Stanford’s recruiting class follows old pattern

David Shaw’s latest recruiting class is short on numbers and

marquee names. If the past has shown anything, though, that might

not matter much.

Looking for the right combination of brawn and brains, Stanford

signed 12 players to national letters of intent Wednesday. That’s a

considerably smaller – and less heralded – group than a year ago,

when the Cardinal coach hauled in 22 players in what the program

called the best class in its history.

The type of players signed, Shaw said, remains constant.

”You’re going to see toughness. You’re going to see guys play

with the attitude that we have here,” said Shaw, sitting at a

table flanked by the Pac-12 and Rose Bowl championship trophies.

”You’re going to see guys that are bright and intelligent. First

and foremost before we ever start this process, you’re going to see

guys that fit us.”

That has been Stanford’s strategy during its recent

renaissance.

With so many players returning from a team that just won the

Rose Bowl, Shaw focused on finding targets to help breakout

quarterback Kevin Hogan as he enters his redshirt sophomore season.

Among those in the recruiting class are tight ends Greg Taboada

(Atlanta, Ga.), Austin Hooper (San Ramon, Calif.) and Eric Cotton

(Nampa, Idaho) along with wide receiver Francis Owusu (Oxnard,

Calif.), the brother of former Stanford speedster Chris Owusu who

Shaw said is even bigger at this stage in his development.

The hope is that the tight end trio will, in time, alleviate the

losses of All-American Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo at a position

that desperately needs depth. Both decided to forego their final

year of eligibility to enter the NFL draft.

”With two tight ends walking out the door, you’ll see three

tight ends coming in the door,” Shaw said. ”Big, physical guys

that we believe have the talent both at the line of scrimmage and

as pass receivers.”

If Signing Day 2012 was Shaw’s masterpiece, this year might be

more of a patchwork.

Stanford is bringing back most starters – and their primary

backups – just about everywhere on the field but tight end, wide

receiver and linebacker. So it’s no coincidence those three

positions makeup most of the Cardinal’s class.

The dozen signed, which come from eight different states,

include: Owusu, three tight ends, four linebackers, two offensive

linemen, quarterback Ryan Burns (Leesburg, Va.) and three-way

threat Taijuan Thomas (Monroe, La.), who is listed as wide

receiver, cornerback and kick returner.

Shaw declined to discuss how many players were accepted to the

university and turned down an offer. He did the same when asked

about those the school targeted who didn’t meet the rigorous

admissions standards. He likened both to ”doctor-patient

privileges.”

Linebackers coach and admissions liaison Lance Anderson said it

was a normal recruiting year as far as the difficult Stanford

standards. He said it’s always encouraging to see how hard

prospects work to meet the grade, noting that Hooper took the SAT

test four times before he qualified – still two shy of the record

set by tight end Luke Kaumatule, part of last year’s class.

”We recruit a different kind of athlete here,” Anderson

said.

The main difference from a year ago, when Stanford surprisingly

rolled up rankings in the top 10 of most major recruiting services,

is that this class lacks a star-studded punch. The Cardinal failed

to crack the top 50 this February – not like Shaw cares much.

Instead, the two-time reigning Pac-12 Conference Coach of the

Year has carried on the philosophy started by predecessor Jim

Harbaugh: focus on players smart enough to clear Stanford’s

admissions who could thrive in a throwback brand of physical

football. And with few scholarships available this year, that

approach resonated even more.

”It’s a small class because we didn’t have a lot of guys

walking out the door,” Shaw said. ”We have a lot of guys coming

back with a lot of high expectations as far as their play and their

improvement is concerned. We wanted to bring some guys in that

could come in and compete.”

Shaw expects some of the success of this past season to have

more of an impact on next February’s class.

On Jan. 1, Stanford outlasted Wisconsin 20-14 to capture the

program’s first Rose Bowl victory since 1972. By that time, most of

this class had been secured.

The Cardinal finished with a No. 7 ranking and are one of only

three teams – Oregon and Wisconsin being the others – to have made

a BCS bowl each of the last three years. Shaw was so at ease this

signing day, he said he listened to folk-rock singer ”Jack

Johnson” while watching film instead of waiting by the fax machine

for the official letters.

The same comfort has been felt on the road for Stanford with an

established recruiting pipeline now.

”The first year we were here with Coach Harbaugh, a lot of the

doors we had to kick open, some of those doors are open right

now,” Shaw said. ”Walking in, it’s not, `Hey, is that a Syracuse

or North Carolina State `S’ on your chest?’ Now you walk in they

say, `Oh, it’s Stanford. Stanford’s here.”’

Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at:

www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP