First Official Visits of the Season - Part II

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.

While DeAndre Jones may not boast the offer list or eye-popping track numbers that Griffin does, he is nonetheless also an important target for Stanford. As an outside linebacker with offers from Stanford, Ole Miss, Kentucky, Michigan State, and Indiana, Jones projects as a solid potential contributor at a position of need for Stanford.

Given the fact that at least two out of the three linebackers in Stanford's 2007 recruiting class are likely to burn their redshirts this season, an acute need exists for Stanford to recruit linebackers in the 2008 recruiting class in order to refill the pipeline. Additionally, two of Stanford's top four current outside linebackers will have completed their eligibility by the time Jones is a redshirt freshman or true sophomore, thereby creating a more immediate need. To date, Stanford has secured one commitment from a linebacker in Fred Craig, who plays safety at the high school level. A recruiting need at linebacker persists.

The Stanford coaching staff continues to actively pursue Jones in the hope that he is a linebacker who can fill that need. Interestingly, this weekend's official visit will represent the second week in a row in which Jones will be engaged on some level with the Stanford coaching staff. Last week, as members of the Stanford coaching staff took advantage of an opportunity to conduct fall evaluation trips, Linebackers Coach Andy Buh visited Jones in Memphis (Tenn.), where Jones plays for Memphis University School.

At the same time that the Stanford coaching staff has stayed engaged with Jones in getting him to use his first official visit on a trip to Stanford and in visiting him on the road, Jones has done his part to attempt to impress Stanford and other college recruiters. Through three games, Jones has led his team in tackles twice and finished second once and has 25.5 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and multiple forced fumbles.

While college recruiters use evaluation trips, film study, and other means to take Jones' measure, Jones, ranked by as the #37 weakside linebacker prospect in the nation, plans to use at least a couple of his official visits to assess the schools that have offered him. As Jones told National Recruiting Editor Allen Wallace, "the visits are important because I really want to make sure that I'm a player that these schools want and need. I want to make sure I'll be able to fit in with all the players and coaches and possibly play early." This weekend serves as Jones' chance to begin the process of making those determinations about the top schools on his list, which currently include all those that have offered and will likely be sorted out through additional official visits this fall.

For Jones, this weekend also could mark an important milestone in the recruitment of any Stanford recruit, the completion of the Stanford application. As with all prospects, Jones' place in the football team's recruiting class would be contingent on admission to Stanford through the school's rigorous application process. In his interview with Wallace, Jones conveyed a goal to have his application complete by the time he arrives on campus for his visit. While Stanford rightfully relishes being in the hunt for any impressive student-athlete, the true excitement comes when a recruit shows the academic seriousness to undertake the Stanford application. Jones' progress on that front must be seen as a positive sign for Stanford.

Aside from the importance of these two specific recruits, the mid-September beginning of the official visit calendar for Stanford Football also represents a potentially profound change in the program's strategy for official visits, especially since the pair of visitors this weekend will be followed by a wave of at least eight visitors the following weekend. Whereas previous Stanford coaching staffs have tended to concentrate official visits on specific weekends late in the year or even on weekends after the season in January, Jim Harbaugh and his staff have ushered in a new era in which prospective recruits will make official visits throughout the fall.

Typically, Stanford enjoys a remarkable success rate with those who make the trek out to Palo Alto for official visits. By my count, 22 prospects made senior year visits to Stanford in the last recruiting cycle while also having a Stanford scholarship offer. 19 of those prospects ended up signing with Stanford in February. Of those who visited and did not sign with Stanford, two were rejected by Stanford's admissions office. Ultimately, then, only one prospect last year officially visited Stanford with an offer in hand yet made a decision to attend a school other than Stanford. Similarly, only one recruit took an official visit the previous year and ended up signing somewhere other than Stanford. That recruit, however, was Chase Beeler, who recently transferred to Stanford after only one year at Oklahoma. Given such a track record, the Stanford Football program has reason to be confident about prospects who take official visits to Stanford. Indeed, the power of the Stanford official visit is clear and has inspired a rallying cry among some Stanford fans that "if they visit, they will come."

Still, it may be the case that a process of self-selection inflates the numbers in Stanford's favor. Under a previous recruiting strategy that concentrated official visitors on one or two "Big Visit" dates late in the year, most prospects who visited Stanford in recent years were doing so despite a recently completed fall of futility on the football field. In that way, then, those prospects may have already been inclined to pick Stanford since they had already demonstrated a willingness to travel to Stanford despite the team's minimal success on the football field.

Moreover, concentrating visits late in the year leaves a smaller pool of possible official visitors and increases the likelihood that those who do visit will ultimately select the school. Those who visit in December, for instance, have typically narrowed their lists down to a few schools or, in many cases, already committed to the school they visit. It should come as little surprise that a high percentage of those who visit in December or January end up signing in February, independent of the impression made by the visit itself.

Inviting prospective recruits to officially visit anytime in the fall could thus drive down the success rate for converting official visitors into eventual Stanford players because it reduces the number of visitors who may be easy targets in the first place. At the same time, however, this shift in strategy would seem to hold promise in its ability to allow the coaching staff to use the demonstrably effective tool of an official visit in wooing a broader pool of prospective recruits, including those inclined to decide early in their senior year of high school. Instead of suggesting that all recruits visit on a date late in the fall or even in the winter, extending an open invitation for recruits to visit based on their own preferences opens up the official visit experience to more recruits and gives the Stanford coaching staff a fighting chance at landing prospects who may not have otherwise visited Stanford. Given the professed decision timetables for Robert Griffin and DeAndre Jones, it is a distinct possibility that Stanford has a shot where it might not have under previous coaching staffs.

These mid-September visits of Griffin and Jones, as well as the planned big visit weekend for the next game against Oregon, could have a real effect on Stanford's recruiting efforts for the class of 2008. For those who believe that Stanford sells itself and that the football team recruits better when recruits meet the players and see the school, this potential change in recruiting strategy could be a big story in itself. Stay tuned to The Bootleg for more coverage on Robert Griffin, DeAndre Jones, and the overall recruiting efforts of the new coaching staff.

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