The recruiting twists and turns this month with RB Jason Evans from Kennesaw, Georgia have made his story the most intriguing and yet puzzling of this recruiting class. This comes on two separate fronts: 1) Where the heck really does his recruitment stand today? and 2) How did Stanford lose what seemed like such a good lead on this special tailback?
Well, when there are important questions at the front of Booties' collective mind, that is what prompts me to dig for the story.
So I once again turned to Jason's father, Terry Evans, for some answers.
The short answer on the current state of Jason's recruitment is that while he is committed to Penn State, "Stanford is definitely still right there." He does not describe the recruitment as being truly open, in the sense that it really is a Penn State/Stanford decision right now. Though 'decision' is a strange word to use given that Jason is committed. Based on my conversation, I don't know how to put a percentage on this, but I think it is pretty close to 50/50. And to better understand where Stanford stands with Jason, you have to understand how things played out to get here...
This spring, Stanford really was the overwhelming leader for Jason. The depth chart looks favorable, with just one running back in the prior two classes ahead of Jason's entrance in the fall of 2003, and the Evans believe that the one back is not the same type of back that Jason provides. They should know, given that they watched J.R. Lemon star in the Atlanta area two years ago. The academic appeal of Stanford is unmatched on Jason's list of schools of serious consideration, and the coaching connections are strong. The Evans family has a particularly strong bond with Associate Head Coach David Kelly, but speak well of backs coach Wayne Moses and Head Coach Buddy Teevens. Indeed, Jason's visit to Stanford back in April during spring ball gave him positive exposure to the team, the coaches, the campus and the academics.
Then Jason took a visit to Penn State which he almost skipped on. He saw the campus and had the full tour on Saturday, but Sunday was when things really turned for him. Head Coach Joe Paterno was out of town, but came back Sunday with the stated explicit purpose of meeting and talking with Jason Evans. The two talked at great length one-on-one that morning, and that experience and implicit importance placed on Jason made a world of difference.
Joe Paterno's personal involvement then, and throughout Penn State's recruitment of Jason, has given a 'wow' effect and really impressed upon Jason how much importance they place upon him. In contrast, Jason has read on the message boards of this site how much importance the fans and (he concluded) the coaches appear to place on San Diego star running back Reggie Bush in this class. The tide was shifting.
I do not know how this was achieved, but Penn State has also convinced Jason Evans that he has a greater chance for early playing time with the Nittany Lions.
A legendary head coach who has produced some of the most elite running backs of the last decade takes personal involvement and tells a kid that he is their future and the one guy they want to come to State and play right away. Pretty powerful stuff.
But the undercurrent that additionally hurt Stanford while Penn State made such a splash was the admissions process. Jason submitted his application in early July, as then reported to me by Terry Evans, but a counselor at Jason's school did not have a transcript yet in. By the time his school finished sending in the rest of the application, it was later in July, but the Evans had perceived the 'clock' as starting when they fired off Jason's end of the application. Additionally, a goof-up sent an incomplete transcript to Stanford missing Jason's last semester of grades, which meant the 'clock' could not even start at Stanford to review his application when they received it. This all happened during the one time of the summer when much of the Stanford Admissions staff takes their vacations, and that exacerbated the delays. When some folks returned and discovered the incomplete application, more time was lost. All the while, Jason Evans is sweating his Stanford application and a non-answer that was stretching into forever for him.
As an important backdrop, consider that Jason's older brother went through a Stanford admissions odyssey of his several years back, and it ended badly. Jason also has had a close friend who waited out the tense anticipation of a Stanford admissions decision, only to be denied. This was a process filled with negative vibes from Jason's experiences, for sure.
Finally, know that Jason's rising senior classmates on his high school team had made a pact to all be committed to their schools of choice before the start of their senior season. The three other D-I recruits were done for Maryland, Carolina and Georgia, but only Jason remained unfinished. The pressure was on to get it done for him.
Now layer the big splash from Paterno and Penn State on top of Stanford admissions uncertainty and fear, coupled with local and peer pressure to get to a final answer. Oh, and both of Jason's parents were out of town, and Jason found himself on the phone when a recruiting service called him. What was his decision? He blurted out Penn State for the first time. He had not verbalized anything to a friend, teammate, coach, counselor or parent about a Penn State commitment before then, but it came out nonetheless. Even Penn State was surprised to hear the news through the Internet grapevine - he had not told them this yet. But he said what he said, and it reflected the confluence of all these factors.
Stanford was simultaneously correcting the admissions delays and getting the complete transcript to allow for a decision on his application. Terry communicated to me that Jason did indeed receive the thumbs up from Stanford admissions, and now he is in a position to know that he has a straight decision between the two schools - no uncertainty about Stanford admittance weighs on him at this point. Nevertheless, he emotionally reached a point where he decided that Penn State would be best for him, and Stanford is scrambling to recover from that blow.
Where this will end up, I do not know. But do not take Jason's statements in those Internet interviews saying that his recruitment is done at face value. That was the only answer he could give. But as Terry Evans said, "This thing is far from over."
One final note of interest: more offers have come in for Jason even after his Penn State verbal announcement. The most interesting of which was a handwritten offer from Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, expressing in detail how Jason's skills would fit into their offense. I mention this only to paint the context of the additional pressure still weighing on Jason from all places, as well as the awesome national regard in which Jason is held by the best programs in college football.