It took a little bit of guts, or possibly a bigger picture view of his college recruiting decision, for Matthew Masifilo to move ahead with his official visit to Stanford this past weekend. The four-star defensive tackle from Ewa Beach (Hawaii) Campbell High School is rated #23 in the nation by Scout.com and has his pick of places where he can spend the next four or five years. Just four days before his scheduled trip to The Farm, Masifilo watched as Cardinal head coach Walt Harris was fired. That would be cause enough for many recruits to cancel or postpone their official visit. Taking your one shot at a paid visit across the ocean without a head coach - or for that matter, any semblance of a coaching staff - at the school for your visit weekend is on paper quite a gamble. Was that not enough to shake Masifilo and have him move his visit to another time when the new regime is in place?
"No, not really," Masifilo explains. "Before I knew the coaches, I really liked the school itself. Before all of this football recruiting, I went to a couple of Stanford seminars where the academic recruiters go out, and I listened to what the school is all about. I really liked the school before football became a factor."
"What I found that is more important than the coaches is the relationship with the team and the players on the team. Those are the guys who will be there no matter what happens," he says. "No matter who gets fired, those guys are going to all be there. It's critical that you can see yourself playing and doing almost anything with these guys."
Masifilo also took the firing news in stride, understanding it as part of the business. He has in fact managed to find a silver lining in the timing of the transition.
"I maybe talked with Walt Harris three or four times throughout the whole process. I didn't really know him that well," the recruit reveals. "I talked with Coach Buzz Preston the most out of all of them. He was my recruiter. The firing of him is another day in college football, I guess. It's unfortunate that it happened, but I'm glad that it happened now rather than a year into my career - if I do go to Stanford - because it's better to start off fresh with a new head coach than to experience a coaching change during your college career. I'm pretty sure that Bob Bowlsby will get a great coach. From what he described, I'm sure that he will find one. The Iowa coach that he hired 10 or so years ago is still there, so hopefully the coach that he finds will stay there for quite a while."
This was not Masifilo's time on The Farm. He attended Stanford's Junior Day in May, and then a month later he returned for two days of football camp.
"I loved the campus," Masifilo remembers. "I was already familiar with the area. A lot of my family lives in the surrounding area, so I'll be comfortable there. I'll have family around if I need anything. The way the school lays out, I really like it."
"The coaches that were there were good," he continues. "I learned a lot from Coach [Dave] Tipton. Hopefully he'll stay. I know that he's been there 18 years already, so he has a pretty good chance of staying within the coaching staff. But you never know. I learned a lot from him in two days. I was able to be coached by him quite easily."
What new did the hallowed Hawaiian hope to learn on this official visit?
"It was just about meeting the team. Sometimes you can't click. Sometimes the players of the team don't match your personality," Masifilo offers. "The guys on the team lived up to what I had heard - great character, good people."
The point man who helped introduce Masifilo to the Stanford team was freshman nose tackle Sione Fua. This time a year ago, Fua was taking a look at the Cardinal and deciding whether to become the first Tongan-American varsity student-athlete at Stanford. Fua was cognizant of his opportunity to break ground and pave the way hopefully for other Polynesians to follow. This past weekend in hosting Masifilo (father from Tonga and mother from Kauai), Fua had his chance.
"He's a funny guy - a great guy," Masifilo says of Fua. "He showed me the dorms and we pretty much hung out. We went around in the golf cart [laughs] - all over campus and visited a lot of people. It was fun... I just asked him about the area - nothing really specific. I just asked him how he felt going to school, if what he expected was what he got and that kind of stuff. He seems happy where he's at. He didn't say anything negative about Stanford."
"I got along with the team well overall," he adds. "I got along really well with all of the players, so I can see myself being there on the team. I wouldn't have any problems with that, I don't think."
Masifilo was accompanied on the trip by both parents as well. Stanford does very well with parents who do not harbor distance anxiety, and with Masifilo considering a final list of schools that all are on the mainland, it was unsurprising that his parents gave the trip positive reviews.
"They liked it," the son says. "They liked the faculty, the athletic director, the coaches and the players."
There was something out of place for Masifilo during his visit weekend, however. He says that it was not the absence of Cardinal coaches, but rather the different environment in which he was hosted. Previous official visits took him to Oregon when they played Washington (Nov. 4), Washington when they played Stanford (Nov. 11) and Cal when they played Stanford (Dec. 2). His visit to The Farm was held in a football vacuum, so to speak.
