By Mark Soltau
Lance Anderson, the newly appointed Willie Shaw Director of Defense at Stanford, also serves as Admission Liaison for the Cardinal football program. Last Wednesday, the school received national letters of intent from 20 high school seniors, a group representing 12 states. Many so-called experts have ranked the class second-best in the Pac-12 Conference and among the top 15 in the country. David Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, pays no attention to rankings and is thrilled with his new class of student-athletes.
Shortly after Stanford received the final electronic fax, from cornerback Terrence Alexander of Mimosa, Louisiana, at 8:56 a.m., buckcardinal.com sat down with Anderson to discuss the day, the process, and how these new young student-athletes will help shape the future of Stanford football.
Q: What time did the first electronic fax arrive??
A: It must have been a little bit after 4:00 a.m., because we had about three in when I got here. Jesse Burkett (St. Augustine, Florida) was the first, then Reilly Gibbons (Clearwater, Florida), Alameen Murphy (Fort Washington, Maryland), and then Denzel Franklin (Smyrna, Georgia).
Q: Was it a sleepless night for most of the coaching staff?
A: For us, most of the time it’s not, because we usually have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen. A couple years ago with Andrus Peat, ’16, and Kyle Murphy, ’16, we didn’t know … they didn’t tell us. It definitely was that night. This year, Solomon Thomas gave us a pretty good indication a couple days before that he was going to sign with us, so we felt good. Up until then, we were really worried. When I talked to Terrence Alexander last night, he said he was signing and it sounded good. We slept pretty well, but it was a short night. You still get a little nervous.
Q: This is the eighth year you have headed up recruiting. Has it gotten any easier?
A: I think overall, it has, just because of the success we’ve had and in terms of the kids we’re attracting. That part has definitely become easier. The work that it takes and trying to find kids that meet the academic requirements … that’s still a challenge.
Q: Based on the class, it appears defense was a top priority.
A: Especially defensive backs. Last year, we really didn’t get a true DB. It was a huge emphasis to try and get DBs this year and we were really happy with the guys that we got. We knew we needed a good linebacker group and we definitely got that. And D-line, we didn’t need a ton of numbers there, but we needed a couple and we got two really good players.
Q: In addition to your 20 signees, do you expect any walk-ons to join the team?
A: That would start with our fall camp with the 105 guys who come to camp. It looks like we’re going to have room for four or five. We had two kids that were admitted during the early-action period with admissions. Then there are several kids that applied regular decision. We’ll find out in late March or early April. We might take an additional one or two more that would end up starting after we play our first game; that’s when they are allowed to join us and you can increase your roster above the 105.
Q: Of the student-athletes you signed, can you name two or three who might make immediate impacts?
A: It’s always hard to tell. Sometimes you’re surprised when they get here by who is ready to play. There are a few: Brandon Simmons at safety is a tremendously talented player; Terrence Alexander is a pure-cover cornerback and probably the best we’ve recruited since we’ve been here; we’re excited about Alijah Holder—he’s a tall, long cornerback in the mold of Richard Sherman, ’10; Joey Alfieri is an explosive, fast linebacker and has a lot of versatility; obviously Solomon Thomas was a huge get for our defensive line; and defensive end Harrison Phillips plays with a great motor. Depending on the situation, all of them may have a chance to get on the field early for us.
Q: Did you or the coaching staff make any late visits to any recruits?
A: I saw Solomon and Terrence during the last week. On Wednesday night, Tavita Pritchard, ’09 (Quarterbacks/Wide Receivers Coach), and I went to see Solomon and he was still undecided at that time. We had a good visit and spent some time with the family. Coach Shaw got on the phone with him a couple times and talked to his parents and coaches. I went to see Terrence on a Thursday and Brian Kelly from Notre Dame had been there on Monday and I think they made a really strong push. I fielded a lot of questions from Terrence and his parents and he was satisfied with the answers and happy with what we had to tell him. From that time on, we felt really good.
Q: Are home visits nerve-racking?
A: You are a little bit nervous, especially with a kid you have recruited for a long time. The big thing I try to do is be straightforward and answer the questions as best I can and not bash other schools—just talk about the benefits of coming to Stanford and hope that’s enough.
Q: Do schools still backstab each other?
A: Yes, especially in the final hours. That often causes players to ask questions. Coaches are going to tell kids whatever they think they need to hear. It’s not always the truth.
Q: Did your new title of defensive coordinator change anything during the recruiting process?
A: I don’t know whether it changed too much. A lot of those kids on the defensive side of the ball were kids that I was recruiting, so I think they had a little bit of comfort knowing that I was going to stay here and we’re going to keep doing the same things on defense. The one thing about Stanford that is pretty unique is that a lot of these kids are sold on Stanford and the program. So regardless of who is going to be the coordinator or position coach, I think most of them were pretty sold on what Stanford has to offer and what Coach Shaw is doing with the program. It’s made the transition pretty smooth.
Q: Approximately how many in-home visits did Coach Shaw make?
A: The majority of players. It was tough this year because we didn’t get as much time. In December, there are only two weeks to recruit, but we only got about five days of it because of the Pac-12 Championship. He had very few days that he could get out. In January, we only had really two weeks as well since they changed the recruiting calendar. We’ve got kids all over the country and it was virtually impossible to get to everybody. He does such a great job of staying in touch with them, whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, or email. Obviously, all of them had been here, so that helped. He got to as many places as he could.
Q: How much has going to four consecutive BCS games helped recruiting?
A: I think it’s helped a lot. We need to go nationwide to be able to find kids who have the academic qualifications the admissions office is looking for, but who also athletically are BCS/Pac-12 level football players that we can win with. We have to travel a lot of places to find those kids. The success we’ve had recently has made us much more attractive. Right after the 2006 season and early 2007, it was a challenge, because you might find a kid that was a really good student and a good fit here, but they were concerned if we would win football games here. For them, it was a lot easier to stay at home or go to an SEC or Big Ten school. Now, having gone to four-straight BCS games and having won two-straight Pac-12 Championships, I think it’s made Stanford a lot more attractive to kids across the country. We want the kids who want the best of everything.
Q: Approximately how big was your recruiting pool this year?
A: By the time we got to fall, our pool was probably in the mid- to high-20s. We didn’t have any backup plans. It’s always that way. It’s so hard to find kids that do all the things we’re asking.
Q: Unlike some schools, Stanford does not allow freshmen to start school in the spring of their senior year in high school. Is that ever a factor with recruits?
A: That’s another thing that we fight a little bit. At Stanford, there is no early enrollment. The best we can do—and it’s a little bit of an advantage over normal students—is that at least our scholarship football players get to enroll during the summer, so they’re here for summer school.
Q: Was 20 scholarships the number you were shooting for this year?
A: It was about the number, because we put a few of walk-ons (Kyle Olugbode, ’14, Ben Rhyne, ’14, and Jeff Trojan, '14) on scholarship. It’s nice to be able to reward those guys. Then there were the considerations of which guys could have had a fifth year. We might have been able to get one or two more.
Q: Can you talk about what an important role the Buck/Cardinal Club plays in helping you recruit?
A: The Buck/Cardinal Club is so important in helping with our recruiting efforts. Because of the academic requirements at Stanford, we have to go nationwide to find prospects who are legitimate Pac-12 football players and who also meet our academic requirements. Often times, these prospects are spread across the country. Recruiting at Stanford usually means being in a different city—and usually a different state—every day to see prospects. The travel expenses really add up when you have a staff of 10 coaches traveling to different cities every day during the time we are on the road recruiting. Unlike many Division I schools, almost all of our recruiting travel is on commercial flights.