Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Cardinal rule in recruitment of QO lineman Stephens

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The combination of strength and smarts is always enticing, and when the package comes in the form of Terrence Stephens, a 6-foot-2, 280-pound defensive lineman, it is irresistible. So much so, that Stanford (Calif.) University offered the junior a scholarship to attend the university and play football after his visit to the school’s junior day in April.

Last week, Stephens verbally committed to the Cardinal.

‘‘As the [recruiting] process wore on, I felt things getting frustrating,” Stephens said. ‘‘This was supposed to be a fun and enjoyable time, and it was starting to wear on me, so I analyzed what I wanted in a college. Stanford was always a top choice, and when I got out there and met the staff and the team, I knew that’s where I wanted to be. I figured that I might as well make the decision now, rather than wait.”

The decision ended a whirlwind recruiting period that saw Stephens — who played offensive and defensive lines for the undefeated Class 4A state champion Cougars —recruited by many high-profile schools, including the University of Maryland, Nebraska, West Virginia, Penn State and Michigan.

Yet rather than sign with any of those programs, which have large national followings and make frequent bowl appearances, Stephens chose the Cardinal, which went 4-8 in 2007. That was a selling point, though, as he was looking for a team where he could make an immediate impact.

‘‘To me, it holds a lot more meaning to go to a team on the rise,” he said. ‘‘It is way more special to be with a team trying to get to the top than a team that is already there, or isn’t trying to get there. I see that coach [Jim] Harbaugh is trying to make a change, and I think that my class is going to make an impact. It’s special.”

Another reason that made the decision easy for Stephens was the sterling academic reputation of Stanford, which is among the most challenging universities in the United States, with an acceptance rate of just 12 percent. The most recent Academic Progress Report released by the NCAA showed that Stanford received the highest ranking among Division I football programs in eligibility, retention and graduation of student-athletes over a four-year period starting in 2003-04.

The Cardinal ranked ahead of the U.S. Naval Academy, Duke, Rutgers and the U.S. Air Force Academy. Stanford also had six players on the Pac-10 Conference All-Academic first team, and for Stephens, who carries a 3.8 grade-point average, it is a welcome environment.

‘‘I had to cut out a lot of schools that recruited me because of the academics,” Stephens said. ‘‘I think some other schools were intimidated because when they saw my grades and they saw that Stanford was recruiting me, they just assumed that I was going to go there. Ultimately, I wanted to surround myself with people who were about business, who know when to have fun and when to work. I liked the way they thought about things.”

His intellectual abilities were already known to his coach at Quince Orchard, Dave Mencarini, who joked that Stephens was ‘‘smarter than me.” Yet, his intelligence translated not just to scouting reports and film sessions, but to the field, where Stephens could be relied upon by his teammates.

‘‘It was a tough decision, but Terrence has worked so hard on the field and in the classroom,” Mencarini said. ‘‘It is also a tremendous commitment for them as well, as they get a four-star recruit. He’s a great football player as well as a smart kid.”

On offense, Stephens was a mobile blocker who protected quarterback Jaron Morrison, but it was as a defensive lineman, where he expects to play at Stanford, that he dominated. Stephens had 10.5 sacks, 56 tackles and two interceptions in his junior campaign, which opened the eyes of collegiate coaches. Now he has a chance to shine with the Cardinal.

‘‘It is all about opportunity,” Stephens said. ‘‘That is the one word that I would use to describe the recruitment experience. I was looking for place where I would have an opportunity in football and in school and enjoy myself, and I’ve found it.”