Denver (Pa.) Cocalico offensive tackle Ryan Brubaker quickly became one of the most sought-after prospects in the nation once his junior tape made its rounds. The 6'6", 285-pound prospect was diligent in the recruiting process leading up to the month of June, and he has already utilized four official visits this month, with one more on tap.
The Keystone State standout discusses all of this and more with SI All-American.
"It has been surreal," Brubaker said of the opportunity to get to campuses finally. "I don't know how to really describe it. You are doing all of these Zooms, but the reality does not sink in that all these opportunities are real, and then you get on campus, and it is like, whoa, I could commit on the spot. That just never came through on Zoom because it was like doing another meeting for school or work. So walking around campuses allowed me to see it was a very real opportunity I could take advantage of."
While new offers rolled in seemingly every day during the recruiting dead period, Brubaker and his family were persistent in navigating the recruiting process virtually, which helped prepare him for the fast-paced month of June he has encountered.
"First of all, Zoom was helpful because it allowed us to weed out schools I simply was not interested in, or there was just something about it where I wasn't too sure," he said. "It provided an opportunity for the schools I was visiting, to where my parents and I agreed these were the schools that earned it through their efforts in recruiting. In a second sense, it was awesome because it was not like meeting these people for the first time. All of these visits that I have been on so far have been smooth like we are old friends because we have been in each other's living room through zoom. Meeting someone and shaking their hand is different, and I am appreciative we are able to do that, but it wasn't as big of a jump as I thought it would be. I already felt like I knew all of the coaches we met. It was like, okay, you are coach so-and-so, the Twitter profile photo looked a little different, but we are on track now."
Brubaker started the month at Stanford, a program that has recruited him as intensely as any of the other 25 Division 1 offers he holds.
"Just the dedication to football," Brubaker said of what stood out about his first official visit. "Specifically, the style of offense. They describe it as a retro, kind of 90's, throw in the sixth tackle and put some big boys in at tight end and stuff that has not been used as much recently. Then academically, no doubt, that is a huge focus. It is the only school that required me to apply in advance. I just found out tonight that I am admitted. They are definitely some levels of rigorous vetting that go on there. I wouldn't say it wasn't a real opportunity before, but now I can call them up and say, 'Hey, I am coming,' now that I am admitted."
During his process, a major focus for Brubaker has been academics, the notoriety of which Stanford speaks on its own.
"It certainly is an appeal, but one of the things I have come to realize through all these visits, I am interested in studying political science with a minor in economics or history," Brubaker said on if there was an added appeal to the Cardinal with this. "When I was at Stanford, they were like, this is a big deal for us; this is one of our best majors. For example, at South Carolina, that was my third visit, the deal there is with being in Columbia, they can set up internships with the state legislatures and the governor's office. There is certainly a level of prestige there with Stanford, but it would be foolish to say there are no other opportunities as far as internships go and academics. Every school is going to offer a slightly different brand of academics."
Brubaker took his second visit to Happy Valley to see a school with a certain familiarity, as his father, Jeff, was a member of Penn State's 1986 national championship team and was a starter for the Nittany Lions later in his career. However, the official visit still allowed the younger Brubaker an opportunity to look at the school in a light that he had yet to see.
"There is definitely a difference with walking around campus on your own and being shown around campus," Brubaker said. "There is some familiarity there, but at the same time, it was a new experience because I have never been to a game. The closest I have ever got is the Blue-White game, so there was a sense of newness there. As far as my dad goes, we walked out on the field before dinner on Saturday night, and I asked him, 'Is this kind of surreal to walk out through here again?'
"For him, he kind of looked at me and said, 'when I was in your shoes, yes, but I have experienced so much else in life that it doesn't feel it anymore.' He has been great because he has been impartial. What I am getting at there is he is not emotionless, but he is open, very supportive, and not going to try and influence me or sway me."
His third official visit went to Shane Beamer's new staff at South Carolina, and the Gamecocks used a unique message to show their loyalty to their players, which impressed Brubaker and his parents.
"I think very highly of that new staff," he said. "Not because of the game plan or anything like that but because of who they are as people and understanding what the players that are there in the building and the value they bring to the program. Coach Beamer's big message was we don't need to be reaching around from place to place trying to draw in bigger and better athletes because the people are here, but they haven't been fully realized yet. My hat is off to them because it would just be easier to go to the transfer portal and see who the best prospect is and try to go bring them and restart the program. The message that we got was they are dedicated to the players already in the building; whether or not they were there when those players were being recruited, they want to make those players their guys."
