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Ola's Pippens shines at Gridiron Classic

By Brian Paglia

bpaglia@news-daily.com

Ola defensive back Ra'Chard Pippens was busy New Year's Eve playing with elite football prospects, blocking extra-points and winning academic awards.

Pippens won MVP honors and was named the top student-athlete at National Underclassmen Combine's All-World Gridiron Classic in Charleston, S.C., on Dec. 31.

The 6-foot Stanford commitment, who has a 3.9 GPA, said he was stunned to win the student-athlete award.

"I didn't expect to win that," Pippens said, "because I knew there were some smart people there. I didn't expect to win it at all."

Stanford's academic reputation was a significant factor in Pippens' choice to make a verbal commitment to the Cardinal last summer. So was Cardinal head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Since then, the Cardinal defeated Virginia Tech, 40-12, in the Orange Bowl on Tuesday, and Harbaugh is among the most coveted individuals for vacant NFL head coaching positions. Stanford's Orange Bowl win only increased rampant speculation Harbaugh might bolt for the NFL.

Harbaugh's future was the topic of conversation at the All-World Gridiron Classic for Pippens and another Stanford commit, wide receiver Devon Cajuste from Holy Cross (N.Y.).

"We talked about it. We both don't know where he's going," Pippens said. "They say he might stay, he might go, but if he goes, we've just got to keep on going forward. If he goes, he goes."

Pippens said he would stay committed to Stanford "with or without" Harbaugh as its head coach.

"(Stanford) just mixes education and athletics perfectly," Pippens said. "It just feels right being there."

Pippens was on Team NUC that lost, 20-17, to Team World, contributing a blocked field goal. It was an experience that helped confirm to Pippens his potential at Stanford.

"Really, it was more like a confidence-booster," Pippens said, "like I can play with these guys, I'm just as good as these guys. I think I can go to the next level."