Stanford's first verbal commitments in the Class of 2008 primarily held regional interest, with four of those players from the Golden State and all five residing on the West Coast. The Cardinal made their biggest splash of the recruiting year, however, on Saturday when they plucked the nation's #6-ranked quarterback from Houston (Tex.). Stratford High School senior Andrew Luck tendered his verbal commitment to Stanford, choosing the Pac-10 program over offers from every corner of the country. Texas A&M, Nebraska, LSU, Alabama, Florida State, and Cal were some of those offer schools.
This big Cardinal commitment caught the attention of Allen Wallace, Scout.com National Recruiting Editor and the publisher of SuperPrep since 1985. Based out of Southern California, Wallace has been keenly aware of the trends in Stanford recruiting through the past several decades and puts Luck's commitment into context.
"Jim Harbaugh has really generated tremendous enthusiasm concerning his plans for immediately upgrading the Stanford Football program," Wallace weighs in. "Traditionally, Stanford has recruited exceptionally well nationwide, usually going outside of California to sign the best and the brightest. The June 30 commitment of Texas' #1 quarterback prospect, Andrew Luck, is another example of Stanford's appeal in all parts of the country."
Jamie Newberg, Scout.com National Recruiting Analyst and the leading voice from the Southeast on college football recruiting since 1996, also recognizes what it means for Harbaugh in his first year at Stanford to land such a big fish at such a premier position on the football field.
"Anytime you have a new staff and get a player, especially at the quarterback position, it can really give recruiting a boost," Newberg offers. "It will also give Stanford and the new coaching regime validation in terms of recruiting."
Newberg and Wallace are the heads of the Scout.com recruiting team and are both excited about Luck as a quarterback prospect, currently ranking him #6 in the country.
"Despite having an odd release, Luck shows a good arm and nice accuracy," Newberg describes. "When he wants to throw with velocity, he can put some zip on the ball. When he wants to throw with touch, Luck can throw with touch. He also has pretty good mobility and has the ability to evade the initial rush and make a play. Luck can throw on the run, whether it's rolling to his right or left. He's a smart quarterback that plays with poise and makes good decisions with the ball. Luck also has good ball handling skills when carrying out play action fakes."
"Luck, ranked number six nationwide by Scout.com, is a strong-armed thrower who displays superior accuracy and decision-making ability," Wallace adds. "He shows instinctive pocket awareness and mobility and demonstrates effectiveness while throwing on the run in either direction. He's known to have a terrific work ethic, which he also demonstrates in the classroom as he ranks number one in his class academically."
With positive reviews from national experts on both coasts for Stanford's newest passer, all that remains is some insight inside the Lone Star State. For that, we turn to Alan Zepeda, Scout.com Texas Recruiting Analyst, who not only heads a team of seven scouts spread across the state but who also lives in Houston and has the benefit of watching Luck the last several years. The Stratford High School signal caller has been highly visible in the area and across the state since he made waves by taking over the Spartans' quarterback position for 7-on-7 tournaments back in the spring/summer of 2004 - following his eighth grade year.
"It seems like he's been there forever," Zepeda laughs. "What I like best about him is not only does he have the background because his father [Oliver Luck] is a former NFL quarterback who played for the Houston Oilers, but also it's the intangibles. Last year he had no offensive line, yet he still would get these huge gains - running and passing. When he looks to win a game, he gets that fire in his belly and he will just go and do whatever it takes."
While we spoke with him on the phone, Zepeda was reviewing a game tape of Luck leading Stratford to a comeback win last season at Spring High School. The Spartans were dominated in the first half and trailed 10-0, while Luck was hammered by the defensive pass rush. Luck led a stunning second-half comeback and 27-10 victory.
"I'm watching this video, and he is being hit by three guys constantly on pass rushes because he has no offensive line," Zepeda explains. "He's still making plays, still making passes and still breaking runs. He is just one of those guys who has a will to win that you can't teach."
Luck finished the game with 10-of-18 passing for 207 yards. More notable was his net positive rushing yardage despite the many sacks he suffered. Luck also ran for two of Stratford's touchdowns. All the more impressive was the fact that his offensive accomplishments came after such a bloody first half, which saw him get injured.
"The second half, he started to take over. He figured out everything that Spring had done, and he just started going at them and dissected them," Zepeda describes. "He is such a knowledgeable quarterback that he takes what he learned from the first half of the game, applies it to the second half and makes those adjustments. That's what he did in that game. He made all of those adjustments and started doing things differently. He did what it took to get the offense going. You don't see that in a high school quarterback often, making an adjustment and being able to understand exactly what the defense is going to do."
