February 3, 1999
STANFORD, Calif. - Stanford Head Football Coach Tyrone Willingham spoke to the press following the announcement that 16 high school seniors have signed letters of intent to play football at Stanford. The Class of 2003 contains 13 All-Americans and is considered among the nation's top 20 classes by many analysts. He made an opening statement, then responded to questions from the media.
"First of all, thank you for taking the time to join us today. I think I'm very pleased with the group of young men that we've added to our team. Over the years I've been very consistent, so I'd like to maintain that consistency by stating that we will really find out how good this group is once we get them here on campus, but, on paper, it looks likes a pretty good group."
Q: What went into the recruitment of the running back from Canada (Kerry
Carter), and what sold you on him?
This year, probably if you went on trying to get some information on him this year, it would be very difficult because they had school strikes up in his area, so they played very little in-school football. But the young man has a club football background, and we were able, with being in that area from years earlier, to start to make a connection. Not with him, but in the area, so that the Stanford name was floating around. And then we had really almost a staff recruitment of the young man, involving Coach (Earle) Mosley, Coach (Phil) Zacharias and Coach (Mose) Rison really doing a lot of the leg work to see if we could work to get this young man to Stanford.
Q: When did you become sold on him as definitely a guy you wanted?
I think first of all if you look at the people that were recruiting him. We don't normally like to base our recruiting on that but I think it's one variable that you have to look at. When you look at the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin, those are teams that over the past couple of years have had some outstanding running backs and running games. We knew right then we were on the track of the right guy. And he was very much interested in being a complete student-athlete in terms of his academic career as well as his athletic career, so we became, I think, a natural match for him.
Q: I noticed there were no punters or kickers in this group?
You weren't supposed to notice that. No, I'm only jesting there. That is an area that we were not able to really fill through this winter's recruiting process, but I think we have some plans in place to continue our recruitment of that position that may lead into the fall.
Q: Would that be a walk-on, then?
It might involve a walk-on, yes.
Q: Talk a little bit about Justin Faust and his ability to make an
impact, considering he missed most of his senior year with a knee
injury, and played most of his junior year at defensive back?
I think when you have a program that is as strong as their program, and I think they're respected as one of the better programs in that area (Dallas, TX), you will often see young men that are often, kind of, "in waiting" at their position. They have all the skills because they usually have very powerful teams. They move up into that position their senior year. But Justin did some things the year before, OK and probably was a defensive back primarily his sophomore year, to some degree. But they had a very talented team. He was limited in his running back role, but at the same time you knew there were some good things there and I think most people will consider him to be a real steal of our recruiting class; that you can get a young man that has that kind of background and that kind of ability without him really being exposed this year. Now that in itself is a concern, because you do have to have him fully recuperated from the knee injury, and that's something that only time will tell us.
Q: I've heard a lot of good things about Luke Powell. What do you know
I know that Luke Powell is an extremely explosive young man when he gets his hands on the football. You watch him as a quarterback in his high school, and things just happen. He's small, of course (5-8, 165), but he is amazing in his ability, and the way he just makes the ball move up and down the field.
Q: Talk a little more about Kerry Carter, and what his strengths are as
I'm going to bring in two names right now. In Carter and Faust, I think we're probably returning to a very similar combination to what we had with (Mike) Mitchell and (Anthony) Bookman. I think Faust has excellent quickness, similar to Bookman. I don't think he's as fast as a Bookman. I think Carter has excellent skills of seeing and vision, but he's bigger than Mitchell. So I think in a sense we've gone backwards, yet at the same time probably moving forward in terms of their all-around ability, but backwards in terms of a reflection of two backs we've had in the past.
Q: Where do you see Darin Naatjes playing?
We are going to use him at tight end. I think he is a very, I guess you almost have to put "intriguing" on him as a label, because he's a kid that is just an all-around outstanding athlete at his school. He's their star basketball player. He's their star baseball player. He's their star football player. He's their star track player. There's probably nothing that he hasn't done at his level, and done it very well. So he's intriguing from that standpoint, but he seems to have excellent speed for a big man. I list him at 6-5; some people say he's 6-7. I say he's 230; some people say 235. So he has excellent all-around athletic ability for a young man with that size.
Q: Is Naatjes definitely going to play baseball?
Yes he is. We are delighted to have him, and have him in our program and be a two-sport athlete. For me, that's a real pleasure because you know the young man definitely has ball skills. And we're looking for a tight end that has the ability to stretch the field for us.
