Stanford football Signing Day and recruiting recap

Solomon Thomas on Signing Day

Stanford’s recruiting:

The Stanford football team made some significant moves on signing day and finished with the 15th ranked recruiting class (  However, amidst the success and jump in the overall class rankings, the Cardinal also lost some players that could have bumped them up to at least a top-ten class.

When defensive coordinator Derek Mason left Stanford to become the Head Coach at Vanderbilt, one of the Cardinal’s top recruits went with him. Nifae Lealao, a 6’5” and 270 pound defensive end had been a longtime Stanford commit, but changed to Vanderbilt largely because of the relationship that he had built with his recruiter at Stanford, Coach Mason.  Lealao was ranked as the 56th best recruit and 8th best defensive end in the nation.  His size, strength, speed, and athleticism are comparable to that of 5th year senior Henry Anderson, and he would thrive as an interior lineman on Stanford’s defense.  The Cardinal also missed out on three-star defensive end Uriah Leiataua to BYU and three-star outside linebacker Louis Vecchio to Pennsylvania.

However the Cardinal rebounded from a lack-luster 2013 class with some marquee signings.  Stanford signed 5th ranked quarterback Keller Chryst, who shows a strong arm, confident pocket presence, and the size, movement, and ability to escape defenders and extend plays similar to that of Ben Roethlisberger.   The skill and knowledge of the quarterback position run in the Chryst family as his father is the quarterbacks coach for the San Francisco 49ers (  Stanford signed 4th ranked defensive end Solomon Thomas committed early on signing day, February 5th.  Thomas’ film shows a fighter with an explosive burst and the strength and determination to make and finish plays.  He has the ability to contribute immediately and the team can use the depth on the D-line after losing seniors Ben Gardner and Josh Mauro.  Stanford won the recruiting battle with rival Notre Dame over Louisiana’s top cornerback, Terrence  Alexander. He shows natural football instincts and is an aggressive player who has potential to start his sophomore season when current starters Wayne Lyons and Alex Carter graduate.  Coach David Shaw and Stanford remained true to their power running game recruiting another solid offensive line class led by 2nd ranked offensive tackle Casey Tucker.

If Stanford wrapped up Lealao, Leiataua and Vecchio, they would have produced an outstanding recruiting class, hanging in with the nation’s powerhouse recruiters and teams.  Stanford will enter the 2014 season with a few 5th year seniors and the recruiting class rankings of 22nd, 5th, 64th, and 14th from the last four seasons.  These class rankings cannot be referred to with too much value because three players from the 2011 just declared as early entries for this year’s NFL draft in Cameron Fleming, Ed Reynolds, and David Yankey.

Stanford signed a great recruiting class.  They ranked second in the PAC-12 behind USC with 11 four-star and 9 three-star recruits.  However, it was not outstanding.  Stanford intends to continue to succeed in their conference and nationally without recruiting classes that present them as a top 5 team.  The weight of recruiting in college football determines much of what a team can do.  Alabama’s Nick Saban is the current master of college football recruiting, landing the best recruiting class the last four seasons.  Therefore, Alabama has the potential to be the best team in the country.  Stanford has averaged the 26th best combined class over the last four seasons.  Thus, there is a gap of predicted skill between Stanford and Alabama, which has to be made up with coaching, play style, player progression or other factors.  In the long run, recruiting rankings do not determine the skill level of players several years into the future and cannot be used for much besides a prediction into the future of a team.

Stanford fans should be poised but not elated at the success of this year’s recruiting class.

By Taylor Spielman, February 10th, 2014

(Photo credit: Solomon Thomas, Twitter)

  • StanMan

    Thank you, Card4Life, for pointing out the issues in this story that immediately jumped out at me as well. Additionally, I wanted to add that the other decommit, Kirk Tucker, who is an excellent linebacker, also did so because, like Lealao, he was not admitted to the university.

    I wish there was a good article that clearly lays out the difficulties that Stanford recruiters face, especially in football and basketball. These kids have to have the same grades, the AP courses, the test scores and other extraordinary experiences that are asked of every Stanford applicant. They have to continue working on these achievement throughout senior year, when other schools already offer admission and full rides, and a chance to goof off the last year of high school. Many don’t even know whether they are admitted until right around signing day. They have to cope with this uncertainty and fight off the luring offers from other schools. Some don’t find out until after signing day. Currently, there are still some preferred walk-on candidates who are awaiting word on admission. And on top of that, they have to be excellent football players, which, of course, is a huge time commitment. David Shaw said, that there are maybe 80 players per year that even remotely possess all of these qualities. They can’t even consider the other thousands of high school seniors.

    However, this traditional obstacle to good recruiting has now become a strength for the university for several reasons:

    1. The kids ARE out there. You just have to find them. Stanford’s recruiting budget has increased substantially. Now they can identify these kids early and then help them stay on track academically throughout high school.

    2. There is no other institution with the same world-wide academic prestige that also offers such a high level of competition on the field and clear path to the professional leagues. Kids and their parents are starting to understand this and are more willing to work hard and hold off other schools.

    3. The athletes who overcome all of these obstacles and become Stanford students, are more likely to be overachievers, are more likely to understand Stanford’s very complicated playbook, and tend to play above their “stars”. While this may be more my opinion, I think a look at the NFL supports this. Last year there were more Stanford players on active rosters than any other school. Most of them were 2 or 3 star recruits.

    PS: They still need to increase the coaches salaries…

  • Card4Life

    A few things: 1) Lealao was not admitted to Stanford, so that made the leap to Vandy whose class was decimated by departing Franklin an easy pick up for Mason who was familiar with the kid. It wasn’t “largely because of his relationship with Mason”…it was because it was the best choice after Plan B, Cal, had passed on offering him a spot. Best of luck to Nifae, but those are the facts. 2) Vecchio was never offered a scholarship so to call a preferred walk-on a loss is not exactly presenting the entire story. 3) As you concluded, class rankings are not predictive in the long run but you also say there is a “significant gap” with teams such as Alabama. If Stanford had the same attrition problems as those schools who have several players jump ship in their junior academic year or grey shirted several players then an apple-to-apples comparison would be note worthy. 4) Stanford players that leave a year of eligibility on the table tend to be academic seniors fulfilling all the requirements for a degree and a large portion of players do remain at school for 5th year compared to most universities. All three names listed in the article will depart to the NFL with a Stanford degree.

    Stanford fans ARE elated with the quality of players that have proven themselves on the field and in the classroom. Four BCS bowl games in a row, the most non-FCS wins this decade, and the most desired academic destination in the USA – enviable accomplishments by every FBS school. The class ranking metrics are not predictive and our coaches deserve a raise.