"If you look at video of Andrew, highlights show how good he is but game tape shows how good he really is because you see what all is happening the entire time between his great plays," he adds. "He's having to do whatever it takes to get his team to open up holes or get his receivers in a position to catch the ball."
Ranking Luck as the top passer in Texas this year was a no-brainer for Zepeda. Stacking up the Stratford slinger against the best in the state from the last decade is a more difficult task, but one where Luck fares quite well.
"He's the top quarterback in 2008 and in 2007," Zepeda declares, then going a step further. "I've been doing this for 12 years. As far as a quarterback who has all the skills, the entire package and all the intangibles, I think he's the best overall quarterback that I've seen. I saw Vince Young and Reggie McNeal when they were in high school. In an individual category, they might beat Andrew, but overall I can't really think of another quarterback who has the overall package like he does, passing and running. He has everything, including the grades and the character, that you want."
"He's such a great quarterback, and he's got all of those great intangibles," the analyst adds. "I love players who have the intangibles, especially a player who takes a beating like he does and still makes the plays. He still makes the big plays and fights for those extra yards. He can dissect a team after a while."
Clearly a fan of Luck's toughness, intelligence and will to win, Zepeda also admires the tools of the 6'3" 215-pound passer.
"He can look at multiple receivers," Zepeda says. "He's advanced like his father was as an NFL quarterback. He can look off his first receiver, go to his second and go to his third. And he can run. He can make all the passes, plus he's an excellent runner. He had a thousand yards rushing the other year."
"He can just do so many things and create havoc for opposing defenses," Zepeda continues. "His running skills force them to keep someone in because he'll rush for a big gain. As a passer, he can do whatever he needs to do. He's an excellent quarterback and the type of guy who you can look at and say, 'Yeah, he'll be in the NFL.'"
These weighty proclamations will add to the intense scrutiny of Luck this fall, particularly as the debate for who is the top recruit in the state of Texas this year. Zepeda slots Luck at #2 or #3, though the competition at the top in the Lone Star State is intense in the stacked Class of 2008.
"The top tier of the state is so high this year," Zepeda explains. "You have two fantastic running backs in Justin Johnson and Jermie Calhoun. J.B. Shugarts is a fantastic tackle committed to Ohio State. The top tier guys in the state of Texas are lights out. In most other years, several of these guys would be number one in the state."
Further support for the immense talent at the top in Texas this year is found in Scout.com's post-spring national rankings. Only 40 prospects in the country have thus far received five-star ratings, and seven are from the Lone Star State. California by comparison has four five-star prospects in the Class of 2008.
"This year there are so many fantastic high-end five-star types of players, that it comes down to what type of player you like best ranked number one," Zepeda says. "Do you like a quarterback? Do you want a running back? This year in Texas, there is a big disagreement on who is the top player. There are 10 guys who you could argue, but Andrew is a Top 10 guy. He's just a fantastic player who I think you can compare to anyone in the Top 10 as far as talent and upside."
For all of the accolades offered on Luck, Zepeda does see a few areas where the Stanford-bound slinger can improve before he steps in to compete in the Pac-10.
"Andrew isn't afraid to take on a linebacker one-on-one. That doesn't work in college," Zepeda warns. "In the state of Texas, we have too many guys who I call suicide runners, who try to run over a linebacker. In high school that works; in college it doesn't. Andrew has to learn to slide or to run out of bounds. It's great that he tries to get the extra yard, but in college, he's going to get himself hurt."
"Because of his absence of an offensive line, he has a tendency to run out of the pocket too early," the Texas analyst continues. "He'll stick in there and at times make the play, but when you're constantly being hit by three guys on a play, he starts getting happy feet. Unlike David Carr, he's actually completing plays with his happy feet, but you give him a line that gives him some time, and he will do very well."
Luck also will need to practice more on the vertical passing game, as he adapts to receivers with the speed and size to stretch the field at Stanford. Throwing to Chris Owusu and Warren Reuland will be quite different from his high school days.
"One thing they have never really done at Stratford is the long pass, so he'll need to work on the deep passing game," Zepeda says. "That's something they very rarely use at Stratford, since they really don't have that type of receiver. He's very good at the short game. In the chuck-and-duck type of passes, he's lights out."
All of this analysis from the experts of Scout.com has come through the junior season of Andrew Luck, but we soon will have an updated look when Luck and his high school compete later this month at the state 7-on-7 passing tournament. Stay tuned for updated scouting reports, analysis and video on the Cardinal's newest premier passer and member of the recruiting Class of 2008.
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