The Harbaugh Watch: Orange County

Stanford made early moves on two top Class of 2008 offensive prospects in Orange County this past winter, and we fully expected Jim Harbaugh to visit them this month. It so happens that those two high schools also harbor two of the elite quarterback recruits for 2009. For their reactions to the visits from the Cardinal head coach, plus some other interesting parallels, read on.

The Harbaugh Watch: Phoenix
The Harbaugh Watch: San Antonio
The Harbaugh Watch: Houston
The Harbaugh Watch: San Diego

Mater Dei High School
(Santa Ana, Calif.)

Nearly every in-state recruit, and the offerees in particular, on the board for Stanford in this Class of 2008 has come sometime in the winter or spring to unofficially visit The Farm.  One who has yet to make the trek is four-star offensive tackle, Khaled Holmes.  That made it all the more important for Jim Harbaugh to visit the 6'5" 290-pound lineman in Orange County this month.

"It was nice meeting him," Holmes says of his encounter with the Cardinal coach.  "He seems like a really nice guy.  I've heard a lot of good things about his coaching.  He also came down with Coach [Tim] Drevno, and I've had a pretty good relationship with him these past few months."

"Absolutely it's important.  It's a huge sign of respect, and I'm definitely not taking it lightly," he says of Stanford sending its head coach.  "There have been quite a few schools coming by.  We have a lot of great players on our team, so Mater Dei is a great place for coaches to come check out talent."

The Cardinal have to put their best foot forward to land the younger brother of former USC tight end Alex Holmes.  Khaled has made no secret of his affinity for the Trojans.

"I'm still leaning towards SC, but I have been giving a lot of thought to Stanford, Notre Dame and Cal, who has come into the mix as well.  SC is on top, and the next three are about equal.  I think Stanford is maybe a little higher than the other two," the younger Holmes shares.  "I plan on taking the full time to make my decision, with official visits."

"The academics of Stanford are like no other place in the country.  It's something that is taken very seriously in my household.  This is how I was raised," he comments on the Cardinal.  "Obviously, it's the football team.  It's kind of a different level of play right now, to be honest.  SC is in a position that really no other school, year in and year out, has been in.  They have been having the top recruiting class for the past five or six years.  It seems like they are only getting better.  But in the same sense, Stanford has been down for a while.  It's almost as if they're due to have a breakout season.  They have a new coaching staff who I think is going to turn the program around."

Holmes says he will "definitely" take an official visit to Stanford, and his plan to take his college recruitment all the way to Signing Day gives the Cardinal a chance to prove this fall on the field that the football program is on the rise.  Holmes will be watching closely, though he has no specific metric in mind for measuring that progress.

"I don't know if there is a number of wins or a bowl game.  I don't know if it's anything that solid," he allows.  "I don't know what it will be, to be honest."

Something else important to the Holmes family in considering the Cardinal is the admissions application process.  In a now infamous chapter in Stanford Football recruiting history, then-head coach Tyrone Willingham heavily pursued Alex Holmes when he was a prep All-American at Harvard-Westlake School in North Hollywood (Calif.).  Willingham made an ill-advised promise to the family in 1999 that the older brother would be admitted - a promise Willingham could not and should not have made.  The elite tight end was denied admission to Stanford, and the family took it very hard.

"They did.  They really did.  My mom was pretty upset over that for a while," Khaled admits.  "I think she has gotten over that a little bit.  It's a new staff there, in terms of the football team at least.  I don't know if the administration has changed much, but that's just the past."

Harbaugh also kept an eye into the future beyond Holmes and the Class of 2008 when visiting Mater Dei.  He paid careful attention to the Monarchs' sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley, one of the top recruits in the nation for 2009 and one of the very best signal callers in any class in California today.  The 6'3" 220-pound athlete has already thrown for 3,000-plus yards and 21 touchdowns, and he is only halfway through his high school career.

"He came down to one of our practices," Barkley remembers of Harbaugh's visit.  "He stayed for the whole practice and was really interested.  He watched us play, and I walked off the field and said 'bye' to him.  He offered me right there."

"I was honored and excited at the same time," says the quarterback recruit.  "Stanford is a great school with a great tradition in both football and academics, so that was really neat."

This was the first meeting between Barkley and the Cardinal head coach.

"Coach Harbaugh is a great coach with a great vision for Stanford," Barkley assesses.  "He's trying to turn them into a winning program again and back to what they used to be."

"I really like him," he continues.  "He's energetic and fun.  He's had a great career, not only as a coach but as a player as well in the NFL.  I really liked him when I first met him."

Stanford might expect to make a splash when offering a sophomore nearly two years before Signing Day, but Barkley is one of the top quarterback recruits in several years in Southern California.  Two schools actually were on board with verbal scholarship offers to Barkley before Harbaugh's visit.  The first offer came from Colorado, when head coach Dan Hawkins came to Mater Dei in April.  Then offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher from Florida State offered at the school in early May.  Stanford's offer was the first for Barkley in the Pac-10 but has been followed this month by Cal, then Washington and most recently USC.

The Trojans are a prohibitive favorite for Barkley, not unlike his teammate Holmes.  Likewise, there is a family connection.  Father Les Barkley is a USC alumnus.

