We expected for Fred Craig to have some big news for Stanford in August, before the start of his senior season at Cincinnati (Ohio) St. Xavier High School. The 6'2" 205-pound outside linebacker recruit pulled the trigger on his Cardinal commitment a little faster than anticipated, making the phone call late yesterday to The Farm.
"I called Coach [D.J.] Durkin first because I felt like I was closest to him," Craig recounts. "He was really, really excited because I told him that I was going to be making my decision on Saturday. He knew that I was going to be calling at some point, but he didn't know what the decision was. When I finally told him, he was very, very excited."
Next the new Cardinal commit called Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh. Craig talked not only about his commitment but also about those he hopes will follow to Stanford.
"He told me that great things were ahead of me at Stanford, and he wants this class to be one of the best that has come through," says Craig. "I want to do whatever I can to help other people get to Stanford. If the coaching staff evaluates them and thinks that they are fit to come to Stanford, then I want to do whatever I can to help get them there."
Craig's commitment is a big one for Stanford on several dimensions. The St. Xavier safety is a prolific playmaker and highly recruited athlete more than 2,000 miles from The Farm. Craig is the owner of 20 Division I offers currently and chose the Cardinal over Nebraska, West Virginia, Louisville, Michigan State, Indiana, Duke, Cincinnati, Miami (OH), North Carolina State, Vanderbilt, Air Force plus others in the MAC.
Stanford has had strong success recruiting in-state and on the West Coast this year, but Craig is a big win from an area where the Cardinal have a greater challenge recruiting. Layered on top of the Andrew Luck commitment in Texas a month ago, Stanford is now asserting a stronger national footprint with his recruiting class.
Craig also gives Stanford its first commit in the defensive front seven this year, after landing several recruits on offense and in the defensive backfield.
"I like that," Craig comments. "I feel honored to be the first one, and I want to get to know some of the other guys they are trying to recruit. I want to hopefully be an example for other guys, especially people from far away because Ohio is not that close to California. Distance is a factor for a lot of people, but I want to show them that somebody from the Midwest is coming to Stanford. Hopefully that will maybe influence some of the other people."
It is nearly two weeks since Craig returned from his second unofficial visit to Stanford this year - the first came in late April. This most recent trip followed the Cardinal's scholarship offer to the outside linebacker recruit in early June, and the visit solidified Stanford as Craig's prohibitive favorite.
Before calling the Cardinal with his pledge, however, Craig waited to hold a family meeting and formulate a joint decision on his college future.
"My dad was out of town when I got back, and I made the trip with my mom," the son explains. "I kind of knew going in that Stanford was my top choice, but my parents and I wanted to sit down and compare a lot of the places. Stanford still was the last one standing in that comparison. That went along with my gut feeling, and it ended up working out fine."
"I think Duke and Vanderbilt were pretty much tied for second, but Stanford was by far my top choice," he adds.
Prior to Saturday's sit-down, Craig had planned to take one last unofficial visit - to Vanderbilt - before wrapping his recruitment. The four-hour drive to Nashville never happened, however.
"I just decided that Stanford felt like the place for me, so I decided to go ahead and think out my decision already," Craig offers. "I wanted to go ahead and get this off my plate and prove to everybody that I'm committed to this season and doing what is important to me now. I felt like I owed it to my teammates if I knew where I wanted to go, to go ahead and get it over with."
A recruit who holds a top three favorites of Stanford, Duke and Vanderbilt ahead of other offers from a breadth of BCS conferences is clearly sincere about academics. Craig and his family indeed weighed the education at Stanford heavily in the final analysis, in addition to other factors.
"It's a new place. California is very different from Ohio, and I wanted a new atmosphere," Craig says. "Also the academics of Stanford speak for themselves. I think that was the final chip in the whole thing, and I think that it's going to be a great place for me."
Observers in the Midwest may wonder why a standout athlete with so many scholarship options would choose a program coming off a 1-11 season, but Craig sees an exciting opportunity for his football at Stanford.
"One of the things that was attractive for me at Stanford was the fact that I'm going to have the opportunity to help them rebuild the tradition at Stanford," he shares. "I'll be able to look back when it's all over and Stanford is back as a winning program and say that I was part of that, helping to rebuild and get Stanford back to where it should be."
"I think that the style of defense that Coach [Scott] Shafer is going to employ there is very attractive to the players that he is going to recruit," Craig adds. "It's a very attacking style and puts players in certain positions to make great plays, and I think that was one of the things that I noticed when I talked to Coach Shafer. It seems like a great opportunity to be in."
Playing safety at St. Xavier, Craig is a premier playmaker on one of the top-ranked teams in the nation. As a sophomore he recorded 80 tackles in 15 games for the Bombers, and last year he notched 90-plus tackles in a nine-game season that was shortened by an eye injury. Craig also recorded 10 tackles for loss, one interception and two forced fumbles as a junior.
The 6'2" 205-pound athlete plays with aggression and possesses speed. He ran a laser-timed 40 earlier this summer of 4.52 seconds as part of a biomedical study at the University of Cincinnati Medical School.
Fred Craig is Stanford's seventh public verbal commitment in the Class of 2008 and the first linebacker.
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