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A nationally acclaimed group of football recruits arrives on campus soon, but they’ve been acting like teammates for months.

By Mike Antonucci

Most years, when Stanford has announced its new group of football recruits, the response from experts and dedicated fans has ranged from yawning dismissal to tepid optimism. But earlier this year, as college football commentators evaluated each school's incoming class, they confirmed what had been whispered since the earliest days of the Jim Harbaugh coaching era: the Cardinal was about to receive a bonanza of talent that could help transform the program into a steady winner.

By one appraisal, it's the 15th-best set of recruits nationally: a 22-man group expected to be the first wave of more top-notch classes to follow. There are no guarantees, of course. Who wouldn't want a nickel for every prospect who didn't live up to his potential? But Stanford's story is about more than incoming talent. It's also about incoming spirit.

When Shayne Skov, a linebacker who's the most highly touted recruit, made the first of the 22 commitments, he and his father, Peter, decided to be the apostles of Stanford football from that day forward. Peter managed a welcome-wagon email list that sent news about all things Stanford to other recruits and their parents. Shayne, challenged by his dad to instantly begin earning his scholarship, began texting, emailing and calling high-value players interested in Stanford. With roots in the Bay Area, he was able to make numerous trips to the Farm last summer to meet with visiting prospects and their families.

Other early recruits joined the cause. Terrence Stephens, a defensive tackle from Maryland, vowed to be a texting, phoning and Facebook-friending machine to help bond players from different backgrounds. He talked to "Papa Skov'' regularly and says, "Growing up as an only child, I used this experience to embrace other teenage football players." Jamal-Rashad Patterson, a wide receiver from Georgia, says the far-flung recruits rapidly became "a band of brothers."

For Harbaugh, watching these young men come together has been like hitting the jackpot twice. "What we're about here at Stanford—above anything else we do in the football program in terms of hustle, commitment and competing—is lifting each other up and making each other better. And these guys were about that naturally, from the beginning."

Harbaugh can expect to feel the increased pressure that comes from raised expectations, but he only talks about the upside. And that includes about a dozen players who didn't get into the scholarship group but will join the team as walk-ons. Many of them, he says, are as capable as veteran players currently on scholarship.

Featured on the following pages is a cross section of a recruiting class that feels a sense of destiny and has united to take charge of it.

Photos courtesy: Rivals.com (3); Tom Lemming Recruiting Report (1); Scout.com (4); Associated Press (1)


skov
SHAYNE SKOV
HIS STORY SO FAR

The highest rated of the Cardinal's recruits and the first to commit, declaring for Stanford on the first NCAA-permitted day before his junior season in 2007... Played youth football in Mexico after his family moved from Piedmont, Calif., to Guadalajara... Named his conference's player of the year after a senior season that included 42 solo tackles... Also lettered in basketball and track... SKOV: rhymes with stove.

WHEN HE PICKED STANFORD
He focused relentlessly on getting other recruits to follow him: "Four years from now, we're going to have one of the best teams in the country."

LAST, BUT NOT LEAST
He believes that head coach Jim Harbaugh has made a pivotal difference at Stanford. "I see a coach whose motto is lived up to:Enthusiasm unknown to mankind."
 
taylor
STEPHAN TAYLOR
HIS STORY SO FAR
Rang up school rushing records of 4,792 yards and 67 touchdowns during three varsity seasons... Had 2,463 of those yards as a senior, as well as 33 rushing TDs... A first-team all-state selection for class 5A, Texas's largest high schools... Also lettered in basketball... Says he's intent on winning playing time as a freshman... First name pronounced Stef-FON.

WHEN HE PICKED STANFORD
He chose a school that hadn't even been on his initial list: "I took a visit out there, and I fell in love with the place."

LAST, BUT NOT LEAST
He says the sense of camaraderie when recruits visited Stanford together in January was intense. "We all just clicked. It was as if we all knew each other growing up."
 

JAMAL-RASHAD PATTERSON
HIS STORY SO FAR
Named a first-team all-state selection as a senior... Also a track and field star who holds the school record in the 300-meter hurdles... Strong and elusive, he turned 56 receptions as a senior into more than 1,100 yards... Henry County Scholar-Athlete award winner... High school coach was former Nebraska Heisman trophy winner Mike Rozier... Interested in political science and psychology.

WHEN HE PICKED STANFORD

He zeroed in on the football program's culture: "Everyone out there wants to be the best, not just individually, but as a team."

