Stanford did not have to put much of a recruiting press on Ekom Udofia, as family was already serving as a powerful tracking beam to the campus.
Udofia would be reunited on the defensive line with his brother, Udeme, after the two had starred together at Scottsdale Chaparral High School. Their sister also graduated from Stanford.
As a result, playing on The Farm was a no-brainer. However, as the Cardinal went 1-11 in 2006, Udofia’s first season as a starter, he could have wondered if blood was thicker than Gatorade — which nobody on the Stanford sideline was getting doused with.
“You don’t want to look back and think what you could have done,” said Udofia, who returns to the Valley on Saturday when Stanford plays at Arizona State. “You take your decisions and make the best out of them. I thought that we could turn the program around.
“I felt we had a chance to be a great team again, and being part of that was something I felt I couldn’t turn down.”
Redemption is coming, Udofia believes, just much later than he anticipated. The presence of second-year coach Jim Harbaugh and a season-opening win against Oregon State last week have the senior nose tackle believing that the Cardinal are once again becoming a player in the Pac-10.
“I see us going in the right direction now,” Udofia said. “A lot of people are excited around here. I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds. I feel we haven’t scratched the surface of what we can do as a defense.”
And the 6-foot-2, 310-pound Udofia has a big role in shaping the immediate future of Stanford. He is a key component of a veteran front seven that is the engine of the defense.
Fully recovered from a left leg injury that limited him in 2007, Udofia and end Pannel Egboh anchor the defensive line. Lining up behind them is linebacker Clinton Snyder, the team’s top defensive playmaker.
“The experience is the key for them on defense,” ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. “They are aggressive and play hard. (Defensive coordinator) Ron Lynn and I have known each other for a long time, and he coached for me with the (San Francisco) 49ers in our last year there (2004). You can tell his influence on that defense. They have really improved.”
Against Oregon State, the Cardinal allowed 404 yards passing but collected a safety and an interception return for touchdown.
“Throughout the game, they kept getting us the ball back,” Harbaugh said.
Udofia was limited to seven games last year after aggravating his left fibula, which he originally broke while at Chaparral.
There was a new fracture, which Udofia played through for five games. But when doctors discovered that the metal plate he received in high school broke off, he underwent surgery in November.
“I’ve showed through my play on the field what I can do, but last year was a stalemate for me,” said Udofia, who had 18 tackles and half a sack last year. “I couldn’t play how I could with my leg. But I’m happy with where I am now.”
While Udofia was in rehabilitation, he was constantly challenged by Harbaugh to raise his level of play. Udofia, who had two tackles against Oregon State, feels that he can fulfill the promise he showed during the 2006 season, when he was selected for a number of all-freshman teams.
“He kept telling me that I can be a (dominant) player,” Udofia said. “The team needs me to do it. He told me to come back and be ready. He knows what I can do, and I spent the offseason working hard. My leg felt good as new. I’ve been ready to go.”