David Shaw Explains Stanford’s Selective, Honest Recruiting Process


Stanford head coach David Shaw broke down how his Cardinal go about finding and recruiting prospects in each class, knowing the academic standards and modern ways of the recruiting trail. 


Finding young, talented football players nowadays has evolved in more ways than one. The recruiting trail, for all intents and purposes, has become more a slicked highway with a barrage of prospects waiting at each exit ramp, holding out their hands for promises and guarantees.

David Shaw doesn’t recruit that way. Stanford doesn’t operate that way.

The Cardinal finished National Signing Day last Wednesday by securing the No. 24-ranked class in the 2017 recruiting cycle. However, it accomplished that with only 14 total commits. Stanford was the only program in the top 25 with fewer than 18 total signees.

But while schools like Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State and others filled the top 10 with 20-plus National Letters of Intent collected, most of them also went about finding those recruits by handing out a large number of scholarships and weeding out a majority of the players they offered.

Shaw and his staff take a different approach. When the the Cardinal head coach joined The Audible with Bruce Feldman and Stewart Mandel, he acknowledged many programs will offer more than 100 kids in a class to fill 20 to 30 open spots, but Stanford gives out fewer than 50 offers to fill a fraction of that amount.

“I know what other people do, and you could look at it negatively or positively,” Shaw said. “A lot of people offer a whole bunch of guys, ‘Let’s say we need three corners, and we offer 15.’ Now for me, it feels like a game show. Who’s the first to jump? ‘This guy jumped, so somebody has to be next.’ For me, that pressuring guys to commit is the opposite of what I want to be.”

And he’s right. It happens regularly. Coaches will distribute offers and then tell recruits to hurry up and commit before that spot in the class is taken up by someone else.

Shaw won’t do that. With the academic standards that exist at Stanford, the Cardinal is already limited in the number of players it can target. So, if there are X number of spots open on the roster, Shaw’s staff will offer scholarships to X number or prospects. There is no overselling done in Palo Alto, and it allows Stanford to be more dialed in with the players on its board.

“It allows us, honestly, to be more communicative with the guys we recruit. If you recruit less guys, you get to know them better. You talk to their coaches, counselors, families, and you spend more time communicating, as opposed to recruiting a bunch of guys,” Shaw said. “For us, it’s more intimate. We get to know them better, they get to know us better, and when they [are] admitted, it means we typically get the guys we’re looking for.”

It comes down to quality being far higher than quantity for the Cardinal. Among those 14 signees were 5-star quarterback Davis Mills, 5-star offensive tackle Foster Sarell, 5-star offensive tackle Walker Little and 4-star tight end Colby Parkinson. Mills, Sarell and Parkinson were all ranked as the No. 1 players at their respective positions. Little was the No. 2-ranked offensive tackle in the country.

And all of them are headed to Stanford with the understanding they’ll eventually get a shot, but nothing has been promised.

“For these guys, it’s not like, ‘Come here, and you’re going to come in and be the guy.’ We’ve got a system now. It’s hard to take one in every single class, but you’re looking at guys that are very talented and understand what we do, and guys that wanted to come to Stanford University itself. Guys that want to be here, as opposed to guys that go somewhere to start their freshman, sophomore year and go be a superstar in the NFL. Okay, that’s a promise somebody else is going to make,” Shaw said.

In an age where recruiting is at its most competitive stage ever, Stanford’s classes are elite because its standards are, too.

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