Bill Walsh provided the above observation in 1994, when he welcomed a class – Anthony Bookman, Chris Draft and Kailee Wong among it – whose members started an average of two full seasons between them during their Stanford careers. But this was no prognostication. Take note of The Genius’ sarcastic bent. As the letters of intent pour in, everyone’s unbeaten.
With the ink now dry on the Cardinal’s Class of 2011, let’s review the previous ten years’ worth of phenoms. It’s fun to see those who drew the most attention upon their arrivals, both at campuses nationally and here on The Farm.
Nationally: Led by star QB Brock Berlin, Florida’s crop reached the top of most lists. But Berlin lost the impending duel with Rex Grossman and transferred two years later to Miami, not to be heard from for much longer.
Locally: The losing ways of the Buddy Teevens era overshadowed four significant arrivals. Amon Gordon and Alex Smith remain in the NFL. Teyo Johnson played like a star in the making in 2001. Kwame Harris is a four-letter word to 49er fans, but he did start on the offensive line as a freshman. That’s Bob Whitfield territory.
Nationally: Do you play quarterback for a program with 14 straight top five finishes, or catcher for a franchise without a winning season in nine years? Do you headline the nation’s top recruiting class and relocate to a college football Mecca, or let your hometown baseball team – cash-strapped and on the contraction block – anoint you with its No. 1 draft pick? Amazing how the fortunes of Florida State and Minnesota Twins have changed since Joe Mauer made his choice.
Locally: In a pivotal year season, considering a Cardinal team laden with seniors, the elite members of Stanford’s freshmen fell way short of their billing. One of the most sought-after preps in the country, defensive end Mark Anderson had his career derailed due to various knee injuries. SuperPrep ranked J.R. Lemon the sixth-best running back prospect in the country. He barely topped 1,000 career rushing yards.
Nationally: How to make a perennially strong but underachieving program into a national champ in three years: Stack the defense a future All-American/current NFL lineman (Rodrique Wright) and eventual Thorpe Award winner (Aaron Ross). Add a right guard who’s started throughout his NFL career in Justin Blalock. Top it off with the nation’s top high school recruit and default Heisman winner (Vince Young).
Locally: It’s laughable now, Teevens selling Stanford as the Florida Gators of the West. But Julian Jenkins and T.J. Rushing stayed aboard, even after Tyrone Willingam tried luring both with him Notre Dame. The idea suited a trio of talent on offense, a group than anywhere else in the conference would have accounted for more victories: Trent Edwards, throwing to Matt Traverso, after taking the center snap from David Beall.
Nationally: Pete Carroll addressed his team’s biggest needs and vaulted USC to the top of most recruiting charts. Reggie Bush dominated the San Diego high school ranks. LenDale White gained more rushing yards than anyone in Colorado’s prep history. Steve Smith, now established in the NFL, graduated as California’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards.
Locally: The Cardinal again outdid the major powers. Tailback Jason Evans spurned Penn State and Oklahoma. Fullback Emeka Nnoli could have joined Bush and White at USC. Mark Bradford mulled over offers from the Trojans and Notre Dame.
Nationally: Who said the Cowboys were America’s team? USC landed Rivals’ top players from California (defensive end Jeff Schweiger), Colorado (center Jeff Byers), Florida (linebacker Keith Rivers) and New Jersey (Dwayne Jarrett). It all added up to a consensus No. 1 class across the board.
Locally: Teevens bolstered the offensive line but ignored another key area. Ben Muth, Alex Fletcher and Allen Smith all remained by 2008, clearing paths for Toby Gerhart’s first 1,000-yard season. However, Stanford didn’t sign a single scholarship receiver for the first of two straight years.
Nationally: Another No. 1 recruiting class with national appeal followed another national title at USC. Mark Sanchez arrived from nearby Mission Viejo. Rey Maualuga spent his career menacing opposing ball-carriers, just as the fog hangs over his native Eureka. Brian Cushing started in four Rose Bowls after a stellar New Jersey prep career. Patrick Turner was the country’s top receiving recruit out of high school in Tennessee.
Locally: Walt Harris also opted to beef up the line of scrimmage. Ranked as high as the country’s No. 5 defensive line recruit out of high school in Arizona, Ekom Udofia chose Stanford over Miami and USC. Chris Marinelli emerged a year later as a redshirt freshman and started for the duration of his career.
Nationally: Beyond Tim Tebow, Florida compiled a class those in Gainesville will revere forever. Linebacker Brandon Spikes drew comparisons back home in North Carolina to a young Lawrence Taylor. The addition of Percy Harvin made for a No.1 national rank – and soon two national championships in three years.
Locally: Love the gusto, courtesy Richard Sherman upon signing his letter of intent: “The coaches said if I learn the playbook fast, then maybe I’ll get a chance to play some defense as well.” Gerhart, who obliterated the California prep record for career rushing yards, was joined by fellow high school All-Americans Sione Fua and Andrew Phillips.
Nationally: ESPN’s No.1 (Florida) overshadowed USC, tops according to Scout. For USC, quarterback Aaron Corp transferred to Richmond last year. Chris Galippo sets up game-winning field goals with late hits. Joe McKnight put up nice numbers at tailback but never emerged as a true star. The Gators, meanwhile, brought in Cam Newton and Aaron Hernandez.
Locally: The experts tabbed Jim Harbaugh’s first class the seventh-best in the Pac-10. Coby Fleener became the top tight end in Illinois at Joliet Catholic. Matthew Masifilo – who started all 13 games in 2010 – remains a much-needed presence on the defensive line. Reserve linebacker Max Bergen is also still on board.
Nationally: Terelle Pryor verbally committed to local favorite Penn State before signing with Ohio State. Alabama, Florida and Georgia all staked claims to No. 1. So did Notre Dame, showing the fallibility of such rankings.
Locally: The top quarterback recruit in the Pac-10, Andrew Luck drew five-star honors across the board. His presence helped the Cardinal reach No. 43 in the country, according to Scout. David DeCastro and Delano Howell, both prep All-Americans, added to the marquee value.
Nationally: Ohio State topped Scout’s charts with an incoming class that stressed defense. Defensive lineman John Simon collected 8.5 tackles for loss a year ago. Two other five-star recruits, linebacker Dorian Bell and defensive lineman Melvin Fellows, wait in the wings.
Locally: A special group arrived, one Harbaugh predicted would “be part of a championship football team before they leave.” Shane Skov brought a five-star rating to Stanford from prep school back east. Tyler Gaffney turned down USC. Stepfan Taylor earned Texas 5-A Player of the Year honors as a prep senior. Both Scout and Rivals had Stanford in the top-20 nationally overall.
Nationally: No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Oklahoma collected five five-star recruits. Ranking third in Scout’s rankings, Texas had six. Chris Martin of the Gators, Jackson Jeffcoat of Texas and the Sooners’ Justin McCay are among the anointed future stars.
Locally: Stanford’s momentum continued with a No. 24 overall class, per Scout. Tailback Anthony Wilkerson made an immediate difference. Fellow four-star commit Devon Carrington saw limited action at safety. How soon will Blake Lueders make an impact at linebacker?
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