It’s not often that the sweetest sound on the Stanford campus is that of a screeching fax machine.
But that was the story on Wednesday’s National Signing Day, when the Stanford football team signed its best recruiting class in school history.
The Cardinal signed 22 players from 14 different states on Wednesday, including three five-star prospects and three of the top eight offensive line prospects in the country. Altogether, the Cardinal finished with the nation’s fifth-best recruiting class according to Rivals.com, trailing only Alabama, Texas, Florida and Ohio State.
“I think we’ve got probably one of the best classes in the history of the school,” said head coach David Shaw. “But it’s not just about the rankings or the stars, it’s about the quality of the individuals that we added to our team. Needless to say, we are excited about this.”
Shaw and his coaching staff had already compiled an excellent class of commits before Wednesday, but National Signing Day saw three five-star recruits all commit themselves to the Cardinal.
Stanford’s biggest grab came early in the day, when offensive tackle Andrus Peat, a 6-foot-7, 307-pound native of Tempe, Ariz., spurned Nebraska, Florida State and USC to come to the Farm. Peat, the country’s sixth-best offensive lineman, was expected to join the Cornhuskers in Lincoln, where his brother is currently a defensive tackle.
The Cardinal offensive line then got another boost when Kyle Murphy, the third-best tackle in the country, promised himself to Palo Alto. When Murphy added his name to a list that already included Peat, Joshua Garnett—the nation’s second-best guard—and three other four-star offensive linemen (Nick Davidson, Brandon Fanaika and Graham Shuler), the Cardinal had pieced together the nation’s most talented and promising group of offensive line prospects.
Shaw said he and the coaching staff knew long ago that this crew of linemen would be more than capable of replacing NFL-bound offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro.
“[The coaches] had a conversation last spring that I’ll never forget … The comment was made in the room that this could potentially be one of the best offensive line classes in modern football history,” Shaw said. “It’s just the combination of size, athletic ability, toughness … it’s rare that you get that many guys that can play this well.”
Shaw said that getting a big class of offensive linemen was the Cardinal coaching staff’s number one goal this year and that the Cardinal’s ground-based offensive philosophy made it easy to secure such a good class.
“We have a great offensive line here, but we haven’t had the volume of guys that we needed in the last two classes, to be honest,” Shaw said. “We needed to make a big push this year not just for quality, which you always want, but for quantity as well.
“I think we’ve got outstanding teachers here in [offensive line coaches] Mike Bloomgren and Ron Crook, as far as the techniques that help these guys to be successful on this level and the next,” Shaw continued. “We play a scheme that translates very well to the NFL. I think that’s extremely attractive [to recruits].”
In addition to the Cardinal’s big commitments along the offensive line, Stanford got a boost to an already-solid defensive class when defensive end Aziz Shittu, the third-best defensive end in the country, became the third five-star player to sign with the Cardinal. Shittu committed to the Cardinal last year, then decommitted in June 2011, but finally wound up back where he originally started on Wednesday.
While Peat, Murphy and Shittu stole the show and the headlines on Wednesday by choosing the Cardinal, Stanford also (finally) officially secured the services of players like Barry J. Sanders, Noor Davis and Alex Carter, who all committed to the Cardinal months ago.
Sanders, the son of football legend Barry Sanders and the nation’s ninth-best running back, will bring his 4.4 speed and shifty moves to an already-deep backfield.
“We didn’t need a running back, we’ve got a great group of running backs, so [the coaching staff] said, if we’re going to take one, we’re going to take a guy that’s a difference maker, a guy that’s special. And we found one in Barry Sanders,” Shaw said.
Davis, the nation’s fourth-best linebacker, adds to a corps of linebackers that is already stacked for next season.
“We’ve got a really good group of inside linebackers and outside linebackers, but when you run across a guy like Noor Davis, you can’t pass him up,” Shaw said. “He’s that good as a football player, and the high character as an individual that you want to surround yourself with guys like that.”
Finally, Carter, the nation’s third-best defensive back, could fill in right away in the defensive backfield for the Cardinal, which will lose three senior starters from 2011.
“We’re always looking for defensive backs, there’s been years where we’ve gone through classes without a single one,” Shaw said “But to get a guy like Alex Carter, who’s that big physical corner that NFL teams are looking for.”
While the Cardinal already has one of the nation’s finest groups of recruits assembled for 2012, it could get even better this Friday or next Wednesday if Jameis Winston, the nation’s top quarterback prospect, decides to switch his commitment from Florida State and come to the Farm instead. Winston committed to the Seminoles some time ago but recently has wavered in his commitment since learning of his acceptance to Stanford and decided to delay signing his letter of intent to later this week.
Altogether, Shaw assembled a class that topped the Pac-12 in his first-ever recruiting class as a head coach and a class that far outranked any of the recruiting classes of his predecessor, Jim Harbaugh. However, Shaw didn’t hint that his new group of players would come in with any special privileges in 2012—some will earn their way onto the field, others will be redshirted.
“There is a possibility that these guys can come in and compete,” Shaw said. “But at the same time, guys that come in ready to play, those are the guys that are going to play. I tell the guys all the time, I don’t care what year they are. True freshmen, fifth-year seniors, the best guy’s going to get on the field.”
With a recruiting class this talented and deep, Shaw’s biggest problem might just be finding enough spots for his best players. And with the new precedent he’s set in the recruiting game, that job might get even harder when the fax machines start screeching again next February.