He took his official visits more than a month ago, and he narrowed his school list to a final three of Stanford, Cal and Washington. Since that time, it has been a waiting game for Matthew Masifilo. The Ewa Beach (Hawaii) Campbell High School senior watched Stanford fire head coach Walt Harris, conduct a two-week coaching search and then hire Jim Harbaugh. But that hire came one day after the close of the contact period in December, which forced Masifilo and Harbaugh to wait four weeks until they could meet face-to-face for the first time.
Harbaugh yesterday made his first in-home visit as Stanford's head coach, traversing 2,500 miles of Pacific Ocean to sit in the Masifilo home, along with new Stanford linebackers coach Andy Buh. The Cardinal coaches presented their vision, as well as projecting their personalities to the four-star defensive tackle and his parents in a meeting viewed by many as the make-or-break event in this Stanford recruitment.
"I liked them - their coaching style and what their goals are - a lot," Masifilo reports. "We were really impressed with what they had to share with us."
"It was mostly about football because we know what academically Stanford has to offer," the recruit continues. "They still need to fill their defensive coordinator, but he says that he wants to run a 4-3 over there. He also talked about his goals and his plans for getting the Stanford Football team back on the winning trick, plus the history they have had there."
"He says that he needs to recruit players that want to come to Stanford to get a great education but also want to win football games," Masifilo adds. "Some people go to Stanford for the education and forget football. I don't want to be in a team who allows guys to care more about academics than about football. I want them to care about academics and football on a level playing field - who want to be the best in the classroom and the best on the field."
As Masifilo mentions, Harbaugh came to the islands without a defensive coordinator yet hired onto his staff. The 15-year NFL quarterback ran potent offenses the last three years at University of San Diego, and Masifilo projects according to some as an offensive guard. But his Cardinal recruitment has always been about defense, and that was the subject of the day.
"He wants to run a conduit to the NFL," Masifilo says. "He wants to run a similar type of defense to the Philadelphia Eagles, where they are always attacking. They blitz; they do everything. They are always attacking the ball and not backing up and waiting for the ball to come to them."
Discussion of the Eagles is no accident. Those close to the new Cardinal head coach have known the past few weeks that his aim is to hire brother John Harbaugh, currently an assistant and the special teams coordinator in Philadelphia, onto the Stanford staff.
"He said that's his number one guy to come in and be the defensive coordinator," the recruit concurs.
How did Masifilo receive the messages Harbaugh delivered?
"It's exciting. As a defensive lineman, I would prefer to be in a 4-3 defense, where a D-lineman can make plays," he answers. "It's just nice to finally meet him and see why people say that he has great charisma. He said that they had three practices already, and he's out there running the sprints with the team. He's a football player himself, as well as a coach. Even when he was young, his father coached and Stanford and coached for a long time. He's been surrounded by great coaches, and he's been a great player his whole life. Football has been in his life forever, so he knows a great deal of football."
Beyond the messages, though, the coveted lineman recruit was keeping a close eye on the messenger during the in-home visit.
"I just had to figure out if I feel comfortable because some coaches you just aren't comfortable around," Masifilo explains. "I wanted to see if I could see myself playing for him and if I could be happy. Also to get a sense for how much he cares about football and the team and his passion to win games. If you are really, really serious about football, you don't take a look at Stanford and say, 'They have a 1-11 record. Let's go play for that team.' You want to make sure you see something in the team that they will be able to win and win early. I want to win football games, too. I don't want to compromise my great education at Stanford, but again, I want to have a sense that we can be successful there and win games. I want to be the best in both worlds, on the field and off. That's something that I was trying to get out of it."
And did Harbaugh succeed in the areas Masifilo had on his mind?
"He really did address that," the recruit replies. "He told me that the whole team, in their workouts so far, is really motivated and really excited. All the players came back; nobody left. I know that there was talk about Evan Moore leaving, and all that, but everyone wants to come back and win because they believe in his ability to lead them through the season. Last season, I don't think anything ever bounced the team's way. There were countless injuries and all that. I felt comfortable with everything he said."
"There was nothing negative about it. Everything was positive. This helped me answer questions and the unknowns that I had," Masifilo maintains. "The relationship you have with your coach is critical to your development as a player and for your team. If you are not comfortable with who is leading you every day in practice, then you are not going to be that motivated and not going to be that successful. To have a sense of comfort in the coach - being able to get along and being able to talk with the coaches - is great."
These in-home visits are about more than just the student-athlete. Both of Masifilo's parents listened intently during Harbaugh's visit, and they had their own questions. The father in particular was enthused about a college head coach who he enjoyed watching in the NFL.
"They liked him a lot," the son says. "I never watched him play, but my dad remembered watching [Harbaugh] play in the NFL back then. As a player, I guess he was known as the 'comeback kid' - I'm not too sure. I didn't really watch football back then. My dad liked watching him because he has the instincts in him to make the tough decisions when the time is critical. To be known for comebacks, you obviously are down and have to make big plays in big moments. I'm sure as a coach he has the guts to make those big decision. When things are close, he'll have comebacks and win those close games for Stanford."
Stanford was not the only school in the home yesterday. Though Cal and Washington both sent their respective head coaches to visit Masifilo in December, their assistants are able to make return contacts. The Huskies stopped by yesterday morning, and the Bears will be in the home today. Once that is finished, it will be decision time.
"After this, the coaches want to come back next week, but I told them that I will probably have my decision by then," Masifilo explains. "I'm going to sit down and discuss it with my parents. I couldn't say who is on top of my mind because all three teams are really mixed in my head. When I am talking to one coach, I have a sense of going to that school. Then I'm talking with another one, and I have a sense of going to that school. I'll wait a day after Cal comes, and then I'll sit down to discuss it with my parents."
Despite public speculation of a favorite Masifilo may hold, he is adamant in saying that all three of his finalists are in a dead heat. That begs the question of what will ultimately prove to be the tipping point, if he is so pleased with all three options today.
"Just my gut feeling," he answers. "I know that wherever I go of these three schools, I'll adapt to the area and I'll make the best of it. There really is no place that's bad. I'll get lost trying to argue which case is the number one best. I'll end up going with my gut feeling of where I feel most comfortable. I like three places, and I'm an adaptable person."
Matthew Masifilo is ranked the #22 defensive tackle in the nation by Scout.com, and in today's newly revised state rankings, he stands #2 among all prospects in the Aloha State. His recruitment has been closely followed for a year now, but this saga is now ready to come to a close. Masifilo hopes to have his decision by the end of this week, with Bears, Huskies and Cardinal waiting on pins and needles until then. Stay tuned for all the latest as this four-star story reaches its finale.
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