He would go on to Georgia, play three seasons, and then end up as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft, heading to the Detroit Lions. But how did Georgia land a quarterback out of Texas who could have gone to any of the nation’s premier programs?
Colorado State coach Mike Bobo, Stafford's recruiter at Georgia, explained how. (Editor's note: The conversation was edited for space and clarity)
How did you find him at first? When did you think you might get him?
Mike Bobo: “Coach [Will] Friend tells this story all the time, he picked up the tape and it said: ‘Matthew.’ It’s not Matt, it’s gotta be Matthew Stafford on it. It had a picture of him and he’s got kind of that long hair and this baby face. I’m like, ‘Look at this guy, I bet he’s a player.’ I was kind of being sarcastic. Then I put on the tape and it was about two throws and I about fell out of my chair trying to find the phone and call his high school coach. That’s a true story. You see the cover and the baby-faced kid and he looked a little chubby and I was like, ‘This guy, I guarantee you he’s not going to be any good.’ It took about two throws and he’s throwing to two little guys, I think they were twins, and he’s throwing BBs. Coach Friend tells that story all the time, how Coach Bobo didn’t even want to put the tape in. It didn’t take long to see his natural arm strength and arm talent that he had. It was something I’ve never seen before. Sometimes it’s hard to tell from highlight tape a guy’s arm strength, but his just jumped off his hand.
“… So we got in there and started recruiting him and building that relationship with him. We offered three that year: him, Tim Tebow and Mitch Mustain. Those three guys were the three, once you got into it evaluating everything, they were the national guys. Matthew is the guy we really, really went hard after.”
Did you think you’d get him?
Bobo: “I never thought I would get him. Quarterbacks are sometimes a little bit different. They tend to travel sometimes. There was a connection early on and had a good bond and relationship and just recruited him. I was surprised when he committed. I was in Atlanta, back then you could go to combines, a combine at Georgia Tech, and they had all the quarterbacks there. Matthew wasn’t there but I was walking into the stadium and the phone rang and he called and committed. It surprised me that he did it that early. I was just so relieved because I don’t have to go here and watch all these quarterbacks. It kind of shocked me that he did it then but he was a guy that after he felt comfortable with what we were doing offensively, he knew what he wanted. I’ll never forget one conversation I had with him, I was trying to explain the depth chart, who everybody is and what year they are and he cut me off and said, ‘Coach, I don’t care who is there. I’m ready to compete.’ I liked that about him. I liked his confidence. And I liked his approach to the game. Everybody wants to talk about how strong his arm is but he’s very knowledgeable as far as football. Not just in the pass but in the run game, he wanted to know it all. He loves talking football and he’s a competitor. I liked all those things.”
Did you see the signs of him turning into the No. 1 pick in the draft, that it could happen?
Bobo: “You saw the arm talent. He came in mid-year and Coach Richt, when you see him throw the ball live, you’re like, ‘Whoa, this guy has got a lot of talent.’ Coach Richt, he compared him to the one guy he saw when he was in the Broncos' camp after he graduated from Miami and that was John Elway. He thought it was that kind of arm strength. I had never seen John Elway throw but I was very, very impressed. I knew he had the talent. A lot of people think he was going to be the No. 1 pick because he had a strong arm but he worked extremely hard. His freshman year wasn’t [immediate] success. He had to work his way to end up being the starter. He didn’t have great numbers that year but he improved the second year and then the third year he improved even more and ended up rated [higher] in his completion percentage and touchdown-to-interception and saw a guy who was going to continue to improve. Now, you just have to, he’s got the arm strength sometimes, so you have to let him make some of those throws where other guys you wouldn’t even let them think about throwing it. I think the reward is much higher than the risk sometimes with what he can do with his arm.”
When he commits to you, do you think you have to stay on him or was he more of a helper to the rest of the class?
Bobo: “There was a little bit of helping going on but Twitter and all that, they didn’t communicate as much as they do now. He was one of those guys I had to stay on but I didn’t have to talk to him every day. Some of these guys, you have to talk to every day otherwise they don’t think you’re showing them enough love. He wasn’t like that. He knew what he wanted and what he wanted to do was win the state championship in football. He wanted to commit early and knew it was the University of Georgia and then focus on playing his senior year at Highland Park. That’s what drove him. He finished the season and then enrolled in the spring at Georgia. That’s how it usually is with quarterbacks. They aren’t as high maintenance as some other positions.”