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The College Recruitment of Tom Brady

Prior to his successful NFL career, Tom Brady was a two-sport standout at Serra High School in San Mateo, California, and was drafted by the Montreal Expos before accepting a scholarship to play quarterback for Michigan.
Prior to his successful NFL career, Tom Brady was a two-sport standout at Serra High School in San Mateo, California, and was drafted by the Montreal Expos before accepting a scholarship to play quarterback for Michigan.Credit: Junipero Serra High School, San Mateo
Sanjay KirpalaniNational Recruiting AnalystSeptember 24, 2015

Around this time 21 years ago, the journey of one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game began to take shape. 

With his son heading into his senior season and struggling to flash on the radar of college coaches, Tom Brady Sr. decided to take matters into his own hands.

The father of the four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback recalls that in the summer of 1994, after Tom Brady’s junior year at Serra High School in San Mateo, California, it was time to do “a little marketing.”

“We had some game tapes and collated them to his abilities, and then we had it verified by his quarterback guru,” the elder Brady told Bleacher Report. “Then we sat down and decided what schools he would even consider. We sent the tapes out to those schools. I think there were around 54 schools.”

After he made the highlight videos, it was only then that the interest started to grow in the current Patriots star.

Brady’s laboring efforts to get noticed came about for a few reasons.

For starters, the recruiting process was different back then, when most colleges would wait to evaluate prospects well into their senior seasons.

With Brady, there was also the fact that he was a standout catcher for the Padres baseball squad—so much so that some within the Serra community envisioned him playing in the World Series instead of winning Super Bowls.

“Surprisingly, he was getting more attention for baseball,” said John Kirby, who was one of Brady’s top receiving targets during his prep career. “We all thought he was going to be a pro baseball player. He was a really good catcher. In his senior year, he wound up getting drafted by the Montreal Expos back in the day.” 

Yet Brady’s father said that his son never wavered when it came to making a decision between the two sports for his athletic future. 

“Tommy always liked football once he started playing as a freshman in high school,” Brady Sr. said. “We did more than just discourage the baseball people because Tommy had his mind set up that he was going to play football once he found out there was a significant amount of interest out there for him.” 

Kirby, the assistant athletic director at Serra—which is located just outside San Francisco—said he saw traits then that have fueled Brady's rise into one of the premier signal-callers in the NFL today. 

“Football-wise, he had a cannon for an arm,” Kirby said. “He was a great leader. He did a great job of keeping the team together and building up the self-esteem in each player. He believed in the team, and he did everything he could to make everyone around him better. You can still see that with him today with the Patriots.” 

Still, Brady’s father said nearby California was the only school interested in Tom prior to the tapes getting out. However, he admitted he didn’t know if the strategy of mailing the tapes would work.

“You just don’t know, though,” Brady Sr. said. “You don’t know what coaches are looking for. We just figured we’d cast a wide net out there and see who might be interested.”

After his highlights were circulated to programs around the country, Brady Sr. began to discuss with his son the things to look for in a program that he could call home for the next four years.

One thing that was non-negotiable was finding a program where Tom could excel on the field and in the classroom. With this criteria in mind, he quickly whittled his list to five schools. 

“Probably the ones that we did hear from and ultimately pared the list to were Cal-Berkeley, UCLA, USC, Michigan and Illinois,” Brady Sr. said. “Those were the final five schools Tommy was considering. If athletics didn’t work out, he’d be proud to have a degree from a great academic school. Those were five pretty darn good schools, so he had a pretty good list there.” 

Perhaps Brady would’ve been destined to land with the Trojans if then-offensive coordinator Mike Riley—who is currently the head coach at Nebraska—had his way.

In fact, Brady Sr. said Riley was the only coach who came to watch Tom play in a game during his senior season. But things didn’t quite work out the way they were hoping with USC.

“We played one of our archrivals in San Jose, and [Riley] flew up for that game,” Brady Sr. said. “I think that was one of the first times we had beaten that school in many years. He liked Tommy and went back to talk to [USC head coach] John Robinson, and John Robinson wasn’t interested.” 

One coach who didn’t hesitate when he viewed Brady’s tape was Michigan assistant Bill Harris.

