"Boots on the Ground" - Scout Combine 5-31-08

Our Southern California Recruiting Observer Bob Miller once again extends the reach of our organization with another edition of his trademark "Boots on the Ground". He reports in on his impressions of Stanford recruits and prospects at the recent Scout Combine in Los Angeles.

Saturday morning, May 31, 2008, found the USC daughter and me at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles attending the Scout/ Under Armour combine. For an amateur scouting sleuth like me, this presented a fairly impossible task. Two hundred plus top players from the west coast all wearing identical sponsor-provided workout gear. The only identifier was a sweatband with a three-digit number embroidered in white on the black background. Said numbers were visible from no more than 15 feet. How in the world can you make any kind of meaningful evaluation of Stanford prospects when you can't tell at whom you are looking?

Well, simply stated, the old adage "it's good to have friends in high places" is applicable in scouting combines as in so many others of life's endeavors. In this case, I had the chance to meet Scout football maven Brandon Huffman. Brandon is knowledgeable, energetic, and in my case, quite accommodating. While everyone other than coaches and athletes were kept away from the field, Brandon graciously provided me with field access. It was the only way to get measurable results from drills and to speak with a player or two.

Meeting Brandon before things got started, I asked how I might identify Stanford prospects. His suggestion, "If you want to meet Levine Toilolo, just look for the tallest player here." With that guidance, we entered the field of play. Frankly, there were a lot of tall guys eager to test at the combine. How do I find Levine? I feared I was in for a "Where's Waldo" type of day. I needn't have worried. Come to find out, there was a very large contingent of athletes from Helix High in attendance and Levine was seated with his mates relaxing before the festivities started. {Nine players from Helix participated in the Combine workouts.} Take a look at a picture taken as the athletes were going through their warm up routine prior to the testing portion of the combine. Any guess as to which player is Levine? The photo was not a trick taken at an angle to deceive the viewer. It was taken from a height of at least 65 inches.

In the picture, Levine is warming up with the finest football talent in Southern California - tall people like linemen and the linebackers and safeties who will be trying to cover him as he rolls down the field. And he is more than just tall. He has a large frame and is a "plus" athlete. While his 40 time of 4.93 may not jump off the page, consider the circumstances. While the basic timing methodology (hand held timing at the finish line, initiated visually as the athlete starts) provides consistent relative times, the times generally tended to run high . His basic movement looked good in the other agility drills. Later in the day, Levine was surely one of the most obvious mismatches on the field. In the coverage drills, linebackers were competing with backs and tight ends. The first time Levine took his turn and got in his stance to run a pattern, the ENTIRE complement of linebackers, 20+ players, took the field to try to match up at the line of scrimmage. Brandon advised that this was a hangover from his Las Vegas performance where he and his fellow Stanford TE recruit, Zach Ertz steamrolled to the championship with the Cali II team. From one of Brandon's articles on Zach, 

"In Ertz, the Cardinal have a tight end who will match up with another Stanford commit at the position, Levine Toilolo, who also was on the same team with Ertz in Vegas, and the two were the favorite targets of the "CaliTwo" quarterbacks. The two are easily comprising the best tight end class in the country. "It was great playing with Levine, I had a blast and it was fun winning that. Levine was at UCLA last weekend and we talked the whole time," said Ertz. "It will be fun playing with him in college."

At just 6'6" Zach will be Stanford's "tiny" TE recruit. From what we saw on Saturday, Levine Toilolo will present opposing defenses major match-up problems while running routes and should develop into a formidable force at the point of attack. He has the look of a player who should respond well in a college-caliber strength and conditioning program.

While at the combine, I had a chance to see top quarterback prospect Josh Nunes throw. Josh has obvious physical tools. He is very smooth in his drops, sits down quickly on his back leg and has obvious arm strength that is noticeable even in good company. I suspect with proper coaching he can polish his tools and improve his accuracy. He hopes to attend the Harbaugh QB Academy at Stanford in June, I believe. It will provide the Cardinal staff with an excellent opportunity to work with Josh on perfecting his craft. Tate Forcier, brother of Stanford's Jason Forcier, also attended the Combine. Tate also has a strong arm and in limited observation, was a plus on accuracy, a characteristic critical for success as the players move to the next level. Separation is harder to achieve and the closing speed of defensive backs is greater, so accuracy will drive both completion percentages and yards-after-catch.

Josh was asked 'How does it feel to have an opportunity for a quarter of million dollar education coming out of high school?' From Josh's reply, it is clear he has poise, humility, and obvious smarts. He has earned the right to evaluate a broad range of opportunities and will have a chance to consider new things and he is enjoying the process. From what I could observe, I think Josh would be a great addition to the Stanford community.

I was hoping to see WR Jemari Roberts compete at the Combine but for a second time it was not to be. Just like the Wilson/Poly game last season, Jemari was a late scratch at the Combine. An ankle injury was the culprit this time. It would have been a great opportunity to watch him compete against college-quality defensive backs.

In the final analysis, the series of workouts run by Scout/ Under Armour are a wonderful opportunity for the players to demonstrate their skills as they work to take their games to the next level. They are well organized and well staffed. Many of these players will see their football days end after high school or college. The increased visibility provided on days like this may create opportunities for some of the kids to pursue an education, an opportunity they might not otherwise realize. Hats off to the kids who elect to take full advantage of a college scholarship. And for Stanford fans, you can't come to an event like this and not appreciate the hard work Harbaugh's assessment team is putting in on player identification and recruitment. I am convinced that the Bootleg community will enjoy watching these kids compete on the Farm.

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