STANFORD — While the pandemic made college recruiting challenging, Stanford coach David Shaw said his program might have been hit the hardest.

“We’re probably hurt more than any other program in America because a visit to our campus is so significant,” Shaw said Wednesday. “A visit to our campus is really what inspires a lot of these guys to say ‘I’m going to take those AP courses because this place is worth it.’”

Stanford’s campus has been closed to visitors, including recruits, because of the novel coronavirus. But the recruiting cycle continues, and on Wednesday the Cardinal announced 20 players that signed during the NCAA’s early national signing period.

Whatever the reason, Stanford’s 2021 class isn’t as respected as previous groups. After having its recruiting class ranked in the top 25 nationally in six of the last seven years by 247sports and Rivals, Stanford’s class is currently ranked 60th by 247sports and 62nd by Rivals.

But Shaw said he wasn’t frustrated by missing out on more top targets than usual.

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“I don’t really get frustrated,” Shaw said. “This day is about the guys who do come. Everybody in America has guys they recruit who don’t come. So I’m going to focus on the guys who are here, and be excited about those guys.”

It’s also not too late for the rankings to change. Additional players can sign through Friday when the early signing period ends. Also, they can sign during the traditional signing period, set to begin Feb. 3.

Here are the highlights of the Class of 2021 so far:

The lone four-star recruit in both the 247sports and Rivals rankings is defensive end Aaron Armitage, an Ontario native who played at Blair Academy in Blairstown, N.J.

Ranked No. 114 nationally by Prepstar and No. 8 at strong side defensive end by Rivals, Armitage had 10.5 sacks and 25 tackles for loss over six games in 2019.

“His athletic ability and his personality will be a great jolt to that defensive line room,” Shaw said.

He was able to visit Stanford in early March and committed to the Cardinal last month over USC.

“Aaron made that first junior day (visit) thankfully, and the world shut down after that,” Shaw said. “And I think that sat in the back of his brain that he was able to walk around and talk to guys, and get to know guys on our team. That’s as strong of a pull as we have, is our locker room.”

Four of the top seven players in the class, according to 247sports, are defensive backs. The group is headlined by Mitch Leigber of Laguna Hills, a unanimous top-40 safety who is ranked as high as No. 28 by PrepStar. He was an All-CIF Southern Section honoree in 2019, though his senior season has been postponed because of COVID-19 restrictions on play.

“Safety in this new world of football is vital because they have to cover space, the running back out of backfield, tight end, deep, short, have to be able to blitz,” Shaw said. “Really excited about that group.”

Leigber is joined by Frisco, Texas, native Caleb Ellis, the No. 51-ranked safety per ESPN, and consensus top-70 cornerbacks in Jaden Slocum of Alpharetta, Georgia, and Jimmy Wyrick of Dallas.

After not signing a quarterback in last year’s class (though Class of 2018 signee Tanner McKee did come back from a two-year LDS Mission), the Cardinal’s first commitment in the Class of 2021 was Ari Patu. The Folsom native is a consensus top-25 dual-threat quarterback and ranks as high as No. 6 by ESPN.

“Having seen him throw the ball live, the ball really comes out his hand,” Shaw said. “As important as anything, great character, great leadership skills, such a great fit for us.”

His father Saul Patu played football and his mother Alana played softball at Oregon.

Stanford might be the only school in country who signed two fullbacks – Lousiana native Shield Taylor, the No. 18 ranked Y-tight end by ESPN, and Coco Lukrich, a top-100 offensive guard who is the first FBS player from Park City High School in Utah.

“As much as we continue to tout being Tight End U, we feel great about re-emphasizing being Fullback U as well,” Shaw said.

Shaw said that Taylor’s athleticism and versatility reminded him of former Cardinal fullback Ryan Hewitt, a five-year NFL veteran with the Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts. Shaw said Lukrich could play fullback, H-back and tight end and was also recruited as an offensive lineman.