Barkley may be a USC lean, but the sophomore student-athlete professes a high level of interest in the Cardinal.

"They're very high, definitely.  I've always liked Stanford growing up," he maintains.  "They're in the Pac-10 and a school of great tradition who has had some great players go through that program.  Right now, they're definitely high on my list."

Mission Viejo High School
(Mission Viejo, Calif.)

Harbaugh faced a hurdle parallel to Holmes' in recruiting 6'5" wide receiver Warren Reuland, whose older brother and current Notre Dame tight end Konrad Reuland also had Stanford number one on his list only to see those dreams dashed by an admissions denial.  That made it all the more surprising when this younger brother pulled the trigger on a Cardinal commitment a month ago.  Though Harbaugh ostensibly has less work to do with Reuland, he made sure to visit Mission Viejo during this evaluation period.

"It meant a lot to me for him to come down and check in on me," Reuland reports.  "We didn't have practice, but I still got to meet with him a little bit.  It was in the middle of class, so we didn't have much time."

"That is really important to me.  They're still showing me a lot of love, even though I'm committed," he adds.  "That's really good."

This spring has been less hectic for Reuland than it otherwise would have been.  Not only is Mission Viejo a must-see school for college recruiters during any NCAA-allowed evaluation period, but also Reuland expected extra attention as coaches checked him out following ACL repair surgery last fall.  His Stanford commitment quelled some of that activity before it could get started.

"I've still met with a few coaches, but I don't think as many as I would have, had I not committed," Reuland describes of his May.  "The schools who have offered me all told me to keep in touch.  They all congratulated me, but said that if things don't work out, to keep them in mind.  I'm still keeping in touch with them a little bit."

Verbal commitments do not always deter hungry recruiters from pursuing a top prospect, though the unique dynamics of Stanford's academics have previously kept any Cardinal commit from jumping ship.  Pursuing Reuland, however, is strategic given not only his football ability but also his brother's experience.  Until the younger Reuland can gain an acceptance from the Stanford Office of Admissions, he will have recruiters lurking in the shadows.

Notre Dame sent area recruiter Brian Polian and offensive coordinator Michael Haywood to visit Reuland recently.

"We didn't really talk a lot about football," he says.  "They just asked how I'm doing."

Meanwhile, Reuland is eager to complete his admissions application and better secure his standing with Stanford.

"I still have to do that," he explains.  "I want to get that out of the way.  That will be nice to get finished."

With his recruitment ostensibly concluded in late April, the more pressing matter for Reuland in May has been the business of football.  Mission Viejo opened their spring practices on May 14, when the talented wide receiver made his long-awaited return to the field.

"I was running around out there and doing some routes.  My knee is feeling really good," Reuland relates.  "It felt really good to be out there with the team, in the huddle and running again."

"I'm still working to get back 100 percent," he adds.  "Cutting and jumping are the last things to come, but I'm running pretty much full speed."

Just as was the case at rival Mater Dei, the Diablos had dual recipients spanning two recruiting classes for Harbaugh.  Again it was a sophomore quarterback who received the Cardinal coach's attention.  6'3.5" 185-pound Allan Bridgford only started the last half of the season for Mission Viejo, as compared to Barkley's two seasons at the helm.  But Bridgford did amazing work when given an opportunity last fall.  He threw for 1,642 yards and 15 touchdowns versus just three interceptions on 64.3 percent passing.

Some in Orange County feel that Bridgford could be as good or better than his more publicized peer.  Harbaugh is known to have a high interest in Bridgford - enough to request a meeting prior to the start of Mission Viejo's spring practices.

"I talked to him for a couple minutes - told him how I'll come up and take a look around the campus.  He's a really nice guy," Bridgford offers.  "It's nothing too serious right now because I'm only a sophomore.  They're interested and looking.  I should try to do well in all my classes and keep it up in football and the weight room."

"It's obviously a big deal," the quarterback comments on Harbaugh's visit.  "Stanford is a great program, and I really like them.  My dad went there.  It's a good feeling to be called out of class to see a coach like that."

"It was just an honor to meet the guy because I've heard great things about him as a coach," he adds.  "I know he was there to see Warren Reuland - he just committed - but for him to call me out of class and pay attention to me is just awesome.  I'm honored to have him looking at me because not many people have the opportunity to have a coach from Stanford look at you."

While Stanford has an uphill battle to climb with family ties to USC, Notre Dame and Michigan for the aforementioned recruits, father Richard (Class of '82) is a Stanford man.  Grandfather Allan (Class of '57) is also an alumnus and the Chairman of the Board at Bridgford Foods Corporation.

"He was proud," says the son of his father's reaction.  "He tries to not let me get a big head, and I don't.  But he was definitely happy to hear that Coach Harbaugh visited and to hear that I'm interested in Stanford."

The Cardinal are not alone in their early interest in Bridgford.

"Pete Carroll came down and saw me throw.  I talk to Colorado a lot," the recruit reports.  "I'm getting letters from lots of different places."

"I'm definitely interested in Stanford, USC, Notre Dame, Colorado, Nebraska and UCLA," Bridgford lists.  "They're all pretty even.  I have no idea where I want to go."

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