Front-Row View: Signing Day

Jim Harbaugh spoke for 20 minutes on the 2008 class on Wednesday afternoon's Signing Day press conference.

3:30pm: No TV cameras in the house and most of the 20 people in attendance are Athletic Department employees. The media relations folk seem disappointed. Perhaps that's why they're stalling and we don't actually start until 3:34pm. Jim Harbaugh, Lance Anderson and Mike Eubanks are all on-hand, though only Jim Harbaugh will end up speaking.

Harbaugh's opening statement:

"National Signing Day is like no other day in the entire year. Stanford got better today. We added depth and character guys first and foremost, good guys. These past two months have been very special for me, just getting to know the families better. I think one of the keys to understanding a young man is to spend quality in-depth time with the family. I wish I was an incoming freshman because of the guys that are coming in here. I'm really proud of the class that our coaches, our professors, Stanford University put together."

Note: These comments aren't complete, I'm cherry-picking the interesting stuff. He's really emphasizing the academic angle today, even by Stanford standards.

On Luck: "First of all, he's valedictorian of his class."

Between the sparse attendance and the fact that the first word out of the coach's mouth on his best player is valedictorian, I feel like I'm in the Ivies. The subsequent comment that Luck "will be a starter in the classroom as well," makes me feel like I'm watching one of those "there are 300,000 Division I athletes who are going pro in something other than sports" spots.

Harbaugh relayed that he first saw Luck playing basketball, where he impressed with his strength and physicality. He said Bill Walsh saw Luck's film and liked what Luck showed at Stanford's summer camp. Harbaugh asked Walsh last March on the number one thing to look for in a quarterback, and Walsh responded with instincts, a quarterback who's a natural centerfielder or basketball star.

Luck excelled at a game at camp with his "instincts, the field presence, the awareness and also his demeanor, his leadership." Harbaugh kept calling Luck to the front of the line so often that the quarterbacks had to devise a system so that they all had some time with the first unit.

Luck will compete for the starting job the moment he steps on campus. "Strong arm, strong, tough kid, we're very much looking forward to him being here... There's strong competition, but Andrew will be right in the mix."

On whether the reception he received on the recruiting trail was different this year and last year:

"We knew the families so much better, the individuals we were recruiting, as well as the parents and the grandparents. That's the fun and exciting thing about being a coach."

What the SF Chronicle's Michelle Smith was going for was whether the football program is being taken more seriously, so she tries again and asks that:

"I definitely think so. Everyone we talk to, recruits and families, know this is a program on the rise."

On the Reuland brothers:

"I remember standing out on the field here in February and offering Warren a scholarship over the phone. His parents and Warren visited on a Junior Day, and Warren committed to Stanford, one of the very early commitments we got in this ‘08 class.

"Then Konrad surfaced at Notre Dame last year, a very highly recruited, top-50 player in his class his senior year of high school. He played his frosh year and into his sophomore year and then he transferred, sent us a release and started talking with us. It's a great situation for him to play with his brother and he knows the opportunity there is at tight end. He definitely adds a lot of depth and is possibly a guy that can start at tight end."

Harbaugh ducked a question on whether Konrad would redshirt, saying that's a conversation he has a week before the season starts.

A fan in the back asks whether Harbaugh's disappointed to be ranked eighth in the Pac-10, and just 40th or 42nd nationally. Harbaugh doesn't really answer:

"Some schools have signed 25, 30, 33 guys, so I haven't quite figured that out. It surely accumulates a lot of points for 35 guys but you're only allowed to sign 25. We will have 18 initial counters and I don't think that generates as many points as 35. Bottom line, I'm just concerned with the guys we have, not the ones going to other schools."

On Howell:

"Howell is one of top guys in the class, a guy who committed really early. He has the ability to be a three-way guy. We talked at length about position. I would like to start him at running back, put him in the mix at running back and see how it goes. That's where he feels he would like to start. He's highly motivated, very intelligent, very focused. He has big dreams, big goals and feels Stanford's the place to make those dreams a reality.

"We looked at him more as a defensive player in the beginning of this recruiting process. We try to project where we are a little light; we're thin at safety and look at him as a guy who could be a heck of Pac-10 safety, or possibly a linebacker like his brother at UW."

On DeCastro:

"He's going to play early, there's no question about that in any of our coaches minds'. He has the ability to play center or tackle, he's done them both in high school."

Harbaugh adds they were attracted to him as a center, for his athleticism, size and quick speed, but that he's kept on growing, and now has the size to be a tackle as well.

I ask about who might have a good chance to play early that hasn't already been mentioned. Harbaugh says that's mighty tough to judge...

"Someone asked the same question last year and the guys I said didn't play or redshirted. You don't know. I'll give you an example: Owen Marecic."

But, with that caveat, Harbaugh then mentions Chase Thomas as a highly sought after recruit, and mentions his tremendous speed and strength. Harbaugh says he's built the same as Clinton Snyder, and hopes that Thomas will do as well on the field, too.

He played end in high school, and if we get to nickel, third-down passing situations, he's the perfect guy to play an end or rush off the edge. You're always looking for that guy to put pressure on the quarterback, run that loop run, that edge... You really become the most valuable player on defense, the rush defensive end.

On visits:

"If both parents or one parent comes out on the visit, we have a pretty good chance. Especially when it's the mom." [Laughter.]

On balancing signing the best available talent and filling positional needs:

"We touched on a lot of needs. We got a punter we really needed. We didn't go in with a punter on roster. Daniel Zychlinski has a chance – a very good chance – of being our starting punter next year."

I ask who else stands out that he hasn't mentioned today. Harbaugh mentions Michael Thomas could play "very early" on offense, "definitely defense," or special teams, specifically praising his quickness, change in direction, loose hips, and physicality. The current plan is to try him out at corner.

Finally, Harbaugh is asked if there are any two-sport athletes. He says Chris Owusu has a chance to be a champion at the 100-meter dash, with 10.4-10.6 speed, and that Josh Catron is trying out as a pitcher on the baseball team, but that there are no other two-sport guys.  

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