More than two hours after closing his press conference to discuss the 17 high school seniors who had signed National Letters of Intent for Stanford, head coach Walt Harris and the Cardinal coaches sat down to watch #18 roll in Wednesday evening. Sione Fua called late Tuesday night to tell Stanford that he would announce his commitment to them during the Signing Day television special, but there are numerous infamous examples of parallel recruiting situations which have turned suddenly in the 11th hour before a Signing Day announcement. It was with great relief and celebration that the Cardinal coaches heard their name uttered by Scout.com's #17 defensive tackle in the nation Wednesday evening on Fox Sports West. The 6'2" 290-pound defensive tackle selected Stanford over Oregon and BYU in his final decision. He also fielded offers from the likes of Cal, UCLA, Arizona, Maryland, Boston College, Tennessee and LSU.
Fua cited Stanford's academics, to nobody's surprise, while also talking excitedly about a football program on the rise.
"Stanford is an up and coming program and coach Walt Harris has a great reputation," Fua said of his decision. "Academics was the main thing I was looking at. I wanted to go some place where if I didn't play football, I would still want to go to school. This opens up a lot of doors for me."
The Cardinal graduated three senior stalwarts on the defensive line this year, which leaves a wide open depth chart across all three positions for the fall. While not a good thing for the 2006 season, it can be good for 2006 recruiting. Fua believes as much, forecasting significant playing time as a true freshman this fall.
One of the key discussion points for Fua's recruitment in recent weeks has been his Mormon mission, which he plans on taking after his first year of college. That was a deal-breaker for USC, who for the second time danced tantalizingly with an offer for Fua. The Encino (Calif.) Crespi Carmelite High School senior would have snatched up a ride from the Trojans in a heartbeat, if not for their resolute declaration against taking a mission. The two-year break for Fua's missionary travel and service is an interruption to his contributions to any program, and that will be the case for the Cardinal. Many observers have assumed that Fua could redshirt his first year, as happens for the majority of freshmen, which would delay his debut on the field until the 2009 season.
But a player with Fua's talent - and it is a load of talent in his case - could instead play as a true freshman, take his two-year mission, and then take a redshirt season upon his return if needed to regain conditioning. Given Stanford's abject lack of experience on their defensive line, the opportunity is very much available. The Cardinal coaches and Fua both recognize his talent - quick feet, quick hands, power and the balance you would expect from a top-flight wrestler. Fua is very well put together and an excellent athlete. He is focused and driven. Put the need and ability together, and you realize that Fua was not puffing smoke when he spoke about playing early on The Farm.
Though his addition was the last for Stanford on Signing Day, Sione Fua is hardly an afterthought in this recruiting class. He is a First Team All-State (medium schools) performer in California and a prep All-American. Fua is rated at four stars by Scout.com and ranked the #33 overall prospect in California for the 2006 class, as well as the #40 overall recruit in the West region.
While Stanford found its fourth defensive lineman for this 2006 recruiting class on Signing Day, they remained at four for their offensive line haul. The last hope to close a quintet was quashed when Jenks (Okla.) High School interior lineman Chase Beeler quietly signed his Letter of Intent for the in-state Sooners. Beeler committed to Oklahoma on New Year's Eve but retraced his path through most of January and was actively engaged with Stanford all the way through Tuesday. Pressure from the recruit's mother against her son leaving home was significant, and the three-star lineman stuck with the Sooners.
The Cardinal could still add a 19th signee to this class in San Francisco (Calif.) Riordan High School standout Tyrone McGraw. The 5'9" running back received Stanford's latest and last scholarship offer Tuesday evening, fulfilling his self-reported "dream." The absence of a signed Letter of Intent in Stanford's fax machine Wednesday from McGraw was the biggest surprise of the day. His story will continue on Thursday, and maybe beyond. We have the full details to come in a follow-up report, after speaking with the speedster late Wednesday night. Stay tuned.
Some additional Signing Day news and notes:
- The very first NLoI to reach Stanford's fax machine on Wednesday hit at 4:04 AM. It came from the Cardinal's Canadian commitment, defensive end Brian Bulcke. Walt Harris praised Bulcke as an aggressive competitor, who wanted to be the first to fax his way into this class, just as he pushes himself in the weight room and hones his craft on the practice field.
- Absent a signed paper from McGraw, the entire Stanford recruiting class is built of athletes north of 6'0". That is a rare thing for any program, and it may never have happened before in Stanford's history.
- It will take months before we know where some of Wednesday's signees line up on the field for the Cardinal, including several skill athletes who could play at wide receiver or defensive back. Five of those players were listed as wideouts officially by Stanford in Wednesday's press release, though undoubtedly one or more from that group will take their first snap on defense in training camp come August. Whichever side of the ball calls that quintet, they bring size to Stanford. Those five athletes have an average height of 6'3".
- Speaking of height, Maryland offensive lineman Andrew Phillips was listed at 6'5". Offensive tackles/tight ends coach Jon McDonell opined that Phillips could see his first work on the Stanford offensive line at tackle, while we have been assuming him to be a guard.
- The most intriguing signee in this class remains Toby Gerhart, for his two-sport future and heady national numbers and accolades in both football and baseball. A Parade All-American in football who shattered the California all-time career rushing record, Gerhart is also a premier centerfielder who ranks as one of the top 50 high school baseball prospects in the nation. His recruitment was a combined effort from Walt Harris and Mark Marquess, and we today learned the early plan for how the two Stanford programs will share Gerhart's talents. The fall is for football, of course, but Harris said that Gerhart in his first year will spend the spring with the baseball team. That is an extraordinary concession on Harris' part, and not one he would give lightly, which speaks to the value and respect the football coach holds for his running back. Harris also said that Gerhart will spend the following summer playing baseball locally rather than in one of the remote regional summer leagues in Alaska, Cape Cod, etc. Staying locally for his summer baseball would allow Gerhart to simultaneously work with the football team during their voluntary practices and conditioning.
- As Wednesday turned into Thursday, the updated Scout.com team recruiting rankings slotted Stanford with the 37th best recruiting class in the country this year. Given the pool that was available in 2006, many observers forecasted worse, but the Cardinal will want to produce better next year, for sure.
- The only position coach for Stanford who did not participate in the Signing Day festivities in the late afternoon, as the class was presented to boosters, staff and friends of the program, was defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Tom Hayes. There was a report last week that Hayes joined the New Orleans Saints under new head coach Sean Payton. Hayes denied the report and continued working with the Cardinal, though he could be headed to the NFL soon. It is noteworthy that Hayes worked under Gary Gibbs, the Saints' new defensive coordinator, for four years at Oklahoma in 1991-94. Walt Harris did not comment on Hayes on Wednesday, but he did remark on the subject of junior recruiting for the 2007 class: "The challenge there is the continuity you have on your staff, so that you have the same guys in the same areas."
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)!