With his eyes focused on Stanford and Nebraska for several weeks, the one remaining piece to the puzzle for Coby Fleener and his college decision was an admissions response from The Farm. The Joliet (Ill.) Catholic Academy senior submitted his admissions application to Stanford in December and opted against pressure to make a college commitment before hearing the verdict. With the Huskers filling up their recruiting class, each passing day was a stress for the tight end recruit.
Then he received a text message on Wednesday from Stanford recruiting coordinator Nate Nelson: "Yes! Call us. Get a bathroom pass and call. Your life just got better."
Fleener called Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh, heard the news of his admission and promptly committed to the Cardinal.
"He was excited," the recruit reports. "I guess I'm somewhat high on their board and the only tight end they're taking this year."
"I was excited. Elated. Happy to hear the good news," Fleener says of his reaction to the Stanford admission. "I was a little bit confident. Obviously I had put in the work in the classroom to get in, but there is always that sneaking feeling that there is a possibility, you know, that you don't get in. It was a little nerve-racking, but I was hopeful. I felt that there was a pretty good percentage that I would get in. Though there is always that chance that somebody doesn't like your essay or your writing style."
Why did the Illinois athlete ultimately choose the Cardinal?
"The value of the education played a big factor," Fleener explains. "From Day One, the reason I tried so hard in sports was to get the best education possible and for the best price possible. I also want to make the pro's, but that is a distant goal yet. In Stanford, I think I found that."
"I don't think another 1-11 season will happen at Stanford. I really don't," he adds. "But I know that through it all, Coach Harbaugh, the coaching staff there and the university itself will do its best to help me the 40 years or 60 years after graduation."
Fleener had previously told us that he expected to take a couple days for his college decision after learning of his Stanford admissions status, but the reality of Wednesday evening was only a matter of moments elapsing. Fleener heard word Tuesday that his application was likely to receive its final read the next day by the Director of Admisssions, and that allowed him to prepare himself for Wednesday's crescendo. The decision matrix of the Cardinal versus the Huskers is also something he had been constructing.
"For a few weeks before I was accepted, I had already narrowed down the list to a very small amount of schools. It really wasn't an issue of deliberations," Fleener explains. "Before, it was back-and-forth between Nebraska and Stanford. Back and forth. Back and forth. After my visit to Stanford and doing some research on their academic background, that is when I started to feel a little bit of a lean toward Stanford. At that point, it wasn't a huge lean, but it was enough to give them the top spot."
Another suitor who two months ago was neck-and-neck or maybe ahead of Nebraska in the Coby Fleener sweepstakes was Arizona State. The Sun Devils' chances dropped off a cliff, however, when they fired head coach Dirk Koetter. The Lemont (Ill.) product says that new head coach Dennis Erickson had recently made an impressive surge and returned to the race.
"Arizona State really started to come back after they had watched film," Fleener offers. "I knew there was some preliminary interest with the new coaching staff, but I think they were really impressed after seeing that I was the real deal. They started to recruit a lot harder. I was actually very impressed with Coach Erickson and their coaching staff, and the impressive history that they have had."
One hurdle for a recruit from the Land of Lincoln in choosing to spend the next four or five years out in California is the issue of distance. Cardinal recruiting in the Midwest has in several cases struggled with this issue, for both the student-athlete and his family.
"I think they wanted to support my decision no matter what," Fleener says of his parents. "I'm sure it will be hard at first, especially for my mom, knowing that I am not five minutes away to where she can just drive and pick me up to go home. But in talking to the kids on my [Stanford] visit, that was something that was the norm almost. You had kids from the East Coast and even out of the country who are obviously feeling that and more. They made it seem acceptable."
Scout.com's #37-ranked tight end in this 2007 recruiting class was hosted in December on his official visit by James Dray, who two years ago made a similar decision as a highly sought-after tight end to cross the country for The Farm.
"It was his overall demeanor - how laid back he was," Fleener praises of his host. "Actually, how laid back everyone was. Going to a school that is so prestigious as far as academics, you expect everyone to be very rigid and academically oriented. But there was a good mix of academics, athletics and free time. It was kind of nice."
Starting in August, Dray and Fleener will become position mates and competitors for playing time. The Class of 2007 tight end is understandably excited about the opportunity ahead of him at Stanford. The Cardinal did not take a tight end last year, and Fleener is their only man at the position in this class. Dray does return after starting 11 games this past fall as a redshirt freshman, and Fleener maintains an outlook of both realism and competitiveness.
"Obviously, Jim Dray has proven himself, and that's why he is on the field right now," Fleener offers. "The bottom line is that I'm a competitor. That's why I'm going to end up playing Division I football. I'm going there from Day One to try and do my best to play. Whether that's special teams or offense, playing half the game or the whole game."
"I wouldn't mind redshirting, for both the educational benefits and building my body up," adds the 6'6" 220-pound athlete. "The bottom line is that I'm going to do my best to help the team win."
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