The chaos and excitement of National Signing Day culminated in yet another excellent recruiting class for Stanford. The Stanford University Athletic Department provides an inside look at how Coach Shaw and the staff put it all together this year.
After doing a half-dozen radio and television interviews, meeting with local media and discussing his 22 new recruits with more than 400 Stanford supporters at a private reception, David Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, finally had a chance to catch his breath. But that was nothing compared to how he spent the last few weeks.
"I think I was in at least 17 or 18 states," Shaw said Wednesday. "As far as the coaching staff, I think we were in about 30 or 35. Just everywhere, driving and flying from here to there to search for the guy that fits us."
Stanford's strict admission policy is nothing new. Last year, the university's first-year acceptance rate was five percent - the lowest in the country. Prospective student-athletes do not receive preferential treatment, which is why Shaw's in-home message to recruits seldom changes.
"It's pretty consistent," he said. "We've got the best combination of athletics and academics in the world, and the people that are coming understand that. It's not always going to be the easiest road; there's going to be some difficult things that we've asked these guys to do as far as taking AP courses, not graduating early (freshmen are not allowed to enroll until the summer), re-taking the SAT and ACT to make sure they get the highest score they can, and doing an application. But when they value what they can get from this place, both on the football field, in the classroom and beyond Stanford and any playing career they might have, they realize it's worth the extra work."
Most recruiting visits take place at a candidate's home, where Shaw and his staff always welcome a home-cooked meal. Some happen at a local high school or restaurant.
"Sometimes it's the local hole-in-the-wall burger joint that they're proud of," said Shaw. "What we try to do as coaches is tell the families, ‘Wherever you're comfortable.' The bottom line is talking about Stanford."
What are the most frequently asked questions by recruits?
"Most have to do with distance, because we are a national recruiter and usually we're recruiting against two or three schools that are within driving distance and we're a plane ride away," said Shaw, whose 2015 class comes from 12 states and Canada. "A lot of them have to do with classes, because we say things to them that they don't hear from other places and they're really confused because we allow our people to major in whatever they want. A lot of schools, because of their football schedule, there are certain majors they can't get into because of practice or class time. For us, we adjust practice time to accommodate class time. We have biology and engineering majors all over our roster."
During one recent stretch, Shaw visited five states in seven days.
"I was crisscrossing all over the place," he said. "Sometimes getting up at 6 a.m. East Coast time just to get an early flight. Just trying to get as many places as I could to answer last-minute questions.
"Being a head coach, I don't get to sit down and talk to everybody one-on-one all the time, or for very long. It's so much different when I get a chance to spend time with the family and get to know them as individuals and have them get to know me."
When Shaw knows he won't be able to make a home visit, he makes a point of spending extra time with a recruit during their campus visit.
Last week, Shaw was on the East Coast to see a prospect. All went well, although Shaw narrowly escaped before the big snow storm.
"The storm warning was for 1 o'clock in the afternoon and I was flying out at 8:30 a.m.," he said. "They canceled my flight and put me on a 10:15 a.m. flight. I got to the airport and they said my flight was on time and that every flight after that was canceled. If I didn't get out, I was going to have to rent an apartment because there were no cabs or hotels."
Having attended Stanford, where he earned four letters in football and also competed in a varsity basketball game and a varsity track meet, and secured a sociology degree, Shaw is natural spokesman for the university. He has no problem generating enthusiasm for each home visit.
"It's pretty natural," said Shaw. "Usually by the time the visits come around, they've already done the hard work and know they're admitted. A lot of times it's just last-minute questions and talking about summer school. There's not a lot of convincing going on. It's really geared toward the logistics of joining the Stanford family."
Having participated in six straight postseason bowl games, the football program has earned national attention and respect. Prior to that, coaches had to work hard to sell the program.
"It's become easier," Shaw said. "Being one of the better teams in college football - over the last four years I think we're tied for sixth in wins - that part isn't completely necessary. A lot of the time those guys just want to know where they fit in our schemes, what we see them becoming, and how we can help them become better at what they do."
Given his own versatility in athletics, it's not surprising that Shaw covets multi-sport recruits.
"My dad drilled that into me," he said of his father, Willie, who coached for 33 years, twice at Stanford. "You want to take the football player that also plays basketball, that also plays baseball or wrestles. You want guys that do multiple things and have played on both sides of the ball. I love guys who have played quarterback at some time. I love Jay Tyler (5-foot-8, 165-pound signee from Gretna, La.), who's going to play slot receiver. He's seen the world from the quarterback position and understands coverages and where to go. They have a great feel for the game."
When Shaw played at Stanford from 1991-94, the program boasted one of the best secondaries in school history with Darrien Gordon, Vaughn Bryant and John Lynch.
"Darrien and Vaughn started out as receivers and John started out as a quarterback," said Shaw. "So it's about finding the best athletes and putting them in a place they can help you the most."