When John Elway left Stanford in 1983, he left more than a legacy and a stack of school records. His departure created a void that his predecessors would never be able to fill. Sure, there would be other good quarterbacks, some of whom would even top a few of his records, but it took more than twenty-five years for someone to rise to Elway's level.
It will probably take another quarter century for that comet to come back around the sun again, but if there's one thing we've learned over the past year or two, Palo Alto has become a desired destination for elite high school football players, so we can expect to see some talent at the quarterback position as well.
As good as Stanford's 2012 recruiting class was, there was no passer in the group. During his Signing Day press conference, head coach David Shaw made it clear that bringing in an elite quarterback would be a priority heading into the 2013 recruiting cycle. Less than a month later, Virginia quarterback Ryan Burns gave his verbal commitment.
Burns is an interesting recruit, because early on his statistics were terribly unimpressive. In his first year as a starter for Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, Virginia, he completed just 90 of 206 passes for 1,801 yards with 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Those mediocre numbers weren't just a result of inexperience (Burns missed his sophomore season with an injured (non-throwing) shoulder). He was playing in Stone Bridge's run-oriented single-wing offense, so his numbers were much lower than you might expect from an elite quarterback. For his senior season, however, head coach Mickey Thompson installed a spread offense, and Burns responded with much better numbers.
At 6'5" and 218 pounds, Burns looks the part of the prototypical quarterback, and according to recruiting expert Tom Lemming, he has all the necessary tools to excel at the next level. "He has impressed everyone at camps with his height, arm strength, and overall athletic ability. He's very accurate in short to intermediate passes, he reads defense and shows a coolness under pressure." All of that translates to some high recruiting rankings: #47 by Rivals, and a top-100 ranking by MaxPreps.
David Shaw has demonstrated that his staff can recruit at least as well as Jim Harbaugh's, but this is his first quarterback commitment. Just as Harbaugh's success was linked to his recruitment and development of Andrew Luck, Shaw could find the early years of his tenure defined by the success of his first quarterback. Skyline High School's Max Browne, the top-ranked quarterback in the nation, had long listed Stanford as his dream school, but insiders have said that the Stanford coaches liked Burns better and didn't bother offering Browne a scholarship. Browne will sign with USC today, and he and Burns will likely be compared to one another for the next four years.
Burns doesn't have to become the next Andrew Luck, and he doesn't have to develop into a Heisman finalist -- but he does have to be good. Instead of the standard highlight package, check out this video profile. This is a good kid.