The last time we talked with Chicagoland tight end Coby Fleener, the Joliet (Ill.) Catholic Academy standout was in a state of Stanford flux. The Cardinal had scarcely let the ink dry on a new scholarship offer to Fleener before they fired head coach Walt Harris. The three-star tight end surprisingly took his official visit the second weekend of December to The Farm.
A little over a week later, the Cardinal hired a new head coach in Jim Harbaugh, but not until after the start of a four-week NCAA recruiting dead period that precludes Harbaugh and other college coaches from visiting a prospective student-athlete like Fleener at his home or his school. Fleener had previously expressed an interest in hurrying his college decision before the holidays. The Stanford visit apparently changes his plans, and Scout.com's #37-ranked tight end is still contemplating schools in the New Year. He has made progress in narrowing his broad school list, however.
"I have started to tell some schools no," Fleener says. "At this point, I have pretty whittled it down to a top five to seven - in that region. The two that definitely stand out are Stanford and Nebraska. Arkansas is still recruiting me, even though they haven't offered yet. They still text message quite a bit. Other schools who have offered include Missouri, UConn and Kansas, and I'm having them stick around to see what happens. We'll see how things go. Northwestern is another school who could offer and possibly jump in the mix pretty quick here."
An important step for Fleener with Stanford was completing and submitting their admissions application. The man from the Land on Lincoln was a late find for the Cardinal and most Division I programs after his breakout senior season, and Stanford put the application in his hands only days before his official visit.
"The application is in Stanford's hands. It's all done," Fleener reports. "I got it to them a while ago, but the deans of admissions were also on break until early January. I think they're back, so we could find out here in the next week whether or not I get accepted."
"The application was relatively what I expected," he comments. "I didn't really have any trouble filling in anything. The essays were obviously the hardest part. The hardest part about them was writing and rewriting to make them sound the best possible."
The other matter at hand for Fleener is getting to know a new Cardinal head coach. Stanford also looks to have a new tight ends coach as well. Changing those two people just weeks before Signing Day is ostensibly a mark against the Pac-10 suitor, but Fleener says that it has not had a deleterious effect. Ironically, Stanford found Fleener so late that there was little established relationship between him and the old staff. Thus, there is no great emotional damage done.
"It was a really interesting situation," he explains. "Going into this, I knew obviously that Coach Harris' job was in question. Unfortunately, I didn't get to meet Coach Harris. I only got to talk to him once, so I wasn't that connected to him. When the coaching change happened, I was still very impressed with Stanford, the school, athletically and overall academically. When I visited, I was impressed even more. With the hiring of Jim Harbaugh, who was a Midwestern NFL player in Chicago and Indianapolis and all that, I was impressed with that. I just felt that I clicked with Coach Harbaugh as soon as we talked on the phone. I was very impressed."
"I think he projects me as all of the other schools do: a receiving tight end who can also block," Fleener offers on Harbaugh's evaluation of him. "My ability to stretch the field is what I think really sets me apart from a lot of other tight ends. I think that is what is most impressive to him - my ability run really fast and still block when needed. I think that really fits into his West Coast Offense ideas. He said he was really impressed with my overall athleticism through basketball and football."
Fleener also talks with two other coaches on the Cardinal staff - one old and one new - in addition to Harbaugh.
"I've talked to Coach [Tim] Drevno, who is going to be the tight ends coach. I have also talked with Coach [Nate] Nelson, the recruiting coordinator," the recruit reports. "With all of those three, I have developed a pretty solid relationship with all of them. Coach Drevno has told me about his coaching style, in that he not only wants to coach me as a player but also wants to be a good role model and a father figure I can count on to teach on-field skills and off as well."
Drevno's personal touch and the interest he has shown in Fleener's personal development in college has made an impression on the recruit.
"It's unique in that he is one of the very few, if any, coaches to come out and say that," Fleener says. " I think a lot of them thought that was understood, but I appreciate his feelings that he can not only teach me what to do on the field but also how to grow as person - 'to be a man' were his words."
When we last reported on Fleener in December, he declared that Nebraska was number one on his list. The Huskers have not faded since and remain the chief competition for Stanford in this recruiting race. The two schools bring different résumés of recent football success to the table, which is not lost on Fleener.
"Obviously, Stanford is a rebuilding program. No doubt about it. That's just a fact, with the new coach coming in," he asserts. "They have a pretty set standard of excellence at Nebraska, both producing academic All-Americans and stellar athletes. Another thing they emphasize is that their recruiting class is coming to a close here pretty quickly. They have maybe one or two spots left, and it's coming down to the wire."
This is the final week of the dead period, which means the coaching carousel will renew the rotation through Lemont (Ill.) to see the hot tight end recruit. Stanford, Arkansas and Nebraska are all scheduled to come into his house next week when coaches are allowed to go back on the road. Kansas may join the parade through the Fleener home as well. But with the heightened pressure Fleener feels to make his decision, will he be able to wait for those visitors?
"That would depend on whether or not I have been notified of my acceptance to Stanford or not," he answers. "I can't really give a timeframe as to exactly when my decision will happen. At this point, I know that those three schools for sure, maybe four schools, are coming by my home. My decision will be sometime within the month of January, probably in the first half."
A quick decision from Fleener this week would seemingly spell bad news for Stanford. While a host of recruits are coming to campus on Friday for an official visit weekend, Fleener took his trip in December and has yet to meet Harbaugh face-to-face. Some recruits are putting their Cardinal considerations on hold until they can talk with Harbaugh in person. Is that a factor for Fleener?
"No, I don't see that as a necessity," he says. "I feel that I can get a pretty good feel for him over the phone. We have had multiple conversations through both text messaging and on the phone. I'm really impressed with him and his staff."
At the end of all this exploration and dissertation, one question remains. How does this battle between Stanford and Nebraska look to shape up?
"I would say that it is a lot closer than anyone assumes," Fleener offers. "I would say that they are both quite a bit above the rest and quite far ahead of the pack. I'm really going to have to weigh what what is going to be my best option."
This looks like a recruiting story that could end in days rather than weeks, so stay tuned for all the latest on Coby Fleener's story as it enters the 11th hour.
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