First Commit is Center of Attention

24 hours after the Signing Day drama for the 2003 Stanford football recruiting class subsided, a fateful phone rang in the Cardinal football offices. On the other end was Alex Fletcher, a junior recruit Stanford had been vigorously recruiting for some time. Little did they know, though, that this elite center would give his commitment before he hung up the phone, starting 2004 recruiting off with a bang.

Stanford has historically had a few big spring commitments to the football program, including the highly publicized verbal from #1 nationally rated QB Randy Fasani out of Del Oro High School in Sacramento back in the spring of 1996.  But the earliest commitments for Stanford football have often been quarterbacks, and the trend the last few years has been later and later first commitments.  In the 2002 class, the first commitment came as late as December, while this most recent 2003 class found its first commitment at the tail end of September.

But never has Cardinal football found such early fortune as fell upon them a month ago.  Just one day after wrapping up the signing of 25 senior recruits, Buddy Teevens received a phone call late that Thursday evening from New York.  On the other end of the phone was junior offensive lineman Alex Fletcher (6'4" 275 pounds) from St. Anthony's High School in Long Island.  Fletcher, like all juniors at this stage, was unable to receive phone calls from the Stanford coaches, but was making weekly calls to talk with the Cardinal staff for over a month.  And with the senior class now under wraps, Fletcher dropped a bomb on Teevens after nearly two hours on the phone, giving his surprise verbal commitment to Stanford - the first for the Cardinal in this 2004 class.

And here's the kicker - Alex Fletcher is a gifted and athletic true center, one of the most rare positions of talent for any program in college football.  It will take a few months for the various recruiting gurus to assemble video tape on the nation's top recruits, but early indications are that Fletcher will rate as one of the best center prospects in his class, and very possibly #1 at the position.  One source has even indicated that this junior's film looks better than the junior film of Jordy Lipsey a year ago, who was the #1 offensive lineman in the country and the unquestioned top center in his senior class.

Stanford was on Fletcher this winter at the same time they were recruiting the current seniors, including a flight assistant coach Tom Quinn took to New York just to visit with the St. Anthony's athletic director.  Quinn sent letter after letter to Fletcher, plus pictures of the school and schedules showing Stanford's future opponents.  "Honestly, Stanford is the place I've always wanted to go," the Long Island junior admits.  "It seems like a very elite program with a lot of support.  I remember a couple years ago when they beat Texas and Notre Dame, and that really stuck in my head.  I was really pumped about that.  Stanford has the best mix of top academics and top athletics in the country.  Really, it's the ultimate destination for a scholar-athlete like me."

"Everyone told me to wait it out," says Fletcher of his early commitment.  "They say it will hurt my All-American honors if my recruiting attention goes away early.  But I knew Stanford was where I wanted to be and saw no reason to make that decision.  I also wanted to do this early so I can help Stanford's recruiting the rest of the class.  They just signed some great running backs, and it will be an honor to block for them.  Stanford is pretty loaded at the skill positions, and Trent Edwards and T.C. Ostrander at quarterback are bigtime.  But we need more big bodies and a few other positions, still."

His offers at the time of his February 6 commitment, when scarcely any juniors in the country have scholarships promised to them, included USC, Penn State, Syracuse, Georgia Tech and Rutgers.  USC was recruiting the hardest, with handwritten letters from every coach on the Trojan staff, according to Fletcher, and Joe Paterno was getting personally involved for Penn State.  Since his Stanford commitment, the sought-after center has asked most schools to kindly stop their recruiting efforts, though a few have continued their efforts.

The story gets a little more interesting.  Fullback Matt Hahn, who is a high school teammate of Fletcher's at St. Anthony's, committed to Penn State in late February.  Paterno and the Nittany Lions have turned up the heat several notches on Fletcher, and his teammate is aiding the effort to dress him out in blue and white for his college future.  "I'm being recruited harder by Penn State right now than any school at any time," says Fletcher.  "It's unbelievable."

Though the Stanford commit is careful to assuage any concerns about his wavering intent.  "I have not had any second thoughts about my commitment," he proclaims.  "I just worry a bit sometimes about applying and getting admitted, but I know that will work itself out fine.  I'm a very strong Stanford commit and not much is going to change my mind."

An important technicality to keep in mind is that even in the world of unbinding verbal commitments, no player is truly committed to Stanford until they have cleared admissions with the University, at which time the conditional scholarship offer becomes unconditional.  Fletcher is a very energetic and bright young man, and in talking with him you know that he'll do the things to get admitted to Stanford.  He's mature and a hard-working self-starter who takes initiative in everything he does.  In his recruitment, he kept on top of the Cardinal coaches as much as they kept on top of him.  He was making all the phone calls and asking all the astute questions to learn what he needed to know for his decision.

And now that he has made his college decision, he has raised the bar another notch and put on the cap of recruiter himself.  "I want to help recruiting for Stanford, and I don't want to waste time," he boldly states.  "I want a good supporting cast around me.  I want to come in with a top 10 national recruiting class so that we can win a national championship.  I'm researching guys in my area, and also looking at recruiting services on the Web.  I'm going to the Rivals Junior Day, and I'll be talking up Stanford to every kid who will listen."

Fletcher even gave me a name of a top defensive line recruit that he thinks should come to Stanford, and we'll follow on The Bootleg with a report on that pass rushing terror from the South.  But what's so remarkable in how he talks about recruiting is that he has wholly adopted the mindset of a Stanford man.  He has analyzed the depth chart and talked the coaches about needs, and then speaks of this recruiting class in the first person.  It's always "we need defensive tackles" and "we need offensive tackles."

Returning to the academic questions relevant to the Stanford application process, this standout student-athlete comes from a very education-focused family.  His father went to Princeton and his mother to Vassar.  Fletcher carries a 3.7 GPA and is set to take the SAT on April 5.&nb

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