Ranked by Scout.com as the #19 defensive tackle and #232 overall prospect in the entire nation, the 6-2 285-pound lineman was a first team Washington Post All-Met selection as a junior when he racked up 10.5 sacks, 56 tackles, and two interceptions. A bona fide Renaissance man, the well-spoken junior excels beyond the football field, managing a 3.71 GPA in the classroom while also placing fifth as a sophomore in the Maryland state wrestling championships and even earning praise for his singing voice.
"Time management," Stephens cites when asked how he can juggle so many priorities. "It's a skill that you need on the college level trying to deal with all of those activities. It's something that I have been blessed with because it's something that you definitely need to have in all aspects of life. That's basically exactly how I do it, just time management."
Stephens put those skills to use this past weekend as he managed to fit a cross-country trip to Stanford into his busy schedule. According to the recruit, the visit to Palo Alto made quite an impression.
"Absolutely amazing, to wrap it up in two words," he praises. "I didn't have any complaints. I enjoyed every aspect of the trip, from the campus to the players to the surrounding areas. It was just quite an experience and it made me think about becoming a Cardinal that much faster."
As with the Junior Day Stanford held on March 1, this past Sunday's event featured a highly-structured and packed schedule of activities designed to expose the visiting recruits to a spectrum of features of the school, including the football team and coaches, campus, and academic opportunities.
"I attended the Junior Day," Stephens begins in laying out some of the activities he enjoyed from the weekend. "I went on a campus tour. Actually yesterday [Monday] we attended an Alpine Archeology class with Professor Hunt, which was very intriguing. It was nice to see the class size and the people in the class and the professors. We actually had a player panel during the Junior Day. We actually got to sit down and ask questions to some of the faculty. There was a lot of different things that were involved in the trip. It all kind of wrapped up into one great trip because of the different aspects of the trip."
While those aspects of the trip all contributed to a visit weekend that came together to form an enjoyable trip for Stephens, one particular moment stands out as an indelible image in his mind, thanks to player host James McGillicuddy.
"It actually had to be the Palm Drive into the Quad," he identifies as the most memorable part of his trip. "I don't know if you know much about the campus, but that was absolutely amazing. My host actually had taken me at the perfect time to the Quad. The sun was going down and just going down Palm Drive and seeing the church and the sunset behind the church was just, I mean, it really shocked me. It's one of a kind. You don't see it often. At all."
While on the trip, the gregarious Stephens made the most of his time on campus by making sure to engage with the various people who might become part of his daily orbit should he matriculate to Stanford.
"I talked to a lot of guys, actually," he shares. "I was known by the other recruits as the popular guy. I introduced myself to all the coaches, all the coaches that already previously knew me, all the players, everybody on the staff I got pretty familiar with. I just made the effort to really start building relationships."
Those relationships began with the coaches, including his primary recruiter David Shaw and Stanford Head Coach Jim Harbaugh. As a high-priority visiting recruit, Stephens was treated to face-time with the Stanford head man.
"I had some personal time with him," Stephens reflects. "I talked to him and I enjoyed that time because he seemed like a down-to-earth coach and a coach that I could potentially be coached by and enjoy it."
Notably, that relationship building extended beyond those already affiliated with the Stanford program and to the large group of fellow recruits who joined Stephens on campus. Stephens now aims to stay in touch with those he met on the Farm.
"I met all of them," he says of his fellow visitors. "I actually asked Coach Shaw in person to send me an email with the recruits' names and where they're from so I can keep in contact with those recruits and see where they are in their process and see if they're actually thinking about going to Stanford and see how strong their interest is - just to see possibly if I could be going there with them or where they may be going."
Another element of the visit that appealed to Stephens was the exposure to Stanford professors that he received both inside and outside of the classroom.
"The professors there were amazing," Stephens gushes. "They were straight-forward. They were up-front. They were very open-minded. They knew exactly what they were talking about, about their individual interests in study. It was just wonderful to see such an open-minded faculty that was intelligent."
