Brandon Huffman was able to evaluate film of Dembesky in the last few days and offered up praise.
"He plays with a mean streak. He's not a softy," says Huffman. "And he has good footwork. He's got good size and good speed. He was the left tackle for Oaks, so he was responsible for protecting Jimmy Clausen's blindside, which has to account for something since Clausen rarely was sacked."
We confirmed Dembesky's delight via his mother on Tuesday, but another piece of big news to hit late is less verified as this article "goes to press." We heard from sources Tuesday that running back Tyrone McGraw was admitted by Stanford. He has been patiently waiting as the next in line for a Stanford scholarship, and a new development appears to have provided his opening. Our efforts to reach McGraw Tuesday evening were unsuccessful, but we will bring you his words and reactions today on his exciting news.
The 5'9" burner from San Francisco (Calif.) Archbishop Riordan High School has been a quiet recruit through most of this year, due to both his diminutive stature and his declared desire to attend a top academic institution for college. McGraw committed to Harvard, though with the understanding that he would bolt for Stanford if given the opportunity. One of the fastest high schoolers in Northern California, McGraw won the 200m and took second place by one-hundredth of a second in the 100m as a junior in the CIF Central Coast Section championships. McGraw is an explosive little athlete who also possesses great hands out of the backfield. McGraw may or may not have the size and strength to run the ball at the Pac-10 level, but he could also help at receiver, defensive back or on special teams with his burners.
He is also one of the nicest and warmest kids you will ever meet, in recruiting or any other domain, despite growing up in hardship and tragedy. The speed and smiles this young man would bring to Stanford have made him a cult favorite of Cardinalmaniacs™.
As the dawn rises on Signing Day, we expect a wild Wednesday. Two burly blue chip linemen could become Cardinal commitments today, one from inside the state and one from two time zones away. The Golden State standout is defensive tackle Sione Fua, who has gone through enough twists and contortions in the past week to earn him a spot alongside Johnny Weir in Italy this month. His list of five is now down to three, and the four-star 6'2" 290-pounder from Encino (Calif.) Crespi Carmelite will choose tonight from Stanford, Oregon and BYU. Fua is announcing at 6:30 PM (Pacific) on FSN West during the "Southern California Sports Report" Signing Day hour-long special.
Another recruiting service called Tuesday that Fua is committing to BYU. Stanford's own fans on our premium message board have him most likely heading to Oregon.
Fua is Mormon, and his LDS faith is strong enough that he rebuked USC - twice - when they were ready to offer and take him, if and only if he would not take his Mormon mission. The Trojans were Fua's dream destination, which speaks loudly to the foremost importance of his religion in his life. That argues for the Cougars. On the other hand, Fua has been glowing since he returned from his fourth and final official visit to Eugene two weekends ago. The Ducks were sitting low on his list prior to that trip but quickly quacked into a favorite role. Not only does Fua give them top marks for his football criteria, but he also was impressed by the Mormon presence on the Oregon team and in the surrounding community.
Whither Stanford? Despite all the above, I will argue that the Card could come out on top this evening. The momentum for Stanford has been strong since Fua found a boost in his SAT score at the end of 2005 and was admitted to The Farm in the early days of 2006. His attitude toward Stanford has changed markedly, and that was most evident after his official visit. He reported that it became abundantly clear how far ahead the Cardinal were academically of his other favorites. The importance of education to both Fua and his parents cannot be understated, and he hinted to us in our last interview with him that academics could be the clinching criterion in his final decision.
The other preeminent prize on the horizon for Stanford on this day is Jenks (Okla.) High School offensive lineman Chase Beeler. At the (apparent) end of a long battle between Stanford and Oklahoma, the 6'4" 278-pound interior lineman made a pledge to the Sooners on New Year's Eve. Oklahoma pressed for his decision at that time, and he took the plunge with what he thought best for him and his family. The pressure for him to stay in-state is great inside his home.
Beeler soon thereafter grew unsure of his decision and has been quietly engaged with the Stanford coaches in further recruiting dialog the last few weeks. The label of "student-athlete" is casually attached to hundreds of football recruits, but Beeler is the best of his breed. He has rewritten the weight lifting record book at his school, which is the power in Oklahoma high school football, but he is equally gifted in his brain as his biceps. Beeler scored a 33 on the ACT as a junior and can run circles around his peers on a breadth of topics for contemporary debate. To say that he is in the throes of a difficult decision, balancing his head and his heart, is an understatement.
As of this morning, our sources indicate that Beeler is still working toward a decision between his respective suitors from the Pac-10 and Big 12. A fax could come over the wire to Palo Alto or Norman, literally any minute. Though Stanford has landed four commitments on the offensive line in this class, Beeler would be considered the crown jewel with his strength, technique and deep understanding of his position.
Stay tuned throughout today and tonight for the final results in all of these late stories, as well as more coverage of the Cardinal's recruiting class in the days to come. Nobody on the planet can touch the recruiting insight and intel here at The Bootleg. Make sure you take some time today to peruse the volumes of information on Stanford's commits in this class, as we bring you closer to the next wave of impact players on The Farm.
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