“When it came to our office, they forwarded it to me since [West Coast] is my territory,” Harris said. “So I was the first person to look at it, and I liked what I saw. Then I showed it to Kit Cartwright, who was our quarterback coach. Kit said he looked pretty good. Then we showed it to head coach Gary Moeller. He agreed with us that it looks like he’s a kid who can play quarterback for Michigan.”

From that point, Harris began making arrangements to visit Brady’s school and meet his parents.

The highlight tape impressed him because he saw Brady firing all types of passes, whether they were short, intermediate or deep balls. But he wasn't completely satisfied.

One of his missions on the trip was to acquire and review game film to dig deeper into Brady’s abilities and assess whether they would transfer to the next level.

“I requested some game film so I can see what he looks like when he’s at his worst,” Harris said. “Even at his worst, he still looked pretty good to me. He’s not completing every pass, but it looked like he was throwing to the correct person or giving that person a chance to catch it. That’s important because everyone looks good in a highlight tape. I sat down and watched a couple of games, and he still looked good to me.” 

With Brady's athleticism and size already checked off, Harris set out to learn more about the young QB's background.

After going over film with Serra head coach Tom MacKenzie, Harris finally met with Brady. While two-sport athletes are less common today, they were more prominent in the mid-'90s. 

Harris said Brady’s baseball background actually helped him uncover a key trait that has defined the future Hall of Famer’s pro career.

“I found out he played baseball and that he was a catcher,” Harris said. “I’m thinking in my mind, you know, catchers have to be tough. So this kid is going to have that toughness you want if he’s back there getting beat up behind the plate.”

PAUL WARNER/Associated Press

Harris also met with Brady and his family at their home. He discovered that the family—which included three older sisters—was ultra-competitive in different sports, which rubbed off on Brady in a good way.

“They are all very competitive, and the mother may be the most competitive of all,” Harris chuckled. “She didn’t want anyone to beat her in tennis. Tommy was the youngest of the family, so he got beat up by all of his sisters. He was out there struggling and fighting to put his name on the top somewhere. Once you get the chance to meet the family and see where he is coming from, you say to yourself this is the kind of person we want at Michigan.”

The next step was getting Brady to visit campus, which took place in January 1995. Harris said the visit was vital in helping Moeller verify that Brady indeed held a committable offer.

A few weeks after the visit and shortly before national signing day in February, Harris called Brady to check in with him. Little did he know the surprise he was in for. 

“He told me he wanted to be a ‘Michigan man',"Harris said. “That made me feel pretty good [laughs]. I told Coach Moeller and he called Tommy back and told him, ‘We want you.’”

Harris, who coached at Michigan for nine seasons, would leave Ann Arbor shortly after signing day for the defensive coordinator job at Stanford. He recalled calling Brady and his family to inform them of the news that he was leaving.

Credit: Junipero Serra High School, San Mateo

While his departure stung, Harris remained close with family since he took a job located near them in Palo Alto. That relationship continues to this day.

Asked what stood out most to him about recruiting Brady, Harris said the Patriots star reminded him of another uber-competitive Wolverines passer he coached earlier in his career. 

“I was coaching the receivers in 1986 when [Jim] Harbaugh was a senior,” Harris said. “I was always telling him that his receivers made him look good. He was a competitor. He didn’t want to lose at anything. Tommy is the same way. This man could be a Harbaugh. Harbaugh played in the pros for 18 years, and Tommy is going to play for 18 years. Same kind of people.”

The fire that drives Brady was born in his days back at Serra, when he had many doubters who questioned if he was good enough to be a starting quarterback at a powerhouse school such as Michigan.

The ups and downs of his recruiting process were precursors to his winding journey to stardom in the NFL. Throughout it all, Brady never wavered when it came to the confidence and competitiveness he built during his prep career.

“I guess there were more highly recruited prospects, but Tommy never had any doubt about his abilities,” Brady Sr. said. “While other people may have, he never worried about the measurables he didn’t have. He knew he had the whole package. He truly had the heart of a lion, and he wanted to compete. He never felt as if he was sitting in the second chair to anybody else. That spirit of competition has driven him in his time at Michigan, and that has continued in the NFL.”

 

Editor's note: Throughout the 2015 football season, Bleacher Report will continue a series on the college recruitment of today's biggest sports stars. For previous installments, see below:

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. 

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