LAST, BUT NOT LEAST
He measures the value of his recruiting class by the ability to compete with USC. "I feel Stanford, with our class, has the same kind of talent now."

 
ertz

ZACH ERTZ
HIS STORY SO FAR
A first-team all-state selection by Scout.com... Twice won All-Northern California first-team honors from NorCalPreps.com... Big target who runs well and racked up 14 touchdown receptions as a senior... Also lettered in basketball... Father, Douglas, played football at Lehigh University from 1981 to 1984... Oldest of four children.

WHEN HE PICKED STANFORD
His family was a powerful influence: "It has always been my mother's dream to have a kid go to Stanford."

LAST, BUT NOT LEAST
His second choice was UCLA, but he was focused on the quality of a Stanford education.
"No matter what happens in the next four years, I'll have the degree to fall back on."

 

TERRENCE STEPHENS
HIS STORY SO FAR
Among the consensus all-state selections, which combine big- and small-school honorees, as a junior and senior... Wrestled (until senior year) and had a 29-1 record as a junior... Likes to sing and auditioned, unsuccessfully, for American Idol... Signs email: "Stanford class of 2013/Be afraid... Be very afraid."

WHEN HE PICKED STANFORD

He shrugged off skepticism about the school's recent losing seasons: "To be honest, I'd much rather be in a program that's going to the top than one that's used to being at the top."

LAST, BUT NOT LEAST
Talked about as much for his character as his athletic talent, he says he keeps sports in perspective. "The whole recruiting thing shouldn't be wrapped around, 'I'm going to be a star in football.' Football isn't life, it's a stepping stone."

 
terrel

DREW TERRELL
HIS STORY SO FAR
Ranked as Arizona's top receiver prospect by Rivals.com... Made 70 receptions as a senior while accounting for 1,400 yards of total offense... Top-notch kickoff and punt returner known for quickness and moves... Also lettered in track... Full name: Andrew Devon Terrell.

WHEN HE PICKED STANFORD
He was drawn to the fervor of the coaching staff: "If (Coach Harbaugh) says he's going to do something, he has that look on his face that you know it's going to get done."

LAST, BUT NOT LEAST
A lifelong proximity to Arizona State kept him interested in that program, but he felt he could win playing time at Stanford sooner than at ASU.

 
lancaster

JAREK LANCASTER
HIS STORY SO FAR
Instinctive athlete who's moving to safety after playing linebacker, quarterback and defensive end... Also lettered in track and field, participating in hurdles, long jump, triple jump and mile relay... Switched commitment from Rice to Stanford... Uncle Sacha Lancaster has played in the Arena Football League and Canadian Football League... Born in Orange County and first dreamed of playing for USC.

WHEN HE PICKED STANFORD
He realized the challenge included firing up the fan base: "Those seats will be filled once we start winning games, which is what we've been brought in to do."

LAST, BUT NOT LEAST
He now says beating USC is uppermost in his mind. "If you want to be the best, you've got to beat the best."

 
toilolo

LEVINE TOILOLO
HIS STORY SO FAR
Rated the fifth-best tight end prospect by SuperPrep Magazine and sixth-best by Scout.com... A first-team Division II all-state selection... Committed after his junior season... Also lettered in basketball... Has three uncles who played in the NFL: Dan Saleaumua, Edwin Mulitalo and Joe Salave a... Pronunciation: La-Veen Toy-lo-lo.

WHEN HE PICKED STANFORD
It was hard to separate all the things that appealed to him, but he noted: "The character and personality of the coaches stood out."

LAST, BUT NOT LEAST
He says there's no way of getting around the clichés about choosing Stanford because of its deep athletics-and-academic combination. "There's no place else in the country that can top that."

 
gardner

BEN GARDNER
HIS STORY SO FAR
Got the last of Stanford's recruiting scholarships when Jim Harbaugh's father, Jack, who lives in Wisconsin, brought Gardner to the attention of his son. Gardner's likely alternative would have been the University of Northern Iowa... Named his conference's defensive player of the year as a senior... Of his 70 tackles, 15 pinned the other team with a loss of yards... Also lettered in golf.

WHEN HE PICKED STANFORD
It was a "no-brainer" compared to interest from lower-level programs: "I'm living a dream right now."

LAST, BUT NOT LEAST
He says, "as soon as I committed, I got six to eight texts (from other recruits) saying, 'Welcome to the family.' I'm not sure too many programs have that going for them."

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