Feb. 2, 2000
STANFORD, Calif. - Stanford Head Football Coach Tyrone Willingham addressed the media and answered questions about the 2000 Stanford Football recruiting class on a special press teleconference.
Opening statement from Coach Willingham First of all, thank you guys for taking the time to cover our recruiting class of 2000. I am extremely excited about the group and see it as somewhat of a continuation of the classes we've had in terms of their being extremely solid, and being able to come in and hopefully develop into outstanding football players. So we are pleased with the group. The number is, right now, 12. There is a possibility, too, that other young men may be added in the future, and we think they, if they are added, will enhance the overall stature of the group.
Q: I don't know anything about this kid from Canada (O.J. Atogwe). What can you tell me about him, and is he was from the same sources as you've had before in Canada?
Coach Willingham: I think his area is a little bit different. He is from Windsor, and he was really a late find for us, a young man that had jumped out, really jumped away from a lot of other universities, because of his interest in medicine. So he was somewhat a late find for us, and we are extremely excited about adding him to the class, because he seems to add some skill to hopefully our defensive play, and possibly being a corner for us, so that, Jake, I think is encouraging.
Q: How much of a difference did going to the Rose Bowl make, do you sense?
Coach Willingham: It made just a little difference, I think in some of the recruits at the end, young men such as Kwame Harris, who was rated one of the outstanding players in the country. I think it made a difference. Us finishing and going to the Rose Bowl only enhanced his vision of us. But I really think the "Rose Bowl Effect," if you might call it that, will begin to pay dividends for us in the years to come. So we're really excited about that, and believe me, we're already seeing some positive aspects of that in our classes to come.
Q: Can you expand on that a little bit? People have said that it perhaps takes a year before you reap those dividends, and you mentioned you maybe are already seeing those positive aspects. Is it a sense of more of a general response from players than you've had in the past?
Coach Willingham: I think, so that everyone can understand what I'm speaking to is that, our class, for next year, will probably be set sometime between the months of April and June. So therefore it becomes very difficult for us to expand upon that class once it's set. So therefore our football season doesn't have a great deal of impact upon expanding our pool. Whereas right now, the interest level of young men that saw us in the Rose Bowl will be extremely high, and maybe more of those guys will filter into our pool in terms of their own interest, and not rule us out early in the process. So therefore it expands our pool, and therefore I think we see the benefits of going to a Rose Bowl and having that kind of success.
Q: Comment on Brandon Royster. Do you see him being able to contend for playing time?
Coach Willingham: As you know, we see every young man having an opportunity to contend for playing time. We let them determine what happens in our system. If they're ready to play, and have both the physical and mental tools to do that, then that's a plus for us. We've become a better football team. And if they're not, then they will develop and grow and hopefully enhance our team later. But I think in Brandon's case, based on two outstanding young men that we have, and potentially three, and what may happen with our football team in the future, there's probably a strong possibility that if he has the ability that we think, he might be able to come in and compete for some time.
Q: How are you?
Coach Willingham: I'm doing well this afternoon, thank you.
Q: Can you comment on what it means to bring a player like Kwame Harris into the program, a guy ranked among the top five recruits in the country?
Coach Willingham: I think it's a tremendous tribute, first of all, to the overall University, and to our football program, to be able to bring a young man like that, of that stature, into our program. I think by everyone's accounts around the country, this is one of the finest offensive linemen in this year's class. So he comes in at a time that we're losing Jeff Cronshagen, and we'll be searching for someone to really fill those shoes, so it is great timing on his part, and for us as a program, it's a great thing to have a young man that is rated as high as he is come into your program.
Q: This is a little off the subject, but what is Willie Howard's status these days? Is he going to practice this spring?
Coach Willingham: Jake, that is not off the subject for you, so I will take that in stride. Right now he is just going through his rehab for both his shoulder and his knee, and he seems to be progressing very well.
Q: Do you expect him to be in spring ball?
Coach Willingham: I don't know what to expect right now. That will be something as we go forward into the spring that we'll make decisions on.
Q: Can you talk about the process of getting Kwame signed? I understand you went to his house in a snowstorm and he made dinner for you. Recount that experience a little bit.
Coach Willingham: Well, as always, I think our young men can better recount those experiences than myself, because I'm somewhat tunnel-visioned in our pursuit. It was the week, of course, of the East Coast blizzard and ice storm. I told people that I shut down every school district on the East Coast. I started in Atlanta and shut that one down with an ice storm, then moved to Washington, D.C. and Delaware and shut them down with snowstorms. But, no, it was about a three-hour drive from where I was. First I started with Brandon Royster, visiting his home that morning, then from there made a three-hour drive to see Kwame. So it was equally difficult to get to visit both of those young men, but of course Kwame was a little more difficult because of the extension of the drive. But once I got there he has such a wonderful family, and they were so hospitable in their treatment of me and Coach (Tom) Brattan, who accompanied on that trip, so it was just a wonderful time.
Q: How is he as a cook?
Coach Willingham: He's pretty good. He'll make a lot of friends on the team, I can guarantee you that.
Q: You had mentioned, and people have mentioned, the size of the class. Can you comment on how that might have been affected by admissions, whether it was affected by that at all?
