The Harbaugh Watch: Houston

It doesn't take a recruiting super sleuth to figure where Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh was headed next after San Antonio. The Cardinal have three '08 offerees in Houston, including elite quarterback Andrew Luck. The surprise came when Harbaugh handed out an offer for the Class of 2009. Suddenly Stanford has a real chance to bag back-to-back slingers in Space City.

The Harbaugh Watch: Phoenix
The Harbaugh Watch: San Antonio

Stratford High School
(Houston, Tex.)

After an acclaimed junior season, 6'3" quarterback Andrew Luck has both enjoyed and endured a college recruitment that has carried at a fevered pitch throughout the off-season.  Bringing some sense of normalcy back into Luck's football life has been the return of football, with Stratford starting spring practices on April 20.

"It's lots of practice, lots of film.  It's good though," Luck says.  "No [passing] tournaments yet, though.  I think that starts June 3."

"We've got a great line.  Our receivers are running great routes," he assesses of the Spartans offense.  "At first, it was a little awkward.  Getting a feel for one another - new team, new players.  But we have really gelled together, and we should be a good offense this year."

"I feel like I've gotten a lot more comfortable in the pocket," adds the four-star quarterback recruit.  "I feel like I've gotten better drops, and I'm putting myself in better positions to make throws."

Stratford conducted its first scrimmage this spring on Friday.  The first team ran just 24 total plays, but they drove down the field and scored a touchdown.

This is where the normalcy disappears.  In attendance at the practice field was a horde of college coaches.  Friday happened to be a scrimmage, but an unending carrousel of coaches careens through Stratford daily.

"It's been unlike anything I've seen at Stratford," says nose guard Jimmy Burge, who like Luck carries a Cardinal scholarship offer.  "There are coaches out there every day of the week, just wanting to take a look at Andrew and me.  It's been really exciting, especially for all the other kids on our team.  They're getting an extra look, which they normally wouldn't see without Andrew."

Friday's visitors included Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh, who paid a visit to his tandem of recruits on the practice field and earlier in the weight room.

"I got to say hello walking by because that's the extent of what you can do," says Luck of his encounter.  "It's definitely special.  A visit from a head coach has a lot of meaning - to take the time out of the day to visit your school.  It's an honor.  They have busy schedules.  To see him there makes you feel good about yourself."

"I was very excited and very appreciative," Burge echoes.  "He shook my hand and said he enjoyed my practice.  To have compliments like that from a coach on the next level was extremely motivating.  I enjoyed that very much."

"It was really cool for him to come all this way to see me and Andrew," the three-star defensive tackle continues.  "It kind of shows that they're a little more dedicated and not just joking around, trying to keep you on the hook to get you at the last second.  When they come by and watching you practice early in the spring like this, it kind of makes you feel like they are dedicated to you and really do feel that you are a good player."

Burge has yet to see Stanford.  He has yet to travel anywhere in the United States west of Texas.  The 6'2" 275-pound defensive lineman is prepared nonetheless to place Stanford in his top five favorites, with the aim of a summer college decision after he visits The Farm and a few other college campuses.

Luck on the other hand has no stated favorites, though he hopes to reach that point in a few weeks.

"I'm still very open to any schools right now.  I'll probably narrow it down after spring ball and before finals," he forecasts.  "Probably by the end of May.  Between four and six schools."

"Stanford is a great school with a lot to offer, and I'm very interested in them," Luck allows.

One new offer to report for Luck since our last report: Florida State has jumped on board.  "It's a great honor," comments the quarterback recruit.  "Florida State is a traditional powerhouse.  I was very honored."

Chester W. Nimitz High School
(Houston, Tex.)

Harbaugh saw another junior quarterback on Friday, though this Space City standout is destined to play his college football elsewhere on the field.  5'11" 175-pound Michael Thomas ran the option, passed and caught balls totaling 15 touchdowns and nearly 1,600 yards last fall.  He has 4.4 speed and is being recruited by schools primarily as a cornerback, with a few ogling him for offense.  Thomas' speed and nimble feet allow few things on the football field to catch him by surprise, but Harbaugh's visit floored him.

