Of all the surprises you could have anticipated on Signing Day, none of them involved Tyrone McGraw holding back as the last signee in this 2006 Cardinal recruiting class. The 5'9" running back from San Francisco (Calif.) Archbishop Riordan High School received an 11th hour offer from Stanford, his self-professed "dream" school, Tuesday evening but did not make his college commitment until Thursday evening. McGraw is a local kid who always wanted to go to Stanford, but absent that opportunity through all but the final few hours of the recruiting year, he had given a verbal commitment to Harvard.
"Coach Tipton told me that I was accepted to the school and that I had a Stanford offer," McGraw details. "I was all excited."
Jazzed and jubilant, the San Franciscan was also dizzy from the late-hour offer. He frankly did not expect it to happen, which made it more difficult for him to react as we might have expected to the news.
"By this point, right before Signing Day, I did not think that the offer would come through. Coach Tipton had even told me to put in the papers for financial aid," McGraw explains. "I thought: I guess I'm going to Harvard. I was in the process of accepting my fate. This is where you're going to go. Look at the positives. I had it in my mind that I was probably going to Harvard."
The Cardinal coaches asked him to fax in his signed National Letter of Intent by noon. There was a scheduled Walt Harris press conference at Stanford for 3:30 PM on Wednesday to discuss the signing class with the local media, and the accompanying press release was being prepared.
"I just wanted to carefully think things out," McGraw maintains. "20 hours was not enough time to think out a decision that would impact the rest of my life. Many people might see it as a no-brainer, but I wanted to make sure what was best for me."
"My coaches and counselors tell me that I'm a big analyzer. I always like to make sure I have all the facts straight," he continues. "I had 1,001 different people tell me 1,001 different ways to go. Some people gave me good advice, but I see people's biases. My coach wanted me to go to Stanford, and that would have been a feather in his cap to have his player at a big program like that even though we had such a bad season. Our development director could push Stanford, but he is thinking of donations to Riordan down the road, and Stanford keeps me nearby with a better career network in this area."
McGraw also wanted to examine the financial aspects of both his options. Harvard had not yet produced a final number on his financial package, though that changed in short order. Once he let the Crimson coaches know Tuesday night that he had a Stanford scholarship offer on the eve of Signing Day, their financial aid office moved heaven and earth to process his paperwork and come back with an answer: $41,500 per year. That was nearly a full ride, and when combined with other local scholarships McGraw had earned on his own (i.e. Olympic Club, National Football Foundation), he would not pay a dime at Harvard.
Then somebody at McGraw's school asked him what would happen to his scholarship on The Farm if he should be injured. Could that make Stanford's financial support actually less powerful than Harvard's. Of course, it took only one phone call for him to learn the answer, that Stanford would support him through injury thick and thin for at least four years, as has always been their policy.
"Then it hit me at 11 o'clock. I had an hour to decide my choice for the next four years," the recruit recounts. "At noon, I said that I was still thinking about Harvard. I had been so emotionally prepared for Harvard for so long. I just wasn't ready to totally change that so fast. I talked to Coach Tipton, and I also talked with Coach Harris. I asked them for more time. They told me at 3:15 to call back."
"I talked to people. I gave myself some 'alone time.' I didn't know what I wanted to do," McGraw continues. "I had to go hide away. I kept thinking and thinking. I only went to like one and a half classes all day."
The next deadline came and went, and Walt Harris gave his Signing Day press conference, unable to comment on the speedy tailback from San Francisco who had yet to send a fax to The Farm. Meanwhile, he was receiving text messages from Tipton and from recruiting coordinator Nate Hackett. An outside observer might have expected the Cardinal coaches to pressure McGraw. After all, he was an 11th hour offeree who was waiting longer than 17 other scholarship recipients in the class, almost all of whom had higher profile recruitments with competing scholarship offers to weigh. Instead, Hackett and Tipton were gentle and encouraging. McGraw read to us some of what he received from Hackett:
Tyrone, you can take your time. The scholarship is yours. It will be there for you... You are the man. We want you bad.
As day turned to night and it became clear that McGraw would sign and send no fax that day, there were whispers of concern that this could be the next Erik Lorig saga. An intellectual kid who thought so deeply and carefully about his options that he could not come to a decision, outthinking himself. But at the end of Wednesday night, McGraw was moving in a direction and had a plan to finish this quickly.
"I know Stanford wants to get this done, and I want to get this done," he told The Bootleg. "I think I would like to visit Stanford again by the end of the week - but without telling anybody about it. When I visited before, I didn't feel like I gave it a good enough chance. I didn't know how much Stanford wanted me at that time."
McGraw made his surreptitious trip to The Farm on Thursday, starting at 2 PM. He planned on walking around the campus and talking to random students and passers-by until 3:30 PM. He put enough change into his parking meter for 90 minutes.
"I was walking back at 3:45, and who did I run into? Isaac Johnson. He's half-Chinese, half-African-American and graduated from Riordan last year," McGraw says. "On a campus as huge as Stanford's, what are the chances that I run into him like that?"
The running back recruit ended up staying at Stanford until 7:00 PM Thursday. He talked with a range of people, covering different fields of study and ethnicities. He then knew what to do.
"It was an awesome experience," McGraw maintains. "I talked to random people I didn't know. Some were African-American, some were other races. I talked to one girl who was pre-medical studying human biology, which is what I'll probably end up studying."
After arriving home that evening, McGraw made the call to Dave Tipton with his Cardinal commitment. First thing this morning at his school, he faxed his Letter of Intent from his counselor's office.
"Part of my problem is that I'm too analytical. I knew a lot of factors were important to me, but I didn't know which was the most important," he says. "I figured that out today."
McGraw delivered to The Bootleg a four-pronged philosophy for how he lives his life, which fit with his Stanford decision. It was profound and well articulated, but also too lengthy for these pages. One excerpt is representative, however, of his mindset.
"My godfather taught me never to be satisfied. That's the Jerry Rice and Michael Jordan thing," says the San Francisco student-athlete. "I want to challenge myself the most I can, to get the most out of me. That is how I will come closest to my potential."
"I have always wanted to be the top scholar-athlete I can be," McGraw explains. "By studying with the most intelligent minds in the world, and competing in the Pac-10 for football, I can be the best at Stanford."
"When I first made the decision that I wanted to go to a top academic school, I had to ask myself if I could compete with the brain power of the people at Stanford. They explained to me that Stanford only accepts the people who they know can do the work, which was really important to hear," he continues. "Then I had to ask myself for Stanford if I could compete athletically in the Pac-10. They told me that they wouldn't give me $45,000 a year to sit on the bench. I told myself, 'You can do this, Tyrone.'"
Tyrone McGraw is the 19th and final member of the 2006 recruiting class to sign with Stanford. At 5'9" and 173, he may look small and out of place in the Pac-10. But he has a big heart, and speed to match as arguably the fastest prep in Northern California. McGraw could play running back, wide receiver or cornerback for Stanford. All three positions are in great need for the Cardinal, in both number of bodies and in speed. Almost certainly he will have a chance to make an impact on special teams in the return game, as well.
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