As his high GPA suggests, Stephens' emphasis on the quality of instruction at Stanford is far from lip service. He takes school very seriously and even coupled a reference to his already strong 3.71 GPA with an assurance that he is "just always trying to improve and get that up." As a junior, his class schedule includes courses in history, psychology, sociology, English, algebra and statistics.
"It's a course load," he acknowledges, "but it's what's possibly going to get me into a school that is as prestigious as Stanford."
As he charts out a course for how he might eventually continue his studies at Stanford, Stephens absorbed a clear message from the Stanford coaches on his visit.
"They definitely stressed academics," Stephens notes of the coaches. "They stressed to me my academic standing. They stressed to me that where I stood academically and in admission to their school is very high and just keep going on the path that I'm on right now and admissions are not going to be hard." Wherever Stephens does end up for college, he currently has a tentative plan for how he would like to focus his intellectual energies.
"I want to double major in either psychology and forensics or psychology and criminal justice," he relates. "Things are always subject to change, especially with minors and majors but as of right now that's where I kind of want to go."
Before Stanford fans start having visions of a polymath defensive tackle wreaking havoc on opposing offenses on Saturdays and hitting the psychology books during the week, Stephens must still navigate a hotly-contested recruitment. Already, a host of top programs have extended offers and hope to secure his signature on a Letter of Intent next February.
"I am looking at West Virginia, Nebraska, UConn, Penn State, NC State," Stephens says in rattling off a partial list of the schools that have offered. "But as it stands right now Stanford is probably the top number one school right now."
With a highly-ranked and academically accomplished prospect at a position of major need proclaiming Stanford as the favorite, the question for Cardinal fans thus turns to when he might pull the trigger on his decision. At this point, that moment may not be imminent.
"I don't think soon just because I want to enjoy the recruiting process," Stephens muses. "But if anything I know where I can turn to."
"I am not sure to be completely honest," he continues in assessing a timetable for his college decision. "I can't really give you an honest answer. I don't know when I'll make my decision but I know that Stanford has kind of put me on edge to see these other schools and possibly make an early decision or possibly wait it out. I really haven't put it on a timetable just because of what I've seen so far."
As Stephens notes, he now plans to continuing visiting schools to amass data points he can use to compare his suitors. The unofficial visit process for Stephens had started even before the Stanford trip and will continue in the coming weeks.
"I have visited West Virginia and actually may go up there in the next two weeks or so and UConn after that," Stephens says. "I would love to visit Stanford multiple times but because of the distance and expenses it may be a little hard, but that doesn't mean I can't spend any less [time] at the schools I may visit three or four times. But they definitely left a good impression just for the first-time visit so I'm excited about that."
As Stephens makes further visits and sorts through his options, colleges will surely remain hot on his trail. While he has thus far been described as a defensive tackle prospect, he actually plays both ways at Quince Orchard and has received interest to play on either side of the ball on the college level.
"There are a lot of coaches who would rather me on one side of the ball or the other," he notes. "And then there's lots of schools that are recruiting me so far that want me on the other side, either offensive or defensive side of the ball. It's probably going to be a fight between the two coaches on both sides of the ball."
"Because I play two different positions, I think I'm kind of bi-polar in that sense," Stephens reflects on how he differs as a player depending on where he is lined up. "On the defensive side of the ball I would consider myself very spontaneous, very quick, very aggressive. And that's what you have to be on the defensive side of the ball because offense is more of a technical side and it's more of a slow pace position but on the defensive side of the ball you just have to get after it, get out there fast."
For his part, Stephens does not hesitate in saying that he prefers "defense, definitely." From Stanford's perspective, slotting Stephens in on that side of the ball would fill a significant need and be a much-welcomed win on the recruiting trail. Stay tuned to see whether Stanford can hold on to the lead in Stephens' recruitment as the year progresses.
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