Coach Willingham: No. No, the size of the class is really affected by the number of scholarships we have available. Our admissions department has been most gracious in their efforts to help us be a solid football team in respect to the overall fundamentals of the University.
Q: A number of the players in the class are listed at multiple positions. Could you comment on where they might play, starting with McCandless, who is listed as a running back and defensive back?
Coach Willingham: Kenneth McCandless is listed that way. He has played a great deal of running back in his career, but (there is) also our need to find some defensive backs, so there is a possibility that he could play there, but our goal is to start him as a running back.
Q: And also Svitek?
Coach Willingham: Will Svitek. Will has been a tight end, and is rated extremely high as a tight end, but he has also played the other side of the ball as a defensive end, and there is a good chance that, depending on what is best-suited for him and best-suited for the team, that he could end up at either one of those positions, but again he will start as a tight end.
Q: And the kid from Canada, O.J. Atogwe?
Coach Willingham: I think he should be singularly listed, and that should be as a defensive back, a cornerback.
Q: Is Kwame, is he possibly the best line recruit to come to Stanford since Bob Whitfield? Is that fair?
Coach Willingham: Boy, that I don't know. He'll probably come in with the most acclaim, but we've got a few guys that are playing pro football right now, so I wouldn't want to dare say that he is the best to come, because sometimes that is, depending on what area you are in and different things, that can help accent or help give you that media coverage that you need. But I don't think that there's any question that we believe Kwame is an outstanding offensive lineman to come into our program.
Q: How many scholarships do you have left now for this year?
Coach Willingham: I'm never sure on that number.
Q: You've got at least two more, right?
Coach Willingham: OK, at least two more (laughing).
Q: Was there any doubt that Kwame was going to sign that night? Was the doubt removed when his mom showed up wearing a Stanford sweatshirt?
Coach Willingham: I think that when you recruit a young man of that stature that is being recruited by almost every university in the country, there's always doubt, but I think as it kind of went, Kwame had already made up his mind prior to me getting there, and it was how he could kind of pull my leg, I guess is the word to say, to work to that closing. So he and his family did just a fabulous job. They lured me in and I wasn't quite sure which way he was going or what he was thinking, then all of a sudden his mother appeared in the Stanford sweatshirt that said, "Mom of a Stanford student." And then at that point, knowing the family as I do - this is a great family in the job that they've done with their young man - that there was no doubt at that point.
Q: You mentioned your need for defensive back. Speak to the job you feel you did in addressing that area.
Coach Willingham: The question that you never know is how soon they will be ready, but I think I have great confidence in the young men that we're brought in this year that they will be able to address some of our secondary needs in terms of speed and skill and physical nature, that we have done a good job. Of course that's yet to be proven. They've got to go out and do it on the field. But I think the young men that we've brought in, I'm very pleased with their ability to, at some point, help our football team.
Q: Can you speak specifically to Stanley Wilson on that subject?
Coach Willingham: In terms of watching Stanley play, I think Stanley is an outstanding candidate for our secondary, and it might not surprise me if he's not able to have some impact this next year.
Q: Was it difficult to convince Stanley to come? I know he was talking to other schools about being able to run the ball, was that an issue?
Coach Willingham: I think it was at some degree, but I think this young man also has a vision of himself being just an exceptional defensive back, and still being able to be involved in special teams as a kick-, punt-returner. And I think with the speed he has - we will get a final tally on that this spring as he completes his track season, to see exactly how fast he finishes up what has a chance to be an outstanding track career at his high school.
Q: How much does Stanley resemble his dad in stature, and in his moves on the field, and did you talk to his dad in the recruiting process?
Coach Willingham: I did not, and I would like to keep our comparisons strictly to Stanley if you would, please.
Q: You just answered about the secondary. Are you comfortable where you are, offensive line-wise, with the loss of Jeff Cronshagen and Mike McLaughlin and Joe Fairchild, would you have hoped to perhaps have more than Kwame?
Coach Willingham: In a sense we do, but you can't really include him in this year's freshman class - I guess you could to some degree, but we had also the return of Kirk Chambers, who was returning from a mission, so we have an opportunity to have him involved in spring practice.
Q: So he's on campus now?
Coach Willingham: Yes he is.
Q: One thing that's interesting is how many of your dozen recruits have track background, and not just in the sprints, which football teams are always looking for, but a decathlete. Is that something you look for, that raw ability?
Coach Willingham: Well I think every football coach would tell you they would love to have a group of young men that have certified track times because, one, you know exactly how fast they are, and two, you know that speed is such an important element in the game of football. So, yes, it is something that we look for, and if we can find young men that have those qualities, we think it makes us a better football team.
Q: Have any of these players indicated an interest in playing any sports other that football, and how do you feel about that?
Coach Willingham: Well I feel good about that. Any time that we can have our young men compete, I'm excited about that. The most difficult portion of that, though, is just making sure that they maintain their football responsibilities, because as you know, the football pulls on them all year, all the time. It's a constant. So if they can balance those two, then yes, I encourage them to be involved in other sports because I think it makes us better, and it also makes our university better. It makes our other teams much deeper, whether it's baseball and/or track and field.