Originally published March 2003 (vol. 1, no. 8) in The Bootleg Magazine.
"Recruiting Flashback" by Jim Rutter
So here is the scenario, CardinalmanicsÔ : Fans
everywhere are celebrating an exciting, high potential class of new Cardinal
football players, highlighted by an incredible offensive super-class that
includes: 1) a top-rated, 6’3", strong-armed quarterback from California;
2) a powerful All-American fullback from California; 3) not one, but two outstanding
running backs (one a top-rated all-purpose back; the other an All-American who
was a county Offensive Player of the Year after rushing for 1200 yards and 14
TDs his senior season). Throw in 4) an All-CIF pass-catching and
basketball-playing tight end from Orange County (CA). Add 5) three
highly-regarded wide receivers, including one from Southern California, the
second a 180-pound track star who played basketball for two seasons, and a third
from near Birmingham who was First Team All-State and also played baseball.
So what year is it? Huh? Aren’t we talking about 2003’s stellar offensive
recruits: QB T.C. Ostrander, FB Emeka Nnoli, RB Jason Evans, RB David "The
Distance" Marrero, TE/WR Evan Moore, WRs Mark Bradford, Tim Sims, and Jai Miller?
Good guess, but WRONG! Go back twenty-four years to 1979 and try QB John
Elway, FB Rob Moore, RBs Vincent White and Mike Dotterer, TE Chris Dressel, and
WRs Mike Tolliver, Steve Brown, and Marty Martinez. Now that was a high
So what came out of that unusually fruitful offensive bounty? Well, Elway
would immediately see serious time as a freshman (and start in right field for
the baseball team), go on to break a slew of Pac-10 records during his
collegiate career, make consensus First Team All-American, finish second in the
Heisman, be drafted #1, tell a lousy owner to go jump in a lake, thrill millions
every Sunday, become a "comeback" and "two-minute drill"
legend, take his pro team to five Super Bowls, win two of them, and be named MVP
of one. Oh, and throw in the MVP of the NFL as well. Not bad. No pressure on T.C.
If he is half as good as Sir John, we’ll take it.
How about the other guys in that ’79 class? Any immediate impact? Dotterer
would score a school record eight touchdowns as a true freshman platooning with
Vincent White, while starting as a freshman in left field for a 1980 Cardinal
baseball team that was ranked #1 early in the season. As a true frosh, "VW"
would lead the Cardinal in rushing with 475 yards (4.6-yard average) and finish
#7 in the conference in kick returns. White would go on to lead the nation in
receptions in 1982. Note: Vincent White is now a first year head football coach
at St. Mary’s in Moraga, about the only respectable place in the East Bay. His
running backs coach is none other than… Mike Dotterer. Anyway, back to our
Hopefully, you were getting suspicious. Most Booties know that we signed 25,
not 27 new players. Did you also notice the "Birmingham" reference
didn’t include "Alabama"? And, in his senior year, Jason Evans had
over 1200 yards and 15 TDs, while Dotterer had 1200 yards and
"just" 14 scores. Marty Martinez of Birmingham High in Drayton Plains,
Michigan was no "Jai Miller" and Jai’s hometown of Selma, AL is
quite a ways south of Birmingham, AL anyway.
Recruiting is a strange business. You never know what is going to happen.
Junior All-American Darrin Nelson tears a hamstring in 1979 and suddenly true
freshmen Vinnie White and Mike Dotterer are thrust into the line-up. Elway has
great talent in front of him, and still can’t be kept off of the field as a
true freshman. Teyo Johnson looks like the "Second Coming" as a
freshman, regresses as a sophomore, and then bolts early for the Benjamins ($’s).
Who knows what will happen?! Injuries, mental health, cults, family troubles.
Sometimes other sports take away football dreams. What could we have seen from
Joe Borchard? Darrin Naatjes? Ken Williams, a highly regarded wide receiver out
of San Jose, burst on the scene in 1982 with electrifying kick returns and
immediately signed a baseball contract, later becoming General Manager of the
Chicago White Sox. We never really got to see what he could do on a football
Still, it is always fun to compare apples with oranges… Let’s give it a
shot and go right to a sensitive topic: "Willingham vs. Teevens" or
"1996 vs. 2003."
