STANFORD, Calif. -- Stanford coach David Shaw knew for two days that four-star defensive end Solomon Thomas would give a pledge to Stanford on ESPNU to open national signing day coverage.
He didn't know Thomas, the No. 4-ranked defensive end in the country, would do it by pulling a tree out from under a table and then conduct the rest of the interview in nerd glasses. It was a pleasant surprise and a fitting start to a day in which the Cardinal signed the country's No. 15 class, which ranked only behind USC in the Pac-12.
"The fact that nerd is not necessarily a negative word anymore," Shaw said. "It says a lot about our kids that are bright, that our kids are smart. Our kids want to accomplish something also in the classroom and beyond Stanford and beyond football. It says a lot about who those guys are and what they want to accomplish."
In Thomas' opening statement there was no mention of spending the next three, four or five years on the Farm. Instead, he chose to focus on what Shaw and his staff have made a priority.
"I'll be playing college football and I'll be graduating from Stanford University," Thomas said.
Key word: graduating.
Of Stanford's 20 commits, seven were ranked in the ESPN 300 and 11 were given four-star grades. Quarterback Keller Chryst, offensive tackle Casey Tucker, tight end Dalton Schultz and Thomas were the headliners, while running back Christian McCaffrey, offensive tackle Reilly Gibbons and safety Brandon Simmons were also in the ESPN 300.
Shaw wouldn't specify which players had the best chances to earn early playing time, but Schultz, the nation's top-ranked tight end, figures to be the best bet. After sending four tight ends to the NFL over the previous three seasons, the Cardinal were largely without a tight end in the receiving game this past season.
“[Schultz] is a kid that all the recruiting services had as the No. 1 tight end in America,” offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren said. “When we evaluate kids and put them on our board, we are going to agree with them and sometimes we are not. In Dalton’s case, we absolutely did.”
Stanford's recruiting efforts took a big hit in late December when it was announced recruiting coordinator Mike Sanford would leave to become the offensive coordinator at Boise State following the Rose Bowl. A few weeks later, defensive coordinator Derek Mason took over at Vanderbilt and inside linebackers coach David Kotulski went with him to become the defensive coordinator.
"We talk about being a national recruiter," Shaw said. "Well, we felt it after those guys left because you're starting with 10 and you're busy then you have seven guys to canvas the nation. It was taxing.
"It was for the first time really in my career here at Stanford that I was gone for eight days straight. We all had to cover a lot of ground."
The class is made up of players from 12 states, with California (5), Arizona (3), Florida (2) and Texas (2) providing multiple players.
However, not everyone required a plane trip. In fact, in the case of Chryst, there was no need for a vehicle at all. The son of 49ers quarterback coach Geep Chryst literally has the arm strength to throw a football from his Palo Alto High campus to the Stanford campus, which are located across the street from each other.
Chryst's addition should make for an interesting competition down the line. Starter Kevin Hogan still has two years left of eligibility and Ryan Burns was one of the prizes of Stanford's recruiting class a year ago.
On Chryst's ability, Shaw said: "There are things you can teach playing the quarterback position and things you can't. You can't teach 6-4, 235 and athleticism that can throw the ball 70 yards. You just can't teach that stuff. You see a young man with ability and physical tools and toughness. Best thing for us is that we don't feel the need to rush his development."
Shaw said he had met the elder Chryst a few times while coaching in the NFL, but didn't develop a real relationship with him until the recruiting process began.