First Official Visits of the Season - Part I

With much focus on Saturday's game against San Jose State, the Cardinal staff are also preparing for the first official visitors of the 2008 recruiting class. Recruiting Analyst Matt Squeri offers commentary on the two important targets making the trip to Palo Alto, their value as prospects as well as an important possible shift in Stanford's approach to fall official visits.

Stanford begins the official visit portion of the fall this Saturday as quarterback Robert Griffin and linebacker DeAndre Jones both come to town to watch the Cardinal take on San Jose State in the inaugural Bill Walsh Legacy Game. The three-star prospects bring enticing athleticism to the table and give Stanford fans a pair of important official visit storylines for this early in the season.

Griffin in particular boasts tremendous athleticism by Stanford standards and, indeed, by any standards. Most famously, Griffin made headlines as a junior by establishing himself as one of the best high school track stars Texas has ever seen. In addition to being named the Gatorade Texas Boys Track & Field Athlete of the Year as only a junior, Griffin caught the attention of track fans everywhere with an AAU Junior Olympics performance that saw him win the 400 meter hurdles with a blistering 49.56 second time. That time ranked tops among all high school competitors in 2007 and among the best times in high school history.

Griffin excelled in more than just the 400-meter hurdles, however. His consistently best events throughout the season were actually the 110-meter hurdles and the 300-meter hurdles. In the former event, Griffin's best time of 13.46 seconds ranked sixth best in America and he owned six of the top fifteen marks in the nation, including the top six marks for all non-seniors. In the latter event, his 35.33 second time was the second best in the nation, behind only the national record mark, and he finished the season with half of the top eight times for all high school competitors.

While Griffin would clearly be a once-in-a-generation asset for Stanford's track team, the athletic ability he has demonstrated on the track also has the Stanford Football staff salivating at the prospect of coaching him. For one, his degree of excellence in the hurdles indicates an exceedingly rare athletic package that any football coach would want on the field. Indeed, Griffin's principal rival last year was Jeshua Anderson, the owner of that national record in the 300-meter hurdles and now an impressive true freshman wide receiver for Washington State. Just two games into his first college season, Anderson has already impressed with a 39-yard touchdown reception.

Moreover, Griffin has demonstrated that his athleticism translates beyond the track and makes him an excellent quarterback as well. As a junior, Griffin led his Copperas Cove (Tex.) team to the Class 4A Division 1 state championship played in the Alamo Dome. On the season, he totaled nearly 3,000 yards in total offense as a dual-threat quarterback. So far in his senior year, Griffin and Copperas Cove are 2-0 and Griffin has racked up five touchdowns either through the air or on the ground.

This package of on-field production and especially outstanding athleticism makes Griffin a coveted target. Ranked by as the #18 quarterback prospect in the nation, Griffin reportedly boasts offers from Stanford, Tennessee, Washington State, Nebraska, Illinois, Purdue, TCU, New Mexico, Colorado State, Kansas, Baylor, Houston, Tulsa, and UTEP. Griffin has made a point of dropping from his list any schools that suggest playing him at a position other than the playmaking quarterback position that he loves, so public reporting on his favored schools typically leaves off a host of national programs that would love to find a place on the field for him.

With Griffin's insistence on playing quarterback serving as a defining feature of his recruitment, it falls to the schools recruiting him to sell him on their ability to exploit his unique athletic gifts from the quarterback position. Significantly, the coaching histories of the members of the Stanford coaching staff may allow them to make a credible argument that Griffin can find a home in Stanford's offense.

Most obviously, Head Coach and Quarterbacks Coach Jim Harbaugh, Offensive Coordinator and Wide Receivers Coach David Shaw, and Tight Ends Coach Tim Drevno all came to Stanford after having run the dynamic University of San Diego offense, which was led by an athletic quarterback in Josh Johnson. Like Griffin, Johnson is listed as 6'3' 200 pounds. Also like Griffin, Johnson keeps opposing defenses honest with his running ability.

One of the top players in DI-AA football the last two years as USD won the mid-major national championship both years, Johnson enjoyed a particularly dominant 2006 campaign as he totaled over 4,000 total yards. He led all of DI-AA in total offense, passing yards, and passing efficiency. With Johnson as the quarterback, USD has won 24 of their last 26 games. In short, Johnson blossomed under the tutelage of Jim Harbaugh and his offensive brain trust, which now lead the Stanford offense. Stanford can therefore contend that the current coaching staff has recent, relevant, and successful experience coaching the kind of quarterback Robert Griffin hopes to become at the college level. For what it's worth, the Stanford coaching staff even includes a coach with experience at the pro level in facilitating success for a dynamic dual threat quarterback: Offensive Line Coach Chris Dalman was part of the staff that helped Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons running game break rushing records.

There are many variables in Griffin's college decision and this coming weekend's official visit to Stanford is only one event in a hotly contested and complicated recruitment. But Stanford fans should view Griffin as a truly special athlete and an interesting prospect well worth tracking. While Stanford has already received a verbal commitment from one of the nation's top quarterbacks, Griffin presents a unique dimension and ranks high on the Stanford coaching staff's wish list.

Still to come... Part II will feature DeAndre Jones.

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