ABSECON, N.J. — Anthony Sarao was alone when he flew across the country to visit Stanford and was perfectly at ease — until he met Condoleezza Rice.
Sarao, a star senior linebacker at Holy Spirit High (Absecon, N.J.), had a sit-down with the former secretary of state during his unofficial visit to the Stanford campus in late February, and the nerves came quickly.
"He's smart enough to be nervous about it," Holy Spirit coach Charlie Roman said. "He is kind of a role model for every student at the school, not just the football players. He has an unbelievable work ethic in the gym and in the classroom."
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Sarao verbally committed to Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh before he left the Stanford campus. Sarao, however, acknowledged the highlight of his trip was meeting with Rice, a professor of political science at the school.
"I was actually real nervous," said Sarao, who is on The Associated Press East Region 25 list of top recruits. "I don't get nervous like that, but she made me nervous. I'm going to enter school undecided about my major and she told me she entered school undecided on a major and she ended up in the Senate. I was able to calm down after a few minutes, but it was a long conversation."
Sarao enters his senior year with a grade point average slightly below 3.9, and as one of the top linebackers in the northeast. He played varsity football as a freshman at St. Augustine Prep (Richland, N.J.) before transferring to Holy Spirit after the season.
As a junior, Sarao made 122 tackles, including 11 sacks, and intercepted a pass as the Spartans finished 8-3.
"He's got unbelievable lateral movement," Roman said. "He closes like a defensive back. If he doesn't get bigger than 220 (pounds) in college, and I've talked to him about this, he could become a great safety. He has that kind of ability."
Sarao, who played basketball and football growing up, holds scholarships offers from more than two dozen schools. Even after his February commitment to Stanford, schools such as Nebraska, Michigan State, Ohio State and UCLA continued to recruit him.
However, Sarao said his commitment to Stanford is firm, but cannot become binding until national letter of intent signing day, which is Feb. 2, 2011.
"I thought it was the best fit for me," Sarao said. "I felt really comfortable out there with all the players and the coaching staff. I think it's the most beautiful campus I've been to."