The summer may be a slow season for football recruiting, in the sense that coaches can neither travel to evaluate nor can they call prospective student-athletes. But some of the biggest events of an entire recruiting cycle happen during these dead months when unofficial visits bring big dogs to The Farm. There may be no bigger visitor than Harrison Smith, who took in three-plus days with his family two weeks ago at Stanford. Not only did both parents of the Knoxville (Tenn.) Catholic High School safety/running back make the trip with the recruit, but also his siblings made the cross-country trek.
"Everybody wanted to see it," Smith says of the Stanford trip. "They all loved it. My sister, who goes to UT, wants to go out there (laughs). Everybody loved it."
The family arrived on Thursday, saw facilities, met coaches and watched the players work out. Friday included meetings with Athletic Director Bill Walsh and President John Hennessy, as well as a tour of campus and time to meet a couple of East Coast freshmen: James Dray and James McGillicuddy. Saturday presented more of the campus and surrounding areas after a breakfast with Walt Harris, Nate Nelson and Matt Weiss. While the scenery was enjoyable, the red-carpet meetings with the power brokers of both the University and the Athletic Department left a lasting impression on the elite recruit.
"It was pretty incredible meeting a Hall of Fame legend like Bill Walsh," Smith says. "He was a real nice guy. He told me everything Stanford has to offer, and how much he loves it at Stanford."
"Coach Harris says that the football team is like a family," the recruit relates. "They're real close. I could tell. They're closer than I could imagine."
"I met with the President in his office," Smith continues. "He didn't talk too much about football. He talked more about academics, and how much the campus enjoys all the sports and supports them. To be honest, I liked to hear about general life on campus. That was another point of view after seeing and hearing so much football."
That, of course, did not keep the 6'2" athlete from paying attention to the football details he took in during his time. Some of the high points:
Stadium construction site - "Thursday we went inside. It'll be very nice. And they have the best grass in the country because of the climate."
Playing time - "Coach Harris never said that I will come in and start. I like that. He said that I have a good chance to contribute early at safety. They have three safeties this year that will graduate. After that, they only have one or two on scholarship."
Academic support - "The professors don't treat you like they do at other campuses. They respect student-athletes at Stanford."
Team chemistry - "The locker room has a bond tighter than anywhere else. You could tell that there are not any cliques. The players all hung out together."
Though it is an old and oft-repeated story, this recruit says he was floored by The Farm.
"It was the nicest campus I've ever seen," Smith declares. "Everything is so clean, and the architecture is great."
Harrison Smith is a hotly contested recruit who owns major offers from all over the country. With great attention has come great scrutiny, and he has carefully protected himself thus far by not naming leaders. Despite all the positives he describes from his Stanford visit, Smith is not issuing any lofty post-visit proclamations for the Cardinal.
"I was impressed by it," he measures. "The players were great - you could tell by the way they interacted with each other. The coaches were great - they put a lot into the visit."
"My family liked it," Smith adds. "They're not trying to keep me or push me away from home. But they love the academics."
"I'll probably won't make my decision until I have seen more schools," the Knoxville standout allows. "I probably have to take a couple more visits."
After all the build-up from his praise, Cardinal fans may feel let down without a punch of proclaimed impact from the four-star recruit ranked by Scout.com as the #16 linebacker prospect in the nation. Smith does say, however, that his multi-day stay at Stanford made up his mind on one important aspect.
"I'm definitely going to fill out the application," he offers with a laugh. "The coaches say you can tell who is serious based on the application."
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