“We’ll see what he develops into as he’s here,” Shaw said.


Four recruits had family ties to Stanford.

Defensive end Zach Buckey’s father Jeff Buckey was a teammate of Shaw’s at Stanford before embarking on a four-year NFL career with the Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers.

Patu’s cousin, Naomi Mulitauaopele, played basketball at Stanford before being selected in the first round of the 2000 WNBA draft by the Utah Starzz.

Wide receiver/running back Danny McFadden had two older brothers who played at Stanford — Connor (2010-13) and Pat (2013-16).

And kicker Emmet Kenney’s two brothers, John and Will, went to graduate school at Stanford. Kenney made three field goals of 50-plus yards in 2020, including a North Dakota-record 58-yard kick.

Here are the Cardinal signings from Wednesday:

OG Jason Amsler (6-5, 280) — Franklin HS, Franklin, Tenn. 

No. 62 ranked guard by PrepStar

DE Aaron Armitage (6-5, 250) —  Blair Academy (N.J.), Ajax, Ontario

Consensus top-30 defensive end nationally

RB Brendon Barrow (5-8, 180) — Clearwater Academy International (Fla.), Etobicoke, Ontario

Canada Football Chat’s No. 1 running back and No. 5 player overall

DE Zach Buckey (6-5, 255) — Garces Memorial HS, Bakersfield 

Father, Jeff, was a teammate of David Shaw’s at Stanford

S Caleb Ellis (6-1, 185) — Independence HS, McKinney, Texas 

Rated the No. 51 safety by ESPN

DE Anthony Franklin (6-4, 250) — Pinnacle HS, Phoenix

At weak-side defensive end, ranked No. 47 by PrepStar

WR David Kasemervisz (6-1, 185)  — Fort Bend Christian HS, Sugar Land, Texas 

Placed sixth at the 2018 USATF National Junior Olympics in 15-16 decathlon

K Emmet Kenney (6-4, 190) — Shanley HS, Fargo, N.D. 

State record-holder for longest field goal (58 yards)

S Mitch Leigber (6-1, 205) — Laguna Hills HS, Laguna Hills 

Unanimous top-40 safety and 2019 All-CIF Southern Section

OT Jack Leyrer (6-7, 285) — Highland Park HS, Dallas

Ranked No. 37 by ESPN and No. 52 by PrepStar at offensive tackle

FB Coco Lukrich (6-3, 250) — Park City HS, Heber City, Utah 

Father, John, played football and rugby at Cal

WR/RB Danny McFadden (5-9, 175) — St. Thomas Academy, Sunfish Lake, Minn.

Brothers Conor and Pat played football at Stanford

QB Ari Patu (6-5, 200) — Folsom HS, Folsom

A consensus top-25 dual-threat quarterback, ranked No. 6 by ESPN

WR Jayson Raines (6-5, 195)  — West Orange HS, West Orange, N.J. 

The No. 78 wide receiver according to PrepStar

OLB Duke Reeder (6-4, 230) — St. Ignatius Prep, San Francisco 

Nike National All-Star and Adrenaline All-American in lacrosse

CB Jaden Slocum (6-2, 185) —  Alpharetta HS, Alpharetta, Ga.

A consensus top-70 safety, ranked No. 32 by Rivals

ILB William Stockwell (6-2, 205) — Catholic Memorial HS, Hyde Park, Mass.

Also competed in lacrosse and hockey

FB Shield Taylor (6-4, 236) — Alexandria Senior HS, Alexandria, La.

Has three siblings, Skylar, Suede and Slayte

P Connor Weselman (6-4, 195)  — Westminster School, Atlanta, Ga. 

The No. 3 punter nationally according to PrepStar

CB/S Jimmy Wyrick (5-11, 170) — South Oak Cliff HS, Dallas

At cornerback, ranked No. 39 by PrepStar, No. 49 by Rivals