Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - February 8, 2013

Quality over quantity

Cardinal's 12-man recruiting class offers a variety of talent

by Rick Eymer

David Shaw let his Stanford football coaching staff wait near fax machines as they came to life just after 4 a.m. Wednesday, indicating official commitments on National Letter of Intent Signing Day.

Looking for the right combination of brawn and brains, Stanford signed 12 players to national letters of intent, significantly fewer than last year's highly regarded group. Shaw said not to look at the numbers, but the quality. The class was still rated as high as 16th by some groups.

"When you look at this class, you will see size. You will see athleticism. You will see toughness," Shaw said. "We made it a point in this class to find tight ends and linebackers who can physically do what we need, and we're excited about the guys we found."

The 12 players average 6-feet-4 and 235 pounds and that's without defensive linemen and just two offensive linemen.

Among Stanford's latest crew, five were named PrepStar All-Americans and five were members of the ESPN 300. Nine were rated at least four stars by various recruiting services, including two five-star selections. Nine signees also were selected to play in an All-American game, while 10 were ranked top-25 in the nation at their respective positions by various services.

"First and foremost before we ever start this process, you're going to see guys that fit us," Shaw said. "You're going to see guys that are bright and intelligent."

Seven offensive players were signed, including a trio of tight ends to help offset the loss of Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz, both of whom declared for the NFL draft. Two offensive linemen, a quarterback and a wide receiver were also signed.

On defense, the Cardinal added two each at outside linebacker and inside linebacker. One player is listed on both sides of the ball as a wide receiver and cornerback.

"Offensively, we believe that we've added exciting firepower," said Shaw. "Ryan Burns is a big, athletic, strong-armed quarterback, and he is joined by Francis Owusu, who is one of the most explosive wide receivers in the nation. Up front, we have added two physical, aggressive and versatile offensive linemen who fit our style and temperament of play."

Stanford's signing of three tight ends could be the strength of the signing class. Austin Hooper, from nearby San Ramon, is a First-Team All-State two-way standout, captain of the CIF Open Division state champion (De La Salle) and No. 1 ranked team in the nation.

Greg Taboada, out of Atlanta, also earned First-Team All-State honors and was ranked the 167th overall prospect in the nation and 18th overall player in Georgia by ESPN.com.

Eric Cotton, of Nampa, Idaho, could prove to be the best kept secret of the bunch. He was offered scholarships by two Pac-12 schools. He was rated Idaho's top prospect and the 227th best in the nation at his position.

"People have asked me the last few years, `Where do you find those tight ends?'" Shaw said. "We believe that we have three guys in this class who can be as productive in the running game and passing game as Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo were for us."

Burns, out of Leesburg, Va, is a PrepStar Dream Team selection and U.S. Army All-American who can throw and run, ala Kevin Hogan. He ranked top-six in the nation among pro-style quarterbacks in the class by PrepStar, ESPN.com and Rivals.com.

Owusu is the younger brother of former Cardinal wideout Chris Owusu, now playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The younger Owusu is a taller version at 6-3 who broke his brother's prep receiving records and ranked among the top 20 wide receivers in the nation by PrepStar and Rivals.com.

The two offensive lineman are David Bright, who can play tackle or guard and is rated as a PrepStar All-American, and Thomas Oser, who is an experienced center ranked 11th in the nation by 247Sports.com and can also play offensive guard.

Outside linebacker Peter Kalambayi is one of the most decorated players in the nation, earning First-Team All-American honors by USA Today, selected to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and one of five finalists for the high school Butkus Award.

Kevin Palma was ranked the 10th best middle linebacker in the nation and 196th overall player by Scout.com. He earned First-Team All-State honors following a senior season that saw him record 19 tackles for loss including a school-record eight in one game.

Sean Barton, a PrepStar All-American and consensus top-three player in Utah who played myriad positions on both sides of the ball, totaled 43 touchdowns and nearly 4,000 receiving yards on offense plus more than 200 tackles and 36 tackles for loss on defense. He will enroll in 2015 , following his two-year LDS church mission in Africa.

Three-way threat Taijuan Thomas has prospects at both wide receiver and cornerback plus special teams for Stanford, with demonstrated track speed and playmaking football ability that earned him top-35 prospect rankings in Louisiana by ESPN.com and Rivals.com and Honorable Mention All-State honors.

The Cardinal kicks off spring practices in less than three weeks on Feb. 25, with the Cardinal & White Spring Game returning to Stanford Stadium, for the first time since 2009, on April 13 at 3 p.m.

"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."

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 is one of only three teams, with Oregon and Wisconsin, to have made a BCS bowl each of the past three years.

Shaw said he listened to music while watching film instead of waiting by the fax machine for the official letters.

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