Stanford football has chosen to follow up on some kids this year who already made early verbal commitments to other programs. While this can be a risky strategy, employing resources and offers to the very people who have already professed a desire to be somewhere else, Stanford is the unique type of destination that has pulled this off in the past. Typically a recruit is enamored with the dazzling recruiting of a school that impresses them into an early decision, but the elite educational opportunity that Stanford offers can win out in the long run if and when that recruit gains admission to The Farm before LOI Day.
The first public case of this struggle in this year's recruiting class was defensive end Rob Lewis from Montclair Prep in Van Nuys (CA). Lewis told The Bootleg this past summer that Pete Carroll and USC indeed made a big splash with him with their early offer and full-press attention. That garnered an early verbal commitment from Lewis when no other school had yet come even close in attention or a scholarship offer. But things started to change when he received a letter from Stanford informing him of their serious intentions with him. The Cardinal were not allowed to make phone calls at that time, so Lewis spent weeks during the summer trying to reach co-defensive coordinator Tom Williams to talk to him in greater depth about Stanford's interest and the opportunities available to him at the school. Lewis did not want to re-open his recruitment to all comers, but felt he owed it to himself to explore Stanford for its unique educational merit. He frankly said he has "always been interested in Stanford," but was surprised at their interest in him. The game was afoot.
Some recruits are criticized on the jungle warfare message boards of the Internet when they take a look at their options after a verbal commitment, denigrated for undermining the purported loyalty shown to them by a school with its early offer. But more reasoned minds often applaud careful and thorough interest when a prospective student-athlete covers his or her bases. In the case of Rob Lewis it appears he smartly protected himself because his situation with USC has taken a turn.
"I was committed to USC at first," says the versatile Van Nuys athlete, "but now that they are winning, they aren't showing as much interest in me."
That statement surprised and grabbed my attention, but his elaboration was even more telling.
"[USC] had interest from a lot of California kids early in the recruiting cycle, but with their success this year, they are able to get national kids they couldn't before," Lewis explains. "They're slow playing me right now."
The knockout punch may have come on Tuesday, though, when Lewis talked to a Trojan coach about their declining interest in him. Lewis says that on that day for the first time, USC approached him about grayshirting a year and going on scholarship in 2004 for them. His reaction was understandable. "I was shocked," said a disappointed Lewis.
Given these developments, the DE/LB/TE is trying to schedule a full complement of official visits to schools. He is visiting the Cardinal this weekend (12/6), then Cal next weekend (12/13), SC on 1/10 and Washington at a date yet to be determined. Lewis has offers from all four schools, and you know that Stanford, Cal and U-Dub are all ecstatic that this premier athlete is now willing to open his recruitment to them after the disappointing early USC verbal.
How does he view each of these options, and how will he decide? "My first reason to pick a school is going to be academics," Lewis proclaims. "Stanford is still my favorite." He says he still has some interest in SC, but that they have "damaged" the relationship and it will not be easy to patch up. Unless USC works some damage control, they will lag all three schools. Today's order is Stanford, Cal, Washington and USC.
Of course the important hurdle for Lewis with the Cardinal is the admissions process. Those who read my summer reports will remember that Lewis spent a good deal of time during the summer with SAT prep and studying, to raise his score. He took the test in June, but did not earn the score that he or Stanford wanted to see. Lewis says that his retake came in November, and though he is still waiting for the score, he is not optimistic.
"That test didn't feel good," admits Lewis. "I don't think it will raise my score like I wanted to. When football season hit, it became so hard to find the time to keep studying. My counselor has recommended that I take the ACT, and I'm signed up for the December 14 date."
Lewis also has just finished his application, and says he is bringing it up to Stanford this weekend when he takes his official visit. With the backdrop of the very disconcerting developments in LA, the young man is very excited to finally see The Farm. "I've been hearing about the campus for a long time, and can't wait to see what the place is all about," he beams. This will be the first time for him on Stanford's campus.
Throughout this process, Lewis has kept in touch with linebackers coach Tom Williams, as well as Matt Doyle. When he talks about Williams, the reverence and affection is very clear. "He talks to me real," Lewis says. "He talks about my forty year plan instead of a four year plan, and what Stanford can do for me for the rest of my life."
Montclair Prep has recently finished their football season, one where Lewis worked tirelessly at linebacker and at tight end. He started outside on defense, but moved inside as a run stuffer through the remainder of the season. On offense, they ran the ball a lot this year, which left him blocking in power formations much of the year. The passing game was one predicated on the success of the run, and subsequent play action, and those receiving opportunities were cashed in by Lewis time and time again. Though his college future is more likely on the defensive side of the ball, he was surprised at his effectiveness and success at tight end this year.
And with just a small breather before basketball season kicks in, Lewis is taking no breaks. He is already excited about the change in daily schedule that comes after the conclusion of football. He says he now has more time to hit the weights, lifting to get even bigger and stronger.