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The most-coveted scholarship offer? It's all about Stanford

Brian Murphy/Icon Sportswire

Stanford is getting used to delivering on small recruiting classes.

Stanford didn’t finish in the top 10 of the 2017 recruiting class rankings, and it will have a tough time hitting that mark with the 2018 class as well, although it will have very little to do with the quality of the recruits signed by David Shaw and the Cardinal staff.

“If there’s one benefit,” said Mike Eubanks, Stanford associate athletics director and director of recruiting and football relations, “it’s that we can put a lot more time in and have deeper, more effective personal relationships when recruiting a very narrow group of young men.”

Stanford signed just 12 recruits in the 2013 class and 14 recruits in the 2017 class -- a group that finished No. 14 overall. Again, Cardinal coaches will be forced to work with a relatively bare recruiting cupboard due to a relatively small graduating class and hope that the 2018 group continues what has been a remarkable recruiting run in Palo Alto.

The 2017 group was a tremendous display of Stanford’s strategy and prowess. Shaw and Co. missed on very few prospects they truly targeted. Nine of Stanford’s 14 signees ranked among the top 10 prospects at their positions, including No. 2 pocket-passer Davis Mills, No. 2 tight end Colby Parkinson, Nos. 4 and 8 offensive tackles Foster Sarell and Walker Little and No. 1 fullback Sione Heimuli-Lund.

Universally, coaches would want to enter every class with a full 25 scholarships, as it makes numbers at each position far easier to navigate. But Stanford perhaps found the one silver lining that helped land that great 2017 class.

“Coaches can focus their efforts with a few young men, and that paid off very well last year,” Eubanks said.

Sarell and Little, the two elite tackles signed in 2017, are the perfect example. Stanford targeted both out-of-state targets and concentrated its efforts to pull Sarell away from Washington and Little out of Houston.

While Miami’s class leads the nation with 16 commitments, Stanford has offers out to only roughly two dozen prospects right now -- a list that includes just one offensive lineman and one defensive lineman.

“It’s human nature for coaches to feel disappointment when they see a young man who would really thrive [at Stanford], but we don’t have the numbers available at their position that we would have in a different year,” Eubanks said.

Eventually, Stanford is likely to get back on a track where it isn’t facing this numbers crunch every few recruiting classes, though the Cardinal face a stiffer task in shuffling their numbers simply because they don’t suffer academic casualties or undergraduate transfers the way other programs do. As a result, it’s tough to find scholarships space other than early entrants into the NFL draft or the occasional graduate transfer. Heading into this year, Stanford has just six fifth-year seniors on the roster, which normally provides a bulk of the scholarship availability for the next class.

At first glance, it would appear nearly impossible to find the same level of success this year that Stanford saw in the 2017 class. There doesn’t appear to be a clear path to signing three top-50 prospects the way Stanford did last year, but the prospects Stanford is targeting would bolster the roster with more top talent.

Three of Stanford’s four 2018 commits are ranked in the ESPN 300. Plus, the Cardinal’s presence in the Southeast isn’t going anywhere. After signing Mills, the nation’s No. 61 overall prospect, out of Georgia and ESPN 300 defensive end Ryan Johnson (No. 167) out of Alabama in 2017, Stanford returned to Alabama for ESPN 300 QB Jack West and to Georgia for ranked defensive end Tobe Umerah. Stanford also reached into Southern California last year to grab wide receiver Osiris St. Brown, the nation’s No. 213 overall prospect. In this class, the Cardinal have a commitment from Southern California wide receiver Michael Wilson, the No. 206 overall prospect.

The success, small numbers and academics have created an air of exclusivity, making a Stanford offer one of college football’s most coveted. That was evident when the Cardinal extended an offer to wide receiver Jalen Hall, the nation’s No. 7 overall prospect.

It has also ended the perceived gap between the Jim Harbaugh/Andrew Luck years, when many people believed Stanford’s success would stop after the departure of running back Toby Gerhart, then Harbaugh, then Luck. Now, when high school recruits view Stanford, it’s as an elite football school.

“I haven’t seen Stanford be a losing team,” Wilson said. “I only know them as a winning program.”