Stanford's football program does things differently. That statement could use some narrowing down, so how's this: Stanford recruits and handles its quarterbacks differently from its peers. The Cardinal get them to stay.
A recent FOX Sports study found that a full 50 percent of the top 50 national quarterback recruits signed from 2011-14 transferred at least once over some point in their careers. At the way current trends are going, that number will likely rise as graduate transfers become more commonplace. The pattern is simple, and has likely touched a program near you: start early at your school of choice, or transfer to a program that will let you do it there.
At Stanford, the pattern is the exact opposite: sign and sit, wait and learn until your number is called.
"We communicate that to the guys that we recruit. So many people now think that you have to promise and guarantee these kids things to have them come. All we tell them is, 'You're going to have an opportunity after you learn what to do.' There's almost a guaranteed redshirt year for quarterbacks for us," Stanford head coach David Shaw told the Audible podcast last week. "We're going to teach you how to play the game, we're going to teach you how to do it at a high level, and when you get your opportunity we believe you're going to play well.
"While you're still learning we're going to have somebody playing. For these guys it's not like, 'Hey, come here as a freshman, you're going to start and be the guy.' We've got a system."
In the Shaw era -- which now encompasses ten full seasons (four as offensive coordinator, six as head coach) and 11 signed recruiting classes -- two underclassmen have led the Cardinal in passing. One was Kevin Hogan, who won the starting job midway through his redshirt freshman season and never gave it back, leading Stanford to three Pac-12 championships in the process. The other was Andrew Luck.
In the meantime, Stanford never stopped recruiting quarterbacks:
- Ryan Burns, a 4-star from Ashburn, Va., signed in 2013.
- Keller Chryst, a 4-star from Palo Alto, signed in 2014.
- K.J. Costello, a 4-star from Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., signed in 2016.
- Davis Mills, a 5-star from Norcoss, Ga., signed last week
All still remain on campus. Burns redshirted in 2013 and threw one pass combined in 2014-15 before starting seven games in '16. Chryst redshirted in 2014, threw nine passes in '15 and alternated with Burns last season. Costello redshirted his freshman season.
Burns was briefly reported to be pursuing a transfer last month before it was announced he will return to compete for the job in 2017 with Chryst (who suffered a significant knee injury in Stanford's Sun Bowl win over North Carolina) and Costello. Mills will almost certainly redshirt. On and on the cycle goes.
Selling an Ivy League education and a major college football experience in one of the prime locations in the country doesn't hurt, either.
"We've got guys that want to be here as opposed to guys that say, 'Hey, I'm going to go some place and start my freshman, sophomore and junior year and go be a superstar in the NFL.' Okay, that's great," Shaw said. "That's a promise somebody else is going to make. For us, we're going to promise you that you're going to get an outstanding education and you'll get an opportunity to grow and develop and when it's your turn to play, you're going to go out there and you're going to play great."
Shaw said at the AFCA Convention in 2013 those conversations start early in the recruiting process. "When you recruit a young man, if you let him know right off the bat what your expectations are, he’ll let you know if he’s up for it," he said then. "You can’t be buddy-buddy with a guy through the recruiting process and then try to be his mentor later. It’s like parenting, you can’t do things one way and then change things up when your kids are eight years old. They don’t understand."
The life cycle of a Stanford quarterback recruit is different than most other programs. But the cycle works, and it's ongoing. The Cardinal have a quarterback recruit in the 2018 class, a 4-star from Saraland, Ala., named Jack West. He's been committed to Stanford since last July, and it's possible his time to bloom won't come until the turn of the next decade. But there's a high chance West will wait around for that turn, and when he does he'll be ready.