The Harbaugh Watch: Phoenix

Stanford's head coach has stayed home in recent years during the spring evaluation period of recruiting, while assistants are on the road. Jim Harbaugh is changing that this month, criss-crossing the map to see blue chip recruits at high schools across the nation. His first stop this week was in Arizona, where Harbaugh saw three hot Cardinal prospects. Here are their stories and reactions.

Notre Dame Prep High School
(Scottsdale, Ariz.)

The highlight watching Saturday's All-American Combine in San Francisco was unquestionably the coming out party of quarterback Sean Renfree.  The 6'3" 205-pound slinger was a sleeper on the college recruiting radar before he grabbed headlines on Saturday.  Notre Dame Prep is a new high school with a football program in its infancy, which has kept Renfree from garnering too much attention.  The secret was let out of the bag this weekend, and now a cavalcade of college coaches are marching to his school to see in-person what they liked on film.

This week also marks the beginning of Notre Dame Prep's spring practices, and already Renfree has seen Jim Harbaugh, Pete Carroll and Mike Riley parked at his practice field watching him throw.

"It's been fun to show all of these coaches what I've got, since I've kind of been under the radar for a while," Renfree says.  "It's been an opportunity to show all of the stuff I can do."

The Arizona quarterback has twice been to Stanford in the last couple months.  On Saturday after the combine at City College of San Francisco, Renfree made the short drive down to The Farm to watch Stanford's Spring Game.  He talked with Harbaugh, offensive coordinator David Shaw and recruiting coordinator Lance Anderson.  In late March, Renfree also unofficially visited Stanford, with the trip punctuated by a sit-down with Shaw.

"He showed me the principles of their offense and what they're going to do.  What kind of system they're going to work with and how much they're going to pass," the recruit remembers.  "I thought that was pretty cool to see how a great offense works - especially a guy like Shaw running that."

Renfree has made clear his interest in the Cardinal, but he admits he was surprised that Stanford's head coach came to evaluate him in person.  Renfree will in fact be throwing on Harbaugh's home campus in less than three weeks at the Stanford Nike Camp.  A visit to Notre Dame Prep this week from Harbaugh has left Renfree excited.

"I thought that was really cool.  I think he's a really good coach, and I like talking to him.  He seems like a really good guy," Renfree says.  "It was something special for him to come out just to watch me.  He spent the whole practice out there just evaluating me.  I thought that was pretty cool."

But this visit was not about scoring "coolness" points with Renfree.  Harbaugh, who also coaches the Cardinal's quarterbacks, was aiming to make an evaluation of the Arizona athlete.

"He likes my footwork and my mechanics," Renfree reports.  "He'll see me at the Nike Camp and also out there at their one-day camp, so he'll have another chance to watch me throw and see how I've improved.  He can make more decisions based off of that."

In the meantime, Mike Riley's evaluation on Monday turned into an Oregon State offer for Renfree.  The quarterback recruit had already taken an unofficial visit to Corvallis and placed the Beavers among his top five favorites before this offer.  Is he tempted to pull the trigger and go ahead with a verbal commitment?

"I'll probably be pretty patient," Renfree answers.  "I'll set my decision right around July, after all the camps when I can see what kind of interest I'm getting.  I liked Oregon State and their coaches, but Stanford is great and I'd love to get an offer from there."

Centennial High School
(Peoria, Ariz.)

On the other end of the exposure spectrum is Zach Schlink, the 6'4" 300-pound offensive tackle who already owns offers from the likes of Oklahoma, Michigan, Illinois, Colorado and four Pac-10 programs.  The newest came from Stanford - just within the last week. 

"Coach Harbaugh visited our school.  He's really enthusiastic about me coming there," says Schlink.  "I know for a fact that it's a great school.  It's great to have a scholarship offer from them."

"It was a great feeling meeting him," he says Harbaugh.  "It was great having all the kids at school say, 'Stanford is here to see you.'  It was really cool to see him and just a great experience."