Q: Did you have any problems recruiting Chris Lewis considering you have
two good, young quarterbacks already?
Our problems recruiting Chris Lewis centered on the fact that he is one of the most sought-after quarterbacks in the country. I mean people wanted him in their programs. That was our problem in recruiting Chris Lewis and trying to beat the other programs. But he is aware of our situation and he is very much excited about the challenge.
Q: Is it a problem having so many young quarterbacks, and trying to keep
I don't think we've directed our program to trying to keep guys happy. I think we've directed our program to playing the best players, and we assure our young men that they will have an opportunity to really show their skills and their abilities. And I think if you do that with athletes, they have great confidence in you. That if they get a fair opportunity to show what they can do, that they'll win. And I think all of our guys have great confidence in themselves and believe that they can be our guy.
Q: Is Naatjes also a possible punter, as you look at trying to deal with
the kicking situation?
No, I haven't, but we will test him during two-a-days. To make sure we're not missing something.
Q: That's not something that he's done, though?
That's not something that we have got him programmed for or plugged in for.
Q: So whoever will be filling that role is not among this class; it
would be someone still to come or someone already on the team?
It will probably come out of someone to come; most likely as I mentioned before, and was also mentioned by one of the writers, potentially a walk-on. It could come from another sport on campus. Anything along that variety.
Q: The other tight end, Brett Pierce, is he also someone who could give
you some pass-catching ability?
Yes, he is. I think with Darin Naatjes, there's going to be a lot of attention directed his way. He's coming from a small town. He's done everything. But I think some people are going to overlook, I think, the talents of Brett Pierce. We think he is an outstanding young man that can be a defensive end for us, but we also think he can be an excellent tight end for us.
Q: When was the last time you've recruited players from Canada?
Well, I probably refer Gary to speak on that issue, because I don't think in my time here that I've recruited a player, and I don't know at any other point if we have. Someone would really have to check the record books to see if this might be the first time that we've recruited two players from Canada. (Media Relations Director Gary Migdol): We did check, and to our knowledge this is the first time that Stanford has recruited players from Canada.
Q: You talked about not being able to get a kicker or punter. Was there
any other area where you felt you didn't get what you wanted or needed?
I think obviously the first area that we had to address was our running back situation. I think the second area was probably our tight end situation, and I think our linebacker situation. So those are areas we needed to address, and I think, to some degree, we've addressed all of those.
Q: In recruiting the Canada kids, did you say that was a continuation of
efforts you had made previously?
One of our coaches did some work up in there a couple years before.
Q: Do any of these guys have a good chance of not being redshirted, of
playing right away ?
I think all 16 of them have that chance of not being redshirted; of course, some more than others. I think you know that we don't make that distinction. We'll come in and let their skills determine what happens in their future.
Q: Is there any one of them that you would be looking to play right
Well I think if you went back and assessed what I said were our needs, that would probably say that those might have opportunities before someone else, based on needs. But no, the door is wide open for any one of our players to show us he deserves to start on our football team, and we will never draw a line to say a young man can't do that.
Q: Could you talk about the linemen you recruited?
The first thing is you can never get enough big men that have hopefully the skills to develop and be great. Because no matter what you say about football, it's going to be won up front. If you're a passing team and you can't protect the passer, then you don't have a chance. If you're a running team, if you can't knock people out of the way, you don't have a chance. So we've always got to have big people in our program. And I think in the young men we picked up this year, you're talking about Edmond O'Neal, you're talking about Mike Sullivan, you're talking about Mike Holman from an offensive standpoint, that we have some young men that have some size, some growth potential, and hopefully play with the kind of energy level that we like at Stanford. And I think likewise you can flip that coin and look at the guys we got on defense: Dustin Stimson; the young man that we got out of Canada, Louis Hobson; and, I think I'm missing one, Drew Caylor. They all have what we think are similar motors. They play the game hard; they play the game fast. And hopefully have great growth potential to be big guys that play quick.
Q: What about Jake Covault. Is he going to be a linebacker?
Covault is a linebacker, yes.
Q: Last year there was discussion about how tough it was for Stanford to
recruit guys at certain positions like running back, because that was so
hotly contested with the other major programs. The fact that you get
Carter out of Canada and you get both kids that didn't really play at
all their senior year (Kerry Carter & Justin Faust), is this the way you
have to go, as an alternate to maybe going head-to-head?
No, because I think we went head-to-head. I think when you look at Carter and you look at the people that were interested in him, I have a hard time defining that as not being head-to-head.