Stanford Steps Up With Okwo

Michael Okwo may be one of the best linebackers in the country, and certainly on the West Coast, but he may have slipped out of your recruiting consciousness given the dearth of updates this summer. Well things just picked up in a big way when Michael finally reached Stanford on the phone this week...

Michael Okwo (Mira Costa HS in Manhattan Beach, CA) has had a seemingly quiet summer with his recruitment.  Though he is one of the top few linebackers on the West Coast, and currently ranked #22 at his position in the country by The Insiders recruiting analysts, this is someone who has generated barely a whisper of recruiting news.  In contrast to many of the familiar big recruiting stories throughout this summer, Okwo did not attend a bunch of camps or take unofficial visits.  He hit a couple junior days back in the spring, but it has been pretty quiet since.

In my last report on Michael from the spring, he reported an early offer from UCLA at their Junior Day, which set them as his leader.  Since then, Okwo picked up offers from USC and Oregon State, and just this week received an offer from Stanford by way of coach Tom Williams.  Okwo had not talked with Williams or Stanford since his visit to their Junior Day in May.  The two parties had only been able to communicate by mail, given the NCAA quiet period that restricts coaches from calling recruits.  That does not keep recruits from calling coaches, though, and Okwo got the good news when he made a scheduled call to Williams.

"Coach Williams said that he is looking at bringing in one linebacker in this class, and with this offer the ball is now in my court," said Okwo.  The two talked about academics at Stanford, particularly about some of the guys who played with Williams back in his playing days ten years ago, and what jobs they landed after graduation.  Several of those cases involved guys finding jobs outside their areas of study, given the strength of the Stanford name and degree.  That is a poignant message for Okwo, who most enjoys studying philosophy and psychology, but is unsure about the job prospects that could be derived from those fields of study.

Michael says his top two criteria he is evaluating when looking at schools are networking and majors.  For the former, Okwo says he wants the connections and brand value to land that big job after school if football does not carry him to the pros.  Or even if he does make the NFL, Okwo is looking deeper into the future.

"Most likely I'm not going to be playing forever," opines the Mira Costa senior.  "I want the best school."

To that end, Michael Okwo says he has already done legwork to help evaluate where his top three schools rank in his networking category: Stanford, USC and UCLA, in that order.  Though he does note that USC provides its greatest strength with its southern California networking, and that carries tangible weight for a kid from LA.

Stanford, USC and UCLA are indeed Okwo's top three schools at this time, and it is notable that he held this top three prior to the Stanford offer this week.  You might think the Cardinal are playing a game of catch-up, with the two LA schools putting offers on the table earlier to the linebacker, but Michael Okwo heartily insists that Stanford does not stand at a disadvantage with its later offer.

"Maybe I wasn't Stanford's first choice.  Maybe I was number two for them.  But if I am their number one now, then I am going to put my full effort and interest into them."

That sounds hard to believe, given how visible recruiting efforts and targets are these days with the Internet.  It is often quite transparent who has offers from whom, at what time during the recruiting process, and many recruits are very turned off when they are 'slighted' by a late offer from a school.  Then again, keep in mind that this is a young man with a 3.5 GPA and 1210 SAT who said back in April that he was "holding out for Stanford" as he waited for their recruiting efforts to pick up.  He has academics on his mind and recognizes Stanford as his elite educational opportunity.  So maybe it is not surprising that he has been patient in waiting for this offer, rather than perturbed.

Additionally, Michael has felt a big pickup in recruiting interest from Stanford during this summer through the mail he has received, and that tipped Stanford's hand that they had him as a high priority.  Okwo had in fact been trying to call Stanford and Tom Williams for the last few weeks, but consistently had problems connecting, with all the practices and team meetings.  As to the mail, Okwo characterized the level of mail from Stanford this summer rising up: "They want me like USC did in the past.  I guess they saw my tapes and liked what they saw."

But while it seems that Michael's recruitment is just starting to heat up, he would just as soon see it simmer down for the next few months.  "I really don't want to think about it much during the season," says Okwo.  He has targeted the end of December to narrow down his list, with a decision likely to come in January.  His official visits will be primarily held until after he finishes his senior season, which means Stanford is staring at a December or January date mostly likely.  The exceptions are UCLA and USC, where Okwo says he might take his officials during the fall, given how close they are to home.

In addition Michael Okwo is anxious to take an unofficial visit to the Farm during the season.  He says he would like to catch a game and would very much like to see a practice.

"I have seen the LA options a lot more, but have only been to Stanford once," says Okwo.  "I want to hear feedback from the players - how do they like school?  How do they balance academics and athletics?"

That balance question is part of Michael's evaluation of his top three schools.  He has friends at SC and UCLA who have described to him how the professors and support staff help with the student-athletes.

"I look at it as helping us out.  We have needs different from other students."

When you get down to talking football, Michael Okwo is not nearly as chatty as with academics.  He is at a loss to come up with a good list of football criteria for the schools, other than the relationship with his position coach.

"Your position coach is much more important than the head coach," says Okwo.  "He is the one who helps you play as well as you can, and he is the one with the closest relationship."

The linebacker coaches at SC and UCLA have had plenty of contact with the senior from Manhattan Beach, and he speaks fondly of them both as active coaches and good personal fits.  Okwo admits that he has not had as much time to get to know Tom Williams yet, and is looking forward to that.

The two dark horses in this recruiting race look to be Boston College and Oregon, which round out his top five behind Stanford, SC and UCLA.  He has not yet visited either campus, but they have their attractions.

BC: "It's the area, Boston.  I fell in love with it when I was there.  It's just a great college town."

Oregon: "They would be more for the football than academics.  They have a great program."

My analysis on all this is that Stanford is the school to beat for everybody else.  Okwo stated well before Stanford stepped up to the plate that they were the one school that he was "holding out for."  He has brushed aside the fact that Stanford's offer comes a few months after the LA schools.  And he talks on and on about what he wants from the very best academics and degree.  Add in a profile with a 3.5/1210 and you have someone likely to get admitted and commit to the Cardinal.  Oregon has no chance academically to play ball here, and Michael is in my mind just interested to look at their football for a visit.  Boston College is intriguing, but a secondary thought behind his three California options.

In the end, I see a path for Stanford's linebacker in this class, and it leads straight from Manhattan Beach to the Farm.

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