Wooden Coming to a Close

Stanford is still looking for its first defensive back in this class, which is a tremendous need. A top athlete who would fit the bill and give a huge boost to the Cardinal is Baltimore's Ambrose Wooden. Oft-discussed by Cardinalmaniacs, he is a central piece to the defensive puzzle, and now he talks with The Bootleg about his prospects and upcoming visit.

Ambrose Wooden is one of the most high profile national recruits on Stanford's radar since the summer, and his recruitment is about to hit its crescendo.  The quarterback of the nationally ranked Gilman School in Baltimore was voted by the state's sportswriters as the Maryland Offensive Player of the Year, after throwing for 1217 yards and running for an incredible 1635 yards in a perfect 10-game season.  He also threw for 13 scores and rushed for another 22 this past fall.  At the conclusion of his four-year career at Gilman, Wooden has destroyed the state's offensive yardage record, with a total of 7261 yards throwing and running.

So it should come as no surprise that this uber-athlete has drawn national attention from colleges at several positions, including wide receiver and defensive back, though most see Wooden as a stellar safety in the college ranks.  TheInsiders hold him as the #15 cornerback recruit in the country, and Rivals see him as the #11 safety in the land.  Offers have poured in from local Maryland; East Coast schools like Boston College, Penn State and Virginia Tech; West Coast schools like Stanford, UCLA and USC; and Notre Dame in the middle.  The highly sought-after recruit has taken three trips thus far: Maryland, Notre Dame and Boston College, and he has narrowed his school list to those three schools plus Stanford.  Wooden told The Bootleg last night that Stanford will be his final visit (1/10), and he will make his college decision approximately a week after that.

Rumors abound as to the favorite school(s) of this standout athlete, and he has been quoted by several recruiting services since his 12/6 visit to South Bend as quite keen on the Irish.  But he says now that he "(has) no leader," and that each visit he has taken has made the selection process more confusing.

"At every visit, I've gotten along with everybody I've met," he explains.  "Each place has been great, and I've felt strongly each time after visiting."

So what will determine his ultimate decision.  Wooden clues us in:

"In addition to the academics and success on the field, I really want to look at my comfort with the coaches.  I need to ask myself, 'Could I see myself there four or five years?'  That comes down to life outside of football, too.  Another way is to ask where I would want to go to school if I was not playing football."

As to the question of life outside of football, Wooden has accumulated good data and has a feel for three of the four campuses.  He cites the Maryland social advantages of being close to home, the city life available in Boston for BC and the campus activities at Notre Dame.  Though he has yet to see Stanford, he says he has been told it is a "beautiful campus."

He says his goal at Stanford this weekend is to "get to know the coaches, students and teammates."  He was quoted this past summer in a Baltimore publication as saying that The Farm was a childhood favorite of his, and that has come straight from home.  Both parents have talked to him about the virtues of Stanford for a long time, extolling it as the "best of both worlds" in football and academics.

But one nagging, if not lethal, problem with a Stanford-Wooden marriage appears to be distance.  "In the beginning of this whole process, I didn't think about [distance]," he says.  "But now it is really hitting me how it matters to be closer to home."

Sounds like distance is a killer, but Wooden protests that Stanford is a legitimate consideration right now.  "Stanford may be far away, but they are so unique that you have to look at them," he offers.  "Stanford is the Princeton of the West.  And they have a top baseball program, too, which is something I am looking at."

Nevertheless, I think Stanford is in the role of a serious underdog with Ambrose Wooden, for these reasons:

  • Foremost, I think he he polite enough that he is carefully saying nice things about every school - making sure he is kind to those who have been good to him.  He is also intelligent enough to make these remarks without giving up who he truly favors.
  • In a recent chat on ESPN.com, he described his recruitment today as on "cruise control."  That points to a process he has finished for the most part in his mind, but is going through the motions to finish what he started and take the expected trip to Stanford.  He tells me that the comment only referred to his relaxed state of mind with recruiting these days, but a look at the first bullet point above reminds that he is likely covering himself.
  • Distance - when a recruit says that over time they are realizing the importance of being closer to home, that is an unbeatable trend.  If they have issues with distance in the beginning, but they break down over time, then Stanford has a chance with a kid from the East Coast.  But we are seeing the opposite trend.
  • Application - his isn't done yet.  He says he has a 3.6 GPA and 1040 SAT, which certainly could be admitted to Stanford, but him to be so deep in this recruiting process and not have his application done likely points to wavering interest.  Unfortunate though it may be, the process of just filling out Stanford's application is effectively a test of a recruit's interest.  If they have X, Y and Z national football program options available to them, none of which require any application process, it is easy and reasonable for a 17-year old kid to pass on the app and pass on Stanford.  Witness the recruitment of Omar Wilkes in basketball last summer, where he had the application in his hands for months and never touched it.  I could be wrong, particularly because the demands on a student-athlete with serious commitments to school and football are such that filling out an application is not easy during the fall.  But Gilman finished their season in early November, and Wooden is hoping to just now finish his application in time to bring it with him to Stanford this weekend.

The good news for Stanford is just this: Ambrose Wooden is coming across the country for this visit, and provided he does get on that plane (unlike the Ryan Harris situation), that speaks to some level of interest and commitment.  Furthermore, the Stanford visit is historically a powerful force that converts an unusually high number of recruits who make the visit.  I would not write this article on a recruit with whom I think Stanford has no shot.  I do think he is unlikely, though.

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