1996 vs. 2003 Comparison
So let’s take a look at Tyrone Willingham’s first "real"
recruiting class, the one following his first season on The Farm, the Class
of 1996. Coming off a surprising 7-4-1 inaugural season in which his team
finished 4th in the Pac-10 and Ty was named conference Coach of the
Year, Willingham had some serious momentum. He had lost ten starters – five on
offense, four on defense and… a kicker. He brought in a respectable class, one
that would produce many productive players and team leaders, notably Willie
Howard, DeRonnie Pitts, Todd Husak, Russell Stewart, and Riall Johnson.
Buddy and his staff hit the road on the heels of a hideous 2-9 season.
Stanford finished near the Pac-10 cellar, lost to Cal for
the first time in eight years, and had already recruited among others, a top QB
and a top RB the year before. Let’s look at how the two "first full
year" efforts stack up:
1996: (2) Todd Husak, 10th Best in the West. SuperPrep
All-Far West, Blue Chip All-American; Than Merrill, Blue Chip
All-Far West, ignored by SuperPrep.
2003: (1) T.C. Ostrander, considered one of the top 5 QBs in the
country, SuperPrep, Lemming, and Prep Star AA, Student Sports
Husak ended up being remarkable, Merrill transferred away. Still, Ostrander
could be special and we are focused on "perceived potential" at the
time of letter of intent signing day… Advantage: 2003
1996: (1) Juan-Carlos Lacey, SuperPrep All-Region, #20 Dixie,
county Offensive Player of the Year.
2003: (3) Jason Evans, SuperPrep AA, #10 RB, and #4 player in
GA, Prep Star AA and #2 RB in the Southeast; David Marrero, SuperPrep
and Prep Star AA, ESPN.com #13 athlete, Rivals #3
all-purpose back; Emeka Nnoli, SuperPrep and Prep Star AA,
Lemming #3 FB, Rivals #1 FB.
Lacey was a good guy, but please! No contest. Advantage: 2003
1996: (3) DeRonnie Pitts, SuperPrep All-Midwest, First Team
All-State; Aaron Focht, SuperPrep and Blue Chip All-West; Jason
Willock, SuperPrep All-Southwest, Second Team All-State in TX.
2003: (3-4) Mark Bradford, SuperPrep AA, Prep Star AA,
#4 WR in America and #1 in CA, Rivals #6 WR; Jai Miller, SuperPrep
AA and #9 "skill athlete," Rivals #23 WR; Tim Sims,
sleeper, Honorable Mention All-State, ignored by most services.
Pitts would become special, ending up second in school history for receiving,
but the Class of 2003 has way more speed. Add Evan "Red Zone" Moore’s
potential as a major force inside the 20 and Marrero’s pass-catching out of
the backfield or slot and it’s really no contest… Advantage: 2003
1996: (2) Steve Coughlin, SuperPrep National Player of the Year
and consensus First Team All-American, Connecticut MVP; Russell Stewart, SuperPrep
All-West, Blue Chip All-West Region.
2003: (3) Evan Moore, SuperPrep AA, #2 TE in CA by Insiders;
Patrick Danahy, SuperPrep All-Dixie, Lemming #15 TE; Michael Horgan, SuperPrep All-Far West, Lemming #3 TE.
Moore is thought of as more of a WR-hybrid guy. Based on pure tight end
potential at the time… Advantage: 1996
1996: None. Unless you want to count OL transfer from Ricks College Blaine
Maxfield, which we don’t. Sort of amazing that we would not take a single
2003: (5) Mikal Brewer, SuperPrep AA and #3 player in AZ; Preston Clover, SuperPrep All-Far West, Rivals #10 center; Amir Malayery, SuperPrep All-Dixie; David Long, sleeper with size; David
Jackson, sleeper, great student.