Schlink and Stanford are not strangers to each other.  They have been communicating since the early part of the winter.  The last piece of the puzzle that delayed the scholarship offer was receipt and review of Schlink's transcript.  As soon as that happened last week, the offer was extended.

The Cardinal might have lost ground during these weeks and months while other offers have been sitting on the table for Schlink.  His professed enthusiasm for a top education in college, coupled with a personal visit from Jim Harbaugh, appear to have put Stanford in surprising favor this week.

"Stanford would definitely be in my top three right now," Schlink states.  "All my cards are on the table.  I don't have one favorite school right now.  But my top three are probably Stanford, Michigan and UofA."

We have not previously written about the story of Zach Schlink and have that to share with you, so stay tuned for a more in-depth feature to follow...

Hamilton High School
(Chandler, Ariz.)

Stanford's first Arizona offer in the Class of 2008 was extended in March to arguably the top prospect in the state, running back Covaughn Deboskie.  The 6'0" burner owns offers from most of the Pac-10, plus national names like Florida, Georgia Tech, Nebraska and Michigan.  On Sunday he notched his name as one of the nation's elite athletes by running a 4.38 40 and earning MVP honors at the All-American Combine in Los Angeles - regarded as the deepest and most talented of the combines this year.

It comes as no surprise that Harbaugh paid a visit to Deboskie while in Phoenix on Wednesday.  The four-star running back has not visited The Farm, so Stanford observers might think this to be the first encounter of the coach and recruit.  Think again.

"He's not really allowed to talk to me, but it was a second time for him to see my face because I went to his combine last year when he was at San Diego," Deboskie shares.

As a sophomore, he did not attend any combines, until a classmate at Hamilton asked Deboskie to join him and his father as they departed for a camp at University of San Diego.  Harbaugh made an impression on the youngster, though the coach did not launch his recruiting pitch while at the helm of the non-scholarship I-AA program.

"When I went to his combine, he told me that I wouldn't have to worry about his school, USD, because I was going to get a lot of D-I scholarship offers by the end of my senior year.  I guess it turned out to be true," Deboskie chuckles.

Since taking the reins on The Farm, Harbaugh has become reacquainted with the running back recruit.  Deboskie says they exchange text messages, and twice he has placed calls to the Cardinal head coach.  Wednesday brought Deboskie face-to-face with the head coach, of whom he has grown fond.

"It meant a lot to me, for him to come just to see me at my school," the recruit relates.  "He's a really exciting person.  To me, it's like he's still young.  He doesn't have this old, nonchalant personality.  He has a cool personality.  He's someone who you can really talk to.  Someone who's always fired up."

"I really like Stanford a lot," Deboskie adds.  "In my recruiting, everyone is pretty even right now.  I don't really have a favorite, but Stanford is definitely up there.  They're definitely in my top five."

"At the top is UCLA, Stanford and Michigan," he continues.  "Then Georgia Tech.  Then it's between Clemson, ASU and Florida.  I have a long list.  Everyone is pretty even.  I haven't found the school I want to go to, and that's the school I want to stay with.  Once I pick a school, I'm going to be solid with it."

A video interview at the Combine on Sunday left some Stanford fans less than solid on Deboskie's prospects to become a Cardinal.  His 1380 SAT is widely reported, and it is well known that he will need to improve that score.  It raised some eyebrows when the high school junior answered a question if Stanford would "make him retake" the SAT by saying, "I don't think so.  I think I'm good because I'm a 4.16 [GPA]."

Deboskie clarified this point for us by explaining that he in fact has signed up for the June 2 SAT and is aiming to break 1600.  The context of his confidence on the matter, and that of Jim Harbaugh, relates to the difficult conditions in which he took the standardized test last fall.

"He's not really worried about it because I was really tired that day," Deboskie says.  "I had just played in the state semifinals the night before against Basha."

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