When Fred Craig committed to Stanford in late July, many observers of the national high school football scene were talking about his Cincinnati (Ohio) St. Xavier team as arguably the best team in the nation. Nearly three months later, the Bombers have only strengthened their case as they stand at a perfect 8-0 against a brutal schedule that has included top teams from four states.
For their efforts, they have been rewarded with top spots in national rankings, including the #2 spot in the USA Today rankings and the #1 spot in the Max Preps rankings. Craig acknowledges and appreciates the rankings but prefers not to dwell on them.
"There's definitely a lot of pride in the recognition that we get, but we try not to pay attention to it too much because we don't want to add too much pressure on ourselves," Craig offers. "We've got a lot of school pride and it brings a lot of good recognition for our school. But it doesn't really play in. We really don't think about it too much."
The focus of Craig and his teammates has clearly paid off. St. Xavier's sparkling 8-0 start has been enabled in large part by a Craig-led defense that has shut out three of their last four opponents. Perhaps even more impressively, the St. X defense has allowed a touchdown or less in six of the eighth games this season.
Craig, a 3-star prospect ranked by Scout.com as the #40 weakside linebacker in the nation and the #84 overall prospect in the Midwest, boasts the biggest athletic profile of any player on the Bomber defense. Nonetheless, the three-year starter frames his contributions to the defense in largely cerebral terms.
"My role on defense is to try to get everybody else into the right positions and kind of be the quarterback," Craig explains. "My coach, before the season, kind of asked me to take that role and be able to know and read responsibility." Ever the team player, Craig quickly volunteers praise for his coaches, commenting that "the coaches have a great game plan every week and they look for mismatches for our guys against [opponents] and put us in the right spots to make great plays."
One of those great plays came just this past weekend as Craig returned an interception 47 yards for a touchdown. Despite his experience at safety at the high school level, Craig's conversations with Stanford coaches have him envisioning a position switch when he moves on to college. "I think their plan is for me to play outside linebacker," Craig says of his future coaches. "They expect me to try to compete for some playing time, I guess early. They want me to be at Stanford early in the summer so I can start to learn the position and try to start to see where I fit in at that position."
Over a dozen incoming freshman football players attended early summer workouts in Jim Harbaugh's first year at Stanford and a number of those recruits used those workouts as a springboard to early playing time. Indeed, outside linebacker Chike Amajoyi, cornerback Corey Gatewood, safety Taylor Skaufel, and running back Jeremy Stewart were all active participants in Stanford's summer workouts and now see themselves playing on Saturdays in their first year on The Farm. With that experience in mind, Craig could indeed expect to compete for early playing time.
As Craig notes, summer workouts would also provide an informal opportunity to evaluate where he fits in at outside linebacker. A glance at the current depth chart reveals ample opportunity to compete for playing time. While Clinton Snyder and Pat Maynor are leaders on the Stanford defense, opportunity abounds to compete for playing time in an outside linebacker corps that only returns Amajoyi and true freshman Max Bergen in addition to returning starters Snyder and Maynor.
Moreover, Maynor's graduation after the 2008 season will open up a hole in the starting lineup going into Craig's second year on campus. With few options currently on campus, Craig would presumably be thrown into competition with Amajoyi, a converted running back showing aptitude as a pass rusher, and true freshman Bergen. Participation in summer workouts before his freshman year would thus allow Craig to get a head start in moving along the learning curve in preparation for potential early playing time. He also would get a chance to learn a new position with tutelage from established Pac-10 linebackers in Snyder and Maynor, just as they learned from current Oakland Raiders linebacker Jon Alston and Chicago Bears linebacker Michael Okwo.
Before Craig can think about summer workouts and early playing time, however, he must gain admission into Stanford. Like all student-athletes pursued by Stanford, Craig's scholarship offer is contingent on acceptance to the university through the regular admissions process. Consequently, significant milestones in Stanford recruiting are often marked by the progress recruits make on the application. So where does Craig stand in this important aspect of his recruitment?
"I've actually already sent my application in by FedEx this morning," Craig reports of submitting the application on Wednesday. "It's good to get it over with." Although Craig possesses one of the most impressive academic track records of any Stanford recruit this year and seems a lock to be accepted, he must await word on his application for the final piece of the puzzle in his recruitment to be in place.
Until then, he continues to be focused on his senior season of football with St. Xavier as well as the progress being made on the field by Stanford. Stanford's momentous upset of USC two weeks ago made waves throughout the college football world and had an impact even on recruits unable to watch the game.
"I don't have the college football package that gives us the West Coast games so I haven't been able to [watch Stanford games] but I've been following online. During the USC game one of my friends was giving me updates on how everything was going throughout the game," Craig recounts. "I was really, really excited. I couldn't believe it when my friends were giving me updates through text messages about the game; I was just awestruck."
"You know, it's really awesome for the program," Craig continues. "Hopefully it brings some exposure to Stanford Football and what they're all about. They're improving weekly and they're committed to getting better for the future so I think that's really an awesome thing for the program. I talked to Coach Harbaugh the other night about it and he was really excited. He was just telling me how huge it was for all the players in giving them confidence and showing them that they can win every game they play."
In addition to getting a call from Harbaugh "every once in a while," Craig stays in touch with the coaches through weekly conversations with D.J. Durkin, his regional recruiter, or Andy Buh, his future position coach. One of the topics of conversation has been Stanford's efforts on the recruiting trail.
"I haven't been able to talk to any of the other commits, but I've been trying to help out in the recruiting process, shooting other recruits a text message, or talking to them about Stanford because I'm interested."
In the minds of Stanford fans, Craig's enthusiasm for the Cardinal and willingness to help the coaching staff recruit will evoke memories of similar comments by current Stanford guard Alex Fletcher back in the fall of 2003, which earned him the nickname Coach Fletch.
It may come as little surprise that a prospect who takes a leadership role in quarterbacking the defense of his nationally ranked high school team is willing to lend a helping hand with recruiting for his future college team. Before even arriving on The Farm, Craig is certainly endearing himself to Stanford coaches and fans alike.
Craig's next trip to Stanford, after two unofficial trips earlier in the year, will be an official visit that "probably won't be until December" so as to not interfere with St. Xavier's season, which figures to feature a long playoff run. Whenever he does make his next visit, Stanford fans and coaches will surely welcome him to the fold with open arms.
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