"It was a big surprise.  I had no clue he was coming," Thomas admits.  "It was great meeting Coach Harbaugh."

Though Friday marked their first meeting in person, the head coach and recruit are well on their way to building a relationship through previous phone conversations and exchanging text messages.

"I had talked to Coach Harbaugh before on the phone for a long time," Thomas tells.  "As a matter of fact, the day they offered me, they told me to call him later on that night.  I did, and I got to know him a little bit.  From the two times I've talked with him and met him, you can just tell that he's a really down-to-earth guy.  You can build a strong relationship with him.  He has made me feel comfortable, like I would find a place at home if I were to be around him."

"He's a really cool guy," the recruit continues.  "I think since he can bond with players so much, with what I've experienced from him, that I think he'd be a really good coach because I'll feel like I have a bond with him and want to play for him.  I feel like he'd be with me the whole time, every step of the way."

Recruits react differently to each visitor who comes through their school at this time of year, and Thomas is clearly excited that Harbaugh came to see him.

"I'm almost at a loss for words for it," Thomas says.  "It shows that he is that much interested and really wants me.  For him to make that effort and come all the way from California to see me, it lets me know that he's serious about it.  I'm going to take this seriously, and I'm going to evaluate Stanford to the fullest.  I was already in love with them because of Stanford the school, giving me the chance to go to a great school like that and them playing in the Pac-10.  But for him to come and see me personally, that says something great when the head coach actually comes to meet you.  I know that they are talking seriously with me."

Thomas owns scholarship offers that include Nebraska, Missouri and Arizona, though he puts Stanford and Northwestern atop his current favorites list.  In the battle between those two programs, he gives an edge to the school on the West Coast.

"Those two are ahead of everybody, but out of Northwestern and Stanford, I would say Stanford just because it's in California," he explains.  "I have some relatives who live in California, and I've been out there before.  It's pretty nice.  That plays into it a little bit.  I would say Stanford is leading a little bit right now."

Friendswood High School
(Friendswood, Tex.)

Completing his cavalcade of quarterbacks on the Friday itinerary, Harbaugh dropped by Friendswood High School to see a super sophomore who led the greater Houston area in passing last fall - in his first year of varsity football.  The Mustangs in the Class of 2008 have a handful of academically intriguing athletes, including linebacker Will Ebner and two linemen.  But the newsflash came when Harbaugh left the school having extended an offer to 2009 signal caller Jacob Karam.

The most excited person in the Karam household on that landmark day may have been the father.

"Jim Harbaugh was my favorite player in the NFL.  I mean, I was just like a kid when I heard the news," exclaims Jerome Karam.  "I couldn't believe it."

"This came out of nowhere," the elder Karam continues.  "They said he might be coming to the school, but you don't know what to believe when you hear that stuff.  When Coach Van told us that Coach Harbaugh had offered, we were just thrilled."

"It was a huge honor," Jacob echoes.  "I was humbled.  I really was.  It was a huge honor, and I was really excited.  I just felt really blessed.

"I was also really surprised," the 6'2" 191-pound sophomore says.  "It made me feel really good to have a coach come out and see from California to Texas."

The offer was the first for Karam, who is expected to be one of the top signal callers in the Class of 2009.

"This is a huge honor, especially coming from Jim Harbaugh, who was an awesome quarterback himself.  You have to feel pretty good about yourself because he knows what he's talking about," says the Stanford offeree.  "Especially when I'm just a sophomore.  I'm really grateful for what he did.  He gave me a chance."

"I really like what he did.  He just offered me on the spot," Karam comments.  "I guess he really liked me with what he saw, and I really liked that.  He liked what he saw, and he didn't waver or take a lot of time.  He just offered me right then.  I really liked that."

We have more to come on the Jacob Karam story and his surprising Stanford offer.  Stay tuned.

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