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February 04, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, February 04, 2005

Stanford football recruiting focuses effort on defense Stanford football recruiting focuses effort on defense (February 04, 2005)

by Rick Eymer

Stanford football coach Walt Harris had his coaching staff convene on campus at 4 a.m. Wednesday morning as the national letter of intent dawned.

Harris didn't have to wait long, as Boston College High's Chris Marinelli - where it was 7 a.m. - officially became the first of 16 recruits to commit to Stanford.

Marinelli (6-7, 290) was the lone offensive line recruit as Stanford focused its effort on defense. Marinelli, tight end Jim Dray (6-5, 230), running back Xxavier Carter (6-1, 195) and quarterback Tavita Pritchard (6-4, 180) were the only offensive players who signed.

Defensive tackle Ekom Udofia (6-2, 335) was Stanford's most prized recruit. The younger brother of current Cardinal defensive end Udeme Udofia was tabbed the fifth best defensive line prospect by Prepstar.

"That was a good catch for us," Harris said. "I think having his brother and sister attend Stanford certainly helped."

Carter and Pritchard have football in their blood as well. Carter's father Russell played seven years in the NFL and Pritchard's uncle Jack Thompson was a star quarterback at Washington State.

Dray and linebacker Tom McAndrew (6-5, 240) were coveted by Harris in his last job as coach at Pittsburgh. McAndrew committed early to Stanford and Dray turned down a visit to the Pitt campus.

Stanford was an entirely different experience.

"Some of the assistant coaches told me I had a stunned look on my face when some of the recruits committed," Harris said. "That's because I didn't know how easy it was. That tells me something about this university and what it stands for."

Harris, who was hired in the middle of December while still preparing Pitt for its Fiesta Bowl game appearance, depended on Buddy Teevens' evaluation reports in his own recruiting process. He took over at Stanford full-time on Jan. 3.

"I'm very excited about this recruiting class in terms of how hard it was after coming here after the bowl game," Harris said. "We were all over America. I still don't know what time zone I'm in. It was a whirlwind. We went far and wide. The edge was what the university offers."

Harris concentrated on the defensive side because Teevens and his staff focused on offense last year and because there is a large number of seniors on defense who are scheduled to graduate after this season.

Udofia may have been the most highly sought-after recruit, but Harris said he was impressed by all the players who committed.

"Education was the primary reason they choose Stanford," Harris said. "They can have their best NCAA Division I experience at the best institution. I think our players did a good job of selling all the virtues of the university."

Harris said Stanford will also continue to utilize the 3-4 defense, one of the few schools who use such a system.

"The uniqueness of the 3-4 defense was part of the success," Stanford said. "We will keep that as a base defense, but we'll grow as the players allow."

Udofia and outside linebacker Will Powers (6-4, 240) were consensus All-Americans, while Dray and defensive end Matt Kopa (6-6, 270) also received All-American honors.

Powers, who played at Serra High in nearby San Mateo, was the first player Harris visited when the rules allowed.

"He gives us a lot of leadership in that class as well as a lot of skill," Harris said

Linebacker Fred Campbell (6-1, 220), linebacker Clinton Snyder (6-4, 215), defensive tackle James McGillicuddy (6-4, 285), defensive lineman Ben Ladner (6-3, 265), cornerback Kris Evans (6-0, 175), cornerback Chris Hobbs (5-9, 175), defensive back Blaise Johnson (5-11, 180) and defensive back Bo McNally (6-0, 205) complete the recruiting class.

"There were obviously a lot of hurdles as soon as the job started," Harris said. "It was smart to stay with the evaluation."

Harris refused to say if any of the current crop will get significant playing time right away, or if any of the incoming freshmen will be redshirted.

"Sometimes it's good to learn while not playing," Harris said. "Talent will go past experience in every situation where you give talent the experience."

Twelve states are represented in the recruiting class, from New York to California and Georgia to Michigan.

In related news, Harris has a commitment from a defensive coordinator to replace A.J. Christoff, who left for the San Francisco 49ers a few days after being hired at Stanford. The coordinator is expected to arrive on Sunday, when he will be introduced.

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