Gold: What Elijah Brown's commitment means for Troy Taylor
It’s not that Mater Dei quarterback Elijah Brown’s commitment to Stanford went under the radar by any means on June 18, but I wonder if people are appreciating the coup that it was for new Cardinal coach Troy Taylor and Co.
Taylor, who inherited a former well-oiled machine in need of a tune-up after 3 successful years at nearby Sacramento State, may have secured the biggest surprise commitment of the 2024 recruiting cycle in Brown.
It’s not that the kid is a winner, which he is.
It’s not that the kid has ideal size, which he does not.
California powerhouse Mater Dei is No. 1 in the 2023 Preseason MaxPreps Top 25 high school football rankings. 🏈🔥
— MaxPreps (@MaxPreps) June 26, 2023
It’s that he bought into Taylor’s vision before it’s even started to come to fruition.
Well, it’s more than that, isn’t it?
Brown isn’t only a big get for Stanford, he’s a big get away from UCLA, reportedly his second-favorite choice. That means the country’s top remaining uncommitted quarterback — and 2nd-rated passer in California behind Alabama-bound Julian Sayin — is staying in the Pac-12 instead of leaving with the Bruins to the Big Ten.
And, boy, does the Pac-12 need this. The 2024 class is shaping up to be a brutal one for the conference, at least at the quarterback position (more on that tomorrow), with just 2 other 4-star commitments and just about every top QB already headed elsewhere.
Brown, who is a silly 29-1 as a starter for the quarterback factory that is Mater Dei, now becomes the crown jewel of the class, ahead of Oregon’s Michael Van Buren (13th-rated QB) and Utah’s Isaac Wilson (23rd).
It’s downright confounding. Where are the quarterbacks? In a year when the conference may boast the best collection of passers in all of college football between USC’s Caleb Williams and Oregon’s Bo Nix, Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. and Utah’s Cameron Rising, top-rated throwers are passing on the Pac-12 left and right.
After building some momentum with the class of 2023 — which includes 3rd-ranked Dante Moore of UCLA, 5th-ranked Malachi Nelson of Los Alamitos, 10th-rated Austin Novosad of Oregon, 12th-rated Aiden Chiles of Oregon State and 16th-ranked Austin Mack of Washington, among others — it felt like the embarrassment of the previous few years was a thing of the past. Things really took a nosedive for the conference in 2020, when the country’s three top signal-callers hailed from California yet headed out of state, with Bryce Young of — guess who? — Mater Dei heading to Alabama, St. John Bosco’s D.J. Uiagalelei signing with Clemson (before transferring to Oregon State this offseason) and C.J. Stroud joining Ohio State. Things weren’t much better in 2021 and 2022, but they weren’t that bad.
But after the on-field success of so many Pac-12 passers last year, highlighted by Williams’ Heisman Trophy, 2023 was the bounce-back class, and this year should have and could have built on that momentum.
Alas it has not, and Stanford now takes the momentum into the start of summer.
One Andrew Luck sure can buy a school — and a coach — a lot of street cred.
Perhaps the premier Pac-12 passer of the last 2 decades (or at least the best pro prospect), Luck was not exactly a superstar recruit when Jim Harbaugh signed him in his 2nd season at the helm. A 4-star signee out of Houston’s Stratford High, Luck garnered a .9782 rating by 247Sports. Impressive, but not overwhelming. But he blossomed under Harbaugh and thrived under his successor, David Shaw — Taylor’s predecessor and the Cardinal head coach from 2011, Luck’s junior and final season, to 2022.
Starting with 2010, when Luck was named Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year after passing for 3,338 yards and 32 touchdowns and guiding the Cardinal to a 12-1 record, Stanford recruited a top-15 quarterback in 7 of 9 seasons.
Brett Nottingham (No. 7 in 2010) begat Kevin Hogan (No. 9, 2011), who begat Ryan Burns (No. 13, 2013), who begat Keller Chryst (No. 3, 2014), who begat K.J. Costello (No. 3, 2016), who begat Davis Mills (No. 1, 2017), who begat Tanner McKee (No. 3, 2018).
From there, it hasn’t been pretty.
With McKee penciled in as starter since the day he first stepped foot in Palo Alto, it was tough sledding on the recruiting trail for Shaw. In 2019, Stanford signed zero QBs and in 2020 brought in 3-star Beau Nelson. The 2021 cycle brought Ari Patu, who is expected to start this year, and the following class saw the arrival of Ashton Daniels, rated 57th in his class.
In the class of 2023, which was so bountiful for the rest of the conference, Stanford signed Myles Jackson, ranked 29th.
Patu, Daniels, Jackson — they could turn into something special for Stanford, sure.
But they aren’t near the prospect Brown is.
OK, so maybe it is the wins.
Brown, who measures at 6-1.5 and 200 pounds, is the latest in a legendary lineage of quarterbacks at arguably the foremost football factory in the country. Mater Dei really is that good.
Just a brief list:
- John Huarte — Notre Dame Heisman Trophy winner
- Matt Leinart — USC Heisman Trophy winner
- Colt Brennan — Hawaii Sammy Baugh Trophy winner
- Matt Barkley — USC Weurffel Trophy winner
- Bryce Young — Alabama Heisman Trophy winner
In other words, pretty good company.
And Brown might be better than any of them.
That 29-1 mark against the kind of competition the Monarchs face? That’s no joke. Neither were his stats last year as a junior for a 12-1 squad: 2,785 yards and 31 touchdowns with only four interceptions.
He enters his senior season with a new head coach at Mater Dei, as alum Frank McManus takes over for Bruce Rollison, and he’ll spend it watching a new head coach in Taylor, who takes over for Shaw.
“Coach Taylor likes to throw the ball around a lot and it’s an offense I think I can really thrive in,” Brown told 247Sports’ Greg Biggins. “I got to spend a lot of time with coach Taylor and [Quarterbacks coach Tyler Osborne] on the visit because I stayed a day longer and felt a really good connection with those guys.”
BREAKING: Four-Star QB Elijah Brown tells me he has Committed to Stanford!
The 6’2 200 QB from Santa Ana, CA chose the Cardinal over UCLA
— Hayes Fawcett (@Hayesfawcett3) June 18, 2023
What does this mean for Taylor?
The Cardinal now have 24 oral commitments, including 4 4-stars, and the 2024 class is now ranked 10th in the country. Even if it finishes Signing Day around No. 20 overall, that is a huge start for Taylor. Building this kind of class, creating this kind of buzz, makes it clear that Taylor is selling a vision, which, of course, is made easier when Stanford is what you’re selling.
And now, if he injects the offense with a bit of creativity, he can both solidify and add to those commitments, which is priority No. 1.
In the NIL era, when some teams can treat the transfer portal like the strawberry stand — Williams, Nix, Penix and Rising are all transfers — Stanford is at a huge disadvantage.
Taylor must treat the high school recruiting ranks as his opportunity to infuse the Cardinal with the talent, size and grit that helped Shaw lead them to a 96-54 record, including 5 10-win seasons and 3 Rose Bowl berths.
With Brown, he’s doing just that, and the Pac-12 should be thankful for it.