Brubaker's most recent visit went to Josh Heupel and the new Tennessee staff, and the Vols have been a long-term player in his recruitment as well.
"It went well," Brubaker said of the visit. "Knoxville is a new place. Quite honestly, so are Stanford and Columbia. The setting is very neat. It is very similar to home with the rolling mountains, rivers, and creeks, and all of that stuff. The visit went good. The coaches, as a new staff, are dedicated to the players in the building, and they aren't necessarily looking to bring in the biggest or the baddest from somewhere else in the SEC or Power Five. For both of those programs, that speaks volumes. But it went well. We enjoyed our time with the coaches. My parents enjoyed talking with them at the parent social they do in the evenings. I had a great time, it was a brand new experience, and there were a lot of good things going on."
His longstanding relationship with Glen Elarbee is a crucial reason why the Vols have remained a player in his recruitment.
"Again, a blessing with this month is it has been with no surprises, and that was very much true for this visit," Brubaker added. "He met us at the airport when we landed and hats off to him because I think it was 10:15 or 10:30 before we landed, then he took us back to the hotel with one of his assistants. There were no surprises there. He was who he was when we talked on the phone, and he was very soft-spoken, very mellow. It was nice when we got into the football side of it because there was an intensity there that I had rarely seen. We did a zoom a while back and watched film, and I had seen it then. His conversation demeanor and coaching demeanor were different. The players spoke very highly of him as someone who is not going to blow his lid just to blow his lid. He is very precise and calculated in reprimanding and coaching and just being there in general."
Vanderbilt will get to make what will likely be the final in-person pitch to Brubaker, as they are set to host the talented tackle next week on his fifth and final official visit, and he is expecting Clark Lea's staff to compete and push for him in-person, just as they have done virtually.
"That is tough," he said of what he needs to see during the visit. "I think simply being on campus is going to decide a lot for me. Like I said, gut feeling is huge. Vanderbilt is in that echelon of academic Power Five, and I would expect them to display that a lot. At this point, I can pretty much say the meat and potatoes of each visit are very similar. I wouldn't expect anything different from them. I do expect, just based off the coach's personality, they are going to put their best foot forward. IN talking with them after my first two visits, it was 'what did you do that you liked or didn't like, and what do you want to do when you are here?' Just kind of that competitive spirit that they want to cater the visit to be the best it can be. I expect some competition from them, no doubt."
Once the meticulous Brubaker wraps up his fifth and final visit, he will start working towards finalizing his future home.
"Quite honestly, after going to Vandy, I am going to take a week to digest that, then the wheels are going to start turning on that process of elimination, as much as I hate it," he said. "I am a relationship person, and I have built strong relationships at each school. Making those four bad phone calls is going to be tough. Even though they understand, and it is their job, I feel like I am letting them down by not coming to them. It is going to be tough. I have team camp the second weekend in July, and I don't know if I want to let it drag on that long. I think pretty soon it is going to be time to put all my eggs into my high school team's basket. It is going to be the first of July."
So what will it come down to for the coveted prospect? It is fairly simple.
"For me, it is simply going to boil down to a gut feeling, which is why the visits are so important for me," Brubaker said of what his decision will come down to. "We talked as a family, and I listed out what my top ten categories are from most important to least important. For me, most important was just a gut feeling. If I get to a school and there is that pang, and I can see myself going to school here and going to class here and being happy 365 days a year, that is kind of where I am at."
"Wherever I end up, they are going to get someone that is dedicated," he said of what one of these schools will get in him. "I have said to my parents and several other people, 'whenever I commit, I might as well sign my national letter of intent because there is going to be no de-committing or any of that stuff. I am not going to play that game, just out of respect for coaches. They will get someone who is committed and passionate about where they are. I want to make sure I choose for the right reasons. If I can't wake up every day and say, ' I am darn happy,' then I chose for the wrong reasons. I think as a result of that passion for wherever I choose, that school is going to get a hard worker. I love what I love doing, and football is one of those things that I love. If I am doing something that I love at a place that I love, then the results are going to be good."