Before Ryan Whalen became an NFL draft prospect, the Cardinal’s No. 1 receiver and a scholarship athlete, he was a recruited walk-on player from a school an hour north of the Farm that hadn’t sent a player to Stanford since 1998. Four years and a couple of big, four-star commits later, Monte Vista High School is considered a pipeline for Cardinal football recruiting.
Located in the heart of the San Ramon Valley in Danville, Calif., Monte Vista (or MV, for short) has long been a hotbed not for Stanford, but for its rival from the East Bay. Cal coach Jeff Tedford resides in the town and Berkeley coaches have been a fixture at the Mustangs’ practices and games. But when Whalen, who received offers almost exclusively from schools at the FCS level, chose to become a member of the Cardinal, he set off a chain of events that have led Stanford to create an imprint at Monte Vista.
“The way you might establish a pipeline from a particular high school is when you land a kid early on like Ryan Whalen, who has a positive experience and shares that message with people at his high school—the coaches, players and families,” said Stanford outside linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator Lance Anderson. “They’re hearing good things about Stanford, and we like the kid and what he brings and we think it’s because of what he learned in high school.”
Whalen echoed Anderson’s comments.
“The coaches are going to want guys from certain schools that have produced results,” he said. “They might think he’s a similar type of guy. Good fundamentals, good work ethic, good coaching in high school.”
Two years after Whalen matriculated, Zach Ertz, the nation’s No. 4-rated tight end, made his way from Monte Vista to the Farm. The success of his former teammate was a major factor in his decision.
“Ryan had a big influence on my recruitment because he kind of opened the door for me,” Ertz said. “Since he was so successful his first couple of years here I think it definitely helped Brett and myself out.”
“Brett” is Brett Nottingham, a true freshman quarterback who was the 14th-ranked quarterback in his class and who some consider to be Andrew Luck’s heir apparent. A long-time UCLA commit, he made a late switch to Stanford last January. His former Monte Vista teammates were in his ear throughout the process.
“Every now and then I would let him know about Stanford and how well we were doing at the time and that he should be a part of it,” Ertz said. “As signing day came closer and closer he began thinking more seriously about Stanford and then he made the choice to de-commit from UCLA and come to Stanford. I would say I had a part in the decision for him to come here, but ultimately it was his decision.”
In Danville, a small town with a tight football community, that communication is essential. Whalen’s father talked to Nottingham’s during the latter’s recruitment; all three players have known each other for the majority of their lives. When they return home from the Farm, their relationship is on full display.
“We will come home for a weekend and the first thing all three of us want to do is have Brett throw routes to Ryan and me,” Ertz said. “After the work on the field we usually go into the weight room and work out in there.”
Thanks in part to the Cardinal’s success, Monte Vista head coach Craig Bergman has noticed a shift at the school.
“By having those three at Stanford, it has made it a very talked about program at MV,” he said. “I’m an Arizona alumnus and I root for Stanford in every game, including the U of A game.”
The result is that, in a short time frame, Monte Vista has become a feeder for the Farm. The idea of a feeder school is not foreign in college sports, but it’s harder to establish with Stanford, where academics play a large role in the recruiting process.
Still, Stanford has some feeders. Chapparal and Hamilton High Schools in Arizona are two examples, and Anderson is comfortable adding Monte Vista to that list, which has positive, symbiotic ramifications.
“There are specific kids that we target. But when we’re in an area, there are specific schools that we visit because while they may not have anyone for us now, they might have kids later,” he said.
One such player was wide receiver Bryce McGovern, a current senior at Monte Vista who, Berman said, is “cut from the same mold” as Whalen, Nottingham and Ertz.
Both Bergman and Ertz speculated that, much like Whalen, McGovern would have a chance to come to the Farm as a recruited walk-on. Instead, like many MV athletes before him, he verbally committed to Cal last week.
Such is the recruiting game. But even if you don’t land every player, there is still tremendous value in having a presence at a place like Monte Vista.
“Any time you have three kids like this, it’s one of those schools,” Anderson said. “Hopefully we can keep that going.”