Hmmm. Not much to compare, Ty. Sound familiar, Booties? History would repeat
itself… Advantage: 2003
1996: (5) Riall Johnson, consensus Prep All-American, SuperPrep
and Blue Chip; Dominic Brunetti, First Team All-State in AZ,
Honorable Mention All-America by USA Today; Byron Glaspie,
All-Midwest by just about everybody; Scott Giles, SuperPrep AA;
UOP transfer Donnie Spragan.
2003: (2) Michael Okwo, SuperPrep AA, PrepStar #6 LB in
the West; Landon Johnson, Honorable Mention All-State in TX.
Okwo was arguably one of the best linebackers in CA and Landon Johnson could
well be a sleeper, but Riall was a stud, who certainly didn’t sneak up on
anyone. Add Donnie Spragan, the "Man-Child" and the fight isn’t
fair. Based on superior reputations at the time… Advantage: 1996
1996: (4) Sam Benner, Blue Chip AA, SuperPrep All-Far
West, Tacoma-Trib Western 100; Willie Howard, SuperPrep AA,
18th-best DL, 950 SAT; Dorian Kass, SuperPrep
All-Regional, Blue Chip AA; Jim Telesmanich, SuperPrep and Blue
Chip First Team All-East, USA Today Honorable Mention AA, All-State
2003: (5-6) Emmanuel Awofadeju, First Team All-Region, Honorable
Mention All-State in GA, Rivals #29 DE; Nick Frank, First Team
All-State in LA, SuperPrep All-Southwest; Chris Horn, sleeper,
First Team All-State in WY; David Jackson; Mike Macellari, SuperPrep
and Prep Star All-Midwest, Rivals #20 DE; Udeme Udofia, SuperPrep
All-Far West and #10 player in AZ.
Very close. Trench Dog Willie Howard became a team leader and gutty star, but
forgetting the benefit of hindsight and focusing on sheer potential,
versatility, number of bodies and the Nigerian momentum factor… Pick ’em
1996: (2) Che Holloway, SuperPrep All-Region in Orange County;
Mark Sanders, All-County in PA. (Than Merrill had potential in the
secondary, but was recruited as a QB.)
2003: (2) Nick Sanchez, First Team All-State in FL; Brandon Harrison, Second Team All-State in LA.
Not much hype in the ’96 backfield, at the time or after. The new guys are
from the Deep South. Former Card ILB Jon Haskins (‘98) once said they play
real football in Florida, none of that "sissy stuff." We believe him.
Enough said… Advantage: 2003
1996: (1) DeRonnie Pitts, as a punt returner.
2003: (3-4) Jay Ottovegio, a premier punter/kicker in the U.S.,
#2 by Rivals and Insiders. Lethal return potential of David Marrero, Mark Bradford, Jai Miller, etc.
Pitts was a very sure-handed punt returner with sweet moves, but in 2003, we
have a handful of potential game-breakers with 40-times two or three (or five)
tenths of a second below DeRonnie’s… Advantage: 2003
1996: (18 + 2 transfers) Solid, but with just four SuperPrep AAs
(Johnson, Howard, Coughlin, Giles). Coach Dave Tipton carried a lot of the load.
20 players from 12 different states out of 27 scholarships offered. Not bad.
Rated 5th in the conference and 29th overall by Allen
Wallace’s SuperPrep magazine.
2003: (25) Impressive and deep in offensive backs and receivers. Nine SuperPrep
AAs. Drew from 10 different states, including an amazing 13 players from the
South. No major holes except perhaps a speedy cover corner and a nose tackle.
This year’s squad simply has more promising offensive skill players than in
1996 – more speed, more guys from the South, including five kids from
Florida, a bunch of sub-4.5 times, and numerous Nigerians… Advantage: 2003
Hasty, Superficial Conclusion: Recruiting. It’s about quality and
numbers, but it is also about filling needs. Buddy Teevens, David Kelly, Tom
Williams, and Co. can recruit. No question. Now it is up to the kids and coaches
to produce on the field. The program had a tough year. To paraphrase Oscar
Goldman from the 70s television show The Six Million Dollar Man,
"The 2002 Cardinal… a football team barely alive. Gentlemen, we can
rebuild it. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world’s
first Bionic Team. The 2003 Stanford Cardinal will be that team. Better than it
was before. Better… stronger… faster!"
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