"I committed to Stanford," Stepfan Taylor told TheBootleg.com on Tuesday night. The Mansfield (Tex.) HS star running back, ranked by Scout.com as the #26 running back and #232 overall prospect gives Stanford its sixth commitment from a Top 300 prospect already in the 2009 recruiting cycle. Taylor picked the Cardinal over Missouri as well as a number of other prominent suitors, including offers from Notre Dame, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Louisville, Kansas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, TCU, Houston, Arizona, Minnesota, and Louisiana Tech.
Those schools offered Taylor in recognition of the explosive athletic package he packs into his 6-0, 205-pound frame. Playing in the legendary 5A classification in Texas as a junior last season, he led the Mansfield Tigers to an 8-3 season that concluded with a playoff loss against the fabled Odessa (Tex.) Permian Panthers, the subject of the Friday Night Lights book, movie, and television series that chronicled big-time Texas high school football. Taylor did his part in propelling Mansfield to the playoffs by rushing for over 1,500 yards and 21 touchdowns with a 8.5 yard per carry average. After the season, he was named honorable mention all-state, first-team all-area, and the offensive most valuable player of his district.
After entertaining interest from a geographically diverse cross-section of the college football landscape, Taylor ended his recruitment on Tuesday and pulled the trigger a little over a week after returning from an ultimately decisive unofficial visit to Stanford's campus.
"I went to the school on the 25th of July and it was a really nice campus, I really liked it a lot," he relates of his recent visit experience that helped sway him. "It was beautiful weather. The staff was real nice. Man….I got to see some Olympic swimmers up there [laughing]. It just felt like the right fit for me."
Like most Stanford recruits, Taylor devotes special attention to his discussion of the academic appeal of the school when explaining his decision.
"My academics," he highlights as a particularly salient factor in his decision before listing other facets of the Stanford experience that he finds attractive. "Just in case I don't get drafted in football or something like that, my academics are going to be ok to fall back on. They have great academics. I can meet connections and make connections up there. The offense they run, I think I fit well in that type of offense. And the players, the people are nice. If I want to go out and do something I can go out and enjoy myself. It's around San Francisco and all the area. It will be good."
Taylor does not just pay lip service to the value of academics. He takes his work seriously in the classroom and has the grades to demonstrate his commitment. He has also started communicating with the Stanford coaches about the application process and has a good sense of the work he has ahead of him.
"Just take my time," Taylor says of the coaches' advice to him. "Just fill it out. And if I could just get it to them as soon as possible so I can know if I'm accepted to the school or not. With my grades and my scores, I should be fine."
"I have a 3.83 at my school but I have a 3.7 on the Stanford scale," he shares, noting that Stanford recalculates applicants' grades on a separate scale for core classes. He says he has also taken the SAT, scoring a 1450, and will be taking it again. His willingness to retake the test reflects a broader desire to take his senior year of high school seriously in order to put him in a position to attend Stanford.
"This senior year, I was about to just, not blow it off, but take some easy classes and just take the classes I need to because I'm already like done," he admits. "But you can't do that and get into Stanford. I've still got to get accepted and all that. It's pushing me to push myself because I know I have to take AP classes and all that. So Stanford just pushes me. And academics are a real big part of my life. After football I don't want to be done and have nothing to fall back on. And my parents, they're really happy about my decision."
As with many recruits, Stepfan Taylor's parents have played an important part in helping him through the recruiting process. While his mother and father have distinct perspectives on Stanford and the broader recruiting process, he notes that both are very happy with his decision.
"My mom didn't get to go with me to the visit but she just likes the academics," Taylor explains. "It's just well-connected up there. Like Coach Harbaugh, he told me if you want to be like the standout guy here or the standout guy at a school, Stanford's not the right place because the best lawyer is up there, or the best businessman, the best whatever. The best is what [Stanford] takes. Everybody is just dedicated to work and making themselves better instead of just slacking off. My dad was happy. Like most, most parents probably want their son to go to a big powerhouse school that's been known to win and stuff, but Stanford I think is gonna turn it around pretty soon."
Part of Taylor's confidence in the direction of the Stanford program under Jim Harbaugh comes from the recruiting momentum that he is now an integral part of. However, some anecdotal reassurance came from his encounter with a stranger while on campus.
"I went to the fan shop and bought a hat and [the sales clerk] was excited for Coach Harbaugh and the coaching staff, thinks they're going to turn around the school," Taylor shares of his experience of buying Stanford memorabilia from an apparent Harbaugh fan. "They're getting some good recruits coming in, so I think it's gonna turn around."
Taylor's positive impressions from his recent unofficial visit to Stanford extend beyond his interactions with Harbaugh or Harbaugh's fans.
"The campus was beautiful," he emphasizes for a second time. "It was nice, real nice. And, oh the weather, the weather was perfect. Living out here in Texas, it's 105° this whole week so far and that can take a toll on you. And just, I don't know, just the people out there. Just real nice."
"Real nice" for Stanford fans is that Jim Harbaugh and his staff have managed to sustain the early recruiting momentum they developed and have just secured a commitment from one of the elite running backs in the nation, giving them another complete running back to team with true freshman Delano Howell in future years. For his part, Taylor sees an opportunity to contribute with Stanford's current top two running backs, Anthony Kimble and Toby Gerhart, needing replacements by the time he arrives on campus.
"They were telling me they're kind of short on running backs right now," Taylor notes. "One's a senior, and one might go and play baseball. I don't know about the other one but they say I have a good chance of being able to come in and play."
When he does get to campus, Taylor will bring the package that racked up big yards and awards in one of the most competitive high school football landscapes in America and attracted offers from an impressive list of programs. The touted recruit, however, puts a decidedly un-flashy and workmanlike spin on what he brings to the table.
"Just a team player, just do what I need to do," he says of himself. "If the coaches want me to run and catch the ball, I'll run and catch the ball. If they want me to do something, I'm going to go out there and try to make a play. Just an all-around back."
Stepfan Taylor is the 11th public verbal commitment and sixth Scout Top 300 commit for Stanford.
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