STANFORD (CBS / AP) — About the only thing that went wrong on national signing day for Stanford was figuring out how to replace the toner on the fax machine at a critical moment.
Once it started working, the ink sure looked good.
Stanford sealed one of the best recruiting classes in school history Wednesday, signing three of the nation’s best offensive linemen to letters of intent to block for the son of Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders. The academics-first university rolled up rankings in the Top 10 on several recruiting services — believed to be a first for the program — and almost unanimously earned top billing for its O-line haul.
“Forget about Stanford. This could be one of the best offensive line classes in modern football,” said coach David Shaw, who took over for Jim Harbaugh weeks before signing day last year. “The combination of size, athletic ability, toughness. It’s rare that you get this many guys that can play this well.”
Even rarer that they all come to Stanford.
For a program only five years removed from a 1-11 season, the steady climb into the national spotlight is showing no signs of slowing down. Stanford finished 11-2 last season, including an overtime loss to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl, a year after going 12-1 and pummeling Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
Harbaugh departed a year ago for the San Francisco 49ers. Shaw took over and, with now two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up Andrew Luck, continued the success despite a rigorous enrollment process.
Signing Day 2012 could be Shaw’s masterpiece.
Five-star linemen Andrus Peat, Kyle Murphy and Joshua Garnett all committed to the Cardinal. And four-star center and signee Graham Shuler played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl with Sanders, who shunned his father’s nearby alma mater at Oklahoma State to make his own mark on the Silicon Valley campus.
Even though the technology-rich region is not always performing to its standard.
The primal roars that could be heard around Stanford’s athletics offices after each surprising letter came through the fax suddenly fell silent by midmorning when, for a tense 45 minutes, the machine that serves little purpose the rest of the season stopped functioning. Turned out, all it needed was some new toner — and maybe a few kicks to get going.
“This is the one day of year where the fax machine is the most important tool in our office,” Shaw said. “We have all these iPads and iPhones and I-whatever-you-want-to-call-it. But then the old 1985 fax machine is the most important thing we own.”
The rest of the timing couldn’t be more perfect for a new crop of Cardinal blockers.
Stanford is losing projected high first-round NFL picks in left tackle Jonathan Martin and right guard David DeCastro — not to mention Luck, expected to be the No. 1 overall pick of the Indianapolis Colts.
Peat checks in at 6-foot-7 and 305 pounds out of Chandler, Ariz.; Murphy, from San Clemente, Calif., is 6-foot-7 and 278 pounds; and Garnett is 6-foot-5 and 305 pounds out of Puyallup, Wash.
Whether the new offensive linemen develop into NFL talent won’t be known for years.
At the very least, they have all the potential. Shaw remembers sitting next to them all — except for Peat, who came on a separate trip — for breakfast during a recruiting trip last fall.
“I felt like I was a 6-year-old. I couldn’t see all the food around them,” Shaw said. “And the food disappeared rather quickly.”
Stanford’s signing class again showed its diversity.
The 22 high school players who committed are from 14 states, and only three are from California. The class includes seven offensive linemen, five defensive linemen, four wide receivers, three defensive backs, two linebackers and Sanders at running back. Luke Kaumatule of Hawaii is listed at tight end and defensive end.
In a rarity in college football these days, Stanford’s class didn’t include a quarterback.
The Cardinal already have five quarterbacks on scholarship ready to replace Luck. Shaw has said he plans to carry an open competition — headlined by last season’s backup, Brett Nottingham — into fall practice.
Stanford’s class still had its touch of Luck.
The quarterback met with several recruits last season, including a memorable lunch with Sanders that Shaw believes sealed his commitment. The entire time Luck and Sanders ate in a public dining hall, Shaw said, nobody bothered either one — casting a perfect bubble for a player who has been recognized everywhere most of his life.
“It’s very comforting to be in a place where, as Andrew says, ‘Everybody’s special,’” Shaw said. “And you’re surrounded by people who are talented and have high expectations for themselves. It was a very comfortable environment — not to mention he loves running between the tackles, and that’s what we do.”
He’ll have plenty of blockers, too.
(Copyright 2012 CBS San Francisco. All rights reserved.)