Stanford's Junior Day Reaps Rewards

Stanford ushered in Spring Football with style on March 1 with a major Junior Day production that brought 17 top junior recruits and two prominent underclassmen to The Farm. On a sunny day on campus, the recruits and their families were treated to a showcase of the academic, athletic, aesthetic, and other features of life at Stanford. Read on for details on the recruits and the busy day's agenda.

As the football team prepared for the year's first spring practice action in Stanford Stadium on Saturday, the football coaches and staff multi-tasked as they also hosted a large group of important unofficial visitors for Stanford's major Junior Day that day. With recruits coming from all over California and four other states, over half of the recruits supplemented the action-packed Saturday with additional time on campus either on Friday or Sunday.

All told, the weekend brought 19 recruits and their families to Stanford. Aside from one freshman and one sophomore, the group was focused on junior recruits who loom large in Stanford's plans for the 2009 recruiting cycle. All but two of the junior recruits in attendance over the weekend have already been extended scholarship offers by Stanford. The weekend's visitors were:

The group was headlined by eight players ranked in the recently-released initial list of the top 300 prospects in the 2009 class according to defensive end Alex Okafor (#35 overall), tight end Levine Toilolo (#90 overall), offensive lineman Michael Philipp (#115 overall), linebacker Todd Golper (#122 overall), quarterback Josh Nunes (#148 overall), wide receiver Jemari Roberts (#247 overall), tight end Zach Ertz (#265 overall), and running back Tyler Gaffney (#284 overall).

With the recruiting cycle nationally accelerating every year and many elite recruits now aiming to make their college decisions before their senior years of high school, the weekend had the feel of the official visits that typically occur in the fall or winter of a recruit's senior year. Some of the recruits who made the trip could be on the verge of their college decisions, introducing an element of urgency to Stanford's approach to the weekend. Indeed, probably the top target among those who visited is Okafor and he has said that he plans on deciding among his top choices of Texas, Stanford, and LSU sometime in the next month. Similarly, Toilolo, the other top 100 recruit who participated in the Junior Day, returned to Southern California after the visit and was ready to pronounce his decision within 24 hours: in the wake of the titanic Junior Day, the Cardinal had netted a commitment from the prized tight end, the program's earliest top 100 commitment since current Stanford all-conference offensive lineman Alex Fletcher five years ago.

In committing, Toilolo also joined Ertz as a tight end in Stanford's recruiting class in a year in which Stanford undoubtedly needs reinforcements at that position. With two commitments from tight ends who are currently ranked by in the top seven nationally at the position, Stanford is clearly aiming to address that need. Additionally, the two highly-touted tight ends join top 300 linebacker Shayne Skov in the class. Stanford has addressed the accelerating recruiting process by garnering commitments from three top targets at an earlier date than the Cardinal had secured a single commit in any of the last four recruiting cycles.

The March 1 Junior Day seemed designed to address this ever-earlier timetable for college football recruiting. Last year's Junior Day, held on March 31, was the earliest Stanford had ever held. This year's weekend came a month earlier than that previous record. Moreover, the list of participants in the Junior Day reflected a more geographically diverse and targeted list of immediately important targets whereas last year's Junior Day could accurately be described as both more California-centric and less targeted to active recruiting priorities.

In 2007, 22 players attended the Junior Day and 19 were from California, with one from Washington, one from Missouri, and one from Connecticut. Less than a third of the attendees ever received offers from Stanford. The group included nine quarterbacks, none of whom ended up signing with Stanford in February. The complete list of attendees included three players who did sign with Stanford in center David DeCastro, running back Delano Howell, and wide receiver Chris Owusu.

In contrast, 15 of the 17 juniors who attended the most recent Junior Day have already received Stanford offers 11 months before National Signing Day. Five of the 17 juniors traveled from out-of-state and represented four different states in addition to California. In Ertz and Toilolo, Stanford can already claim two commitments from prospects who attended the Junior Day, with more sure to follow in the coming months. Whereas the 2007 group was disproportionately populated by signal callers and non-offer recipients, the latest group represents each position group on the field with at least one legitimate prospect.

In addition to a considerably more targeted approach and slightly more geographic diversity, this past weekend's Junior Day was also notable for the inclusion of two underclassmen. Freshman kicker Connor Loftus joined older brother Michael on the unofficial visit. While it remains to be seen whether Stanford will devote a scholarship to a kicker in the upcoming class, Michael Loftus will undoubtedly continue to attract attention from the Cardinal as they seek to find an answer at kicker. Meanwhile, his younger brother will be waiting in the wings for recruiting a few years down the line.

The other underclassman at Junior Day, junior offensive lineman Erik Kohler, was in attendance with teammate Brian Owusu, the younger brother of Chris Owusu. With Stanford signing Oaks Christian products in each of the past three years (Joe Dembesky, Sean Wiser, and the elder Owusu), Stanford fans should keep an eye on this most recent crop of Oaks Christian products despite the lack of Stanford offers to date.

All of the recruits in attendance, with the exception of Nathan Fellner and his Saturday SAT engagement, participated in a packed schedule of events on Saturday. The day started at 8:00 a.m. with a staff introduction that included remarks by Jim Harbaugh, the assistant coaches, academic support staff and others, followed by a highlight film of Stanford's 2007 season. Over 13 hours later, the day ended after a dinner with faculty members from various departments in the Director's level of the Stanford Stadium press box.

In between, the recruits and their families were exposed to countless dimensions of Stanford's campus, academic programs, and football team. The morning included tours of various areas of campus. On the football side, the players and families saw the locker room, weight room, Hall of Fame Room, and other facilities. Elsewhere on campus, the visitors went to the top of Hoover Tower and made stops by other campus landmarks such as the Quad and White Plaza. To get a sense of the residential environment, they also stopped inside a Stanford dormitory.

In a Junior Day feature that has become a staple of Stanford recruiting activities, the coaches and support staff cleared out of an auditorium and gave the players and parents a free-wheeling opportunity to ask questions of a panel of current Stanford players. For this Junior Day, the panel included Chris Marinelli, Erik Lorig, Pannel Egboh, Tavita Pritchard, Chike Amajoyi, and Bo McNally, a cross-section of the team's roster in a number of demographic, geographic, and academic ways.

Throughout the day, the recruits also received various opportunities to get to know the coaches they would spend so much time with should they matriculate to Stanford. Notably, the day's agenda included a presentation by Recruiting Coordinator Lance Anderson on navigating the admissions process for Stanford, a presentation by Strength & Conditioning Coach Shannon Turley on his program, and a lunch hour in which recruits sat with position coaches to discuss philosophy and analyze film. Pre-practice meetings before the session in the stadium afforded further opportunity to interact with potential future position coaches. Finally, during the day, recruits were also given the chance to have individual sit-down meetings with Harbaugh.

After watching the Stanford men's basketball team pull out a thrilling 60-53 win over Washington State, the recruits shifted gears back to their future college sport and enjoyed a lively practice and scrimmage atmosphere in the stadium that included faculty present and music blaring to set the mood for the action they witnessed on the field.

From early indications, the weekend and particularly the Junior Day itself made strong positive impressions on the recruits in attendance. Stay tuned to The Bootleg for updates on how individual recruits are reacting to their experiences.

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