"This trip was a lot different, on top of the coach not being there," Masifilo explains. "This is the first trip I have taken when there wasn't a game going on, so that was already different. Nate Nelson, the recruiting coordinator, was there and the athletic director was there, so it didn't really seem like the coaches weren't there. But from the beginning it was different, so the coaches not being there wasn't a big difference because it would have already different even if the coaches were there."
It was a minor surprise for the four-star standout to take his fourth, final and (in some observers' eyes) most valued official visit without a head coach. Ever since Allen Wallace's report in late November, when Masifilo was quoted as calling the Cardinal his "number one choice," the speculation has been that Stanford is in the driver's seat with this race. Masifilo is a student-athlete interested in studying engineering, with a focus at home on academic excellence. He gained admission to Stanford in early November, which set the wheels in motion.
That left some of us asking the unthinkable question: could Matthew Masifilo consider a Cardinal commitment while on his official visit?
"No, not at all," he replies. "Throughout this process, I have known that your view on a school is different there, and then you have a new perspective when you get back home. All of the excitement goes down, and you can look at the school for what it really is, different from being there and being given the red carpet treatment. I had no intention of making any commitment on any trip."
Since his report with Allen Wallace, Masifilo has become more guarded in his interviews. He has subsequently denied any leader, and in speaking with The Bootleg, he was adamant that all of his favorites "are on equal playing fields now." The only exception being that Oregon was cut from his final list earlier this week. They do not offer an engineering curriculum, which ultimately was a deal-breaker for Masifilo.
While deflecting talk of Stanford sitting in a leadership position, Masifilo is focused on the transition and upheaval in the Cardinal Football program. Much talk during the weekend surrounded the future rather than the past, with first-year athletic director Bob Bowlsby drawing the road map.
"The only bad thing I could say is that they went 1-11 this year," Masifilo says. "But with the athletic director, I'm pretty sure... [fades] The talent is there. I know that there are a lot of talented guys already there. Hopefully the athletic director will get a new coach who can start off fresh and get things going again. Stanford had a lot of success in the past. I'm glad that the athletic director is not accepting this record at all. He said straight out that a football program at Stanford with the reputation of Stanford's athletic department has to be a success. He won't settle for anything but success. He won't stop until he gets there. I'm pretty confident that he'll get the right guy in to do the job, and that with the talent they have on the team, they hopefully can find success."
This week for Masifilo was filled with his fall semester final exams at Campbell High School. He says that next week will begin the deliberations between him and his parents on the decision between Stanford, Cal and Washington. There are also in-home visits by coaches from those three schools, including the solo visit allowed by the NCAA for each school's head coach. Tyrone Willingham of the Huskies came through Ewa Beach previously, and Jeff Tedford of Cal made an island appearance this week. The coach-less Cardinal are obviously still to come.
With his official visits all finished, Masifilo might seem ready for a college commitment before the holidays. He may have to delay his decision past what was originally planned, however.
"I want to wait and see who is the coach at Stanford," Masifilo maintains. "Although coaching is not a good point to make a solid decision on because it can go, I also want to talk with the new coaches and see if I get along with them because those are the guys who will be teaching me everything. That's the head coach, but also my position coach. If Coach Tipton is invited back onto the staff, then that will be great.
"It's the chemistry and fit," he explains. "Can I see myself being coached by this guy? Will I be able to learn from this person? It's just like at school, where different teachers have different demeanors. Some people learn well from certain teachers, and some don't. I just want to make sure my chemistry with the coaches are good."
Masifilo is a man chomping at the bit to begin work with college coaching. Scout.com's #3 player in Hawaii was poised for a big senior season before he was sidelined with a dislocated and hyper extended elbow. Campbell only played eight games this season, and Masifilo made it through just three before being injured. In those early games, he played primarily offense, which was further frustrating for what he hoped to show on defense. He says that he played a mere three to five plays of defense in the opening contests.
"It's frustrating to not play in the games, and it's frustrating because I wasn't able to really prove myself to everyone," he bemoans. "For the people who have me highly rated, I didn't have the chance to show them why. That's just another reason to go out harder in college my freshman year and show everyone why I was recruited so much and prove that I deserve it. I'm eager to get to the college of my choice, work hard every day and show people how I can play."
While his senior season was a disappointment, college coaches have not slowed their pursuit of the Aloha State standout. The battle between his final three schools remains intense, making this one of the most important recruiting stories to monitor in the coming days and weeks. Stanford is expected to have its head coach hired by early next week, which could set in motion the final stages of this saga. Stay tuned.
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