Stanford University Lands Two Top Distance Recruits

Stanford University landed two big-time recruits on Tuesday. 

Amador Valley's (CA) John Lester, who is quickly becoming one of the country's fastest-rising recruits in the class of 2021, and Germantown Academy's (PA) Robert DiDonato, a Foot Locker Nationals qualifier in 2019, both announced they are joining the Cardinal next fall.

"I'm really excited to be joining Rob and the rest of the team: Thomas Boyden, Cole Sprout, Charles Hicks, and the rest of them," Lester said.

It's been a wild last year for Lester. At this time last year, he wasn't even ranked on MileSplit's compiling of the top 50 recruits in the Class of 2021.

But Lester certainly took center stage in the high school track and field world this past spring and summer when he lowered his 800m and mile PRs to 1:48.26 and 4:06.97, respectively -- in fact, his half-mile time was the third-fastest time in junior class history.

Those two performances, along two time trials at 1:49 for 800 meters, represented huge jumps from his previous bests of 1:52.06 for 800m and 4:29.92 for 1600m. Lester broke 4:10 for the mile twice (officially) over the shortened 2020 season. 

 Lester said Stanford was an easy choice having grown up in the Bay Area. 

"In middle school, I used to go to football games with my family and friends, and Stanford was always a place where you would walk around campus or to sporting events and it just had this energy to it," he said. "Even in seventh and eighth grade, I knew this was a place I wanted to be, so in the back of my mind it was a dream school but it didn't come into the potential of me going there until I started dropping the times that I did."

Although DiDonato lives across the country in Pennsylvania, he said the idea of running for the program in Palo Alto had a similar effect on him as well. 

Related Links: MileSplit50 Class of 2021 Top 50 Recruits

"Stanford has sort of been an aspirational school for me and it's a dream come true, I'm really excited," DiDonato said. "We have family who lives out in the Palo Alto area, so I've been there quite a few times when I was little and I was like, 'this is the school that if I had the opportunity to go to this is my dream school'." 

DiDonato had a big junior season on the cross country course, earning wins at some of Pennsylvania's biggest meets, including Lehigh University's Paul Short Run and the Pennsylvania Independent Schools (PAISAA) Championships. He went on to place 10th at the Foot Locker Northeast Regional, earning a spot on the line at Foot Locker Nationals, where he placed 31st. On the track, he holds indoor PRs of 4:15.78 for the mile and 9:15.73 for 3,200m. 

Lester and DiDonato are the first two athletes in the Class of 2021 to commit to Stanford, but they will be joining a long list of top recruits from the past several years, including Foot Locker All-Americans Thomas Boyden, two-time Team Nationals All-American Cole Sprout (7th and 3rd at the meet in 2019 and 2018, respectively), 2018 Team Nationals individual champion Liam Anderson, and 2018 Team Nationals All-American's Ryan Oosting and Charles Hicks.

"The idea of having that kind of talent around you and those kinds of people around you is really helpful," Lester said. "I've heard good things about how the team operates throughout the day, they carve out ample time to focus on training and the demands of school. The team balances everything really well from what I can tell after talking to many of them."

Graphic designed by Logan French

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Lester and DiDonato both stressed the importance of having a well-rounded athletic and academic experience.

"Stanford really stood out as being one of the best programs in the country, one of the most selective schools in the country, and talking to coach Santos he was so approachable about it," DiDonato said. "You could feel good about both sides, that they will help you through it, and help you be both a strong student and athlete at the school.

"I think it's a team of self-selecting guys who care about both sides of it. I think those are the people John and I like and like to be around so. It stood out to me that if you go to Stanford to be a runner, you must be someone who really cares about both and that's a group of guys I want to learn from and be apart of."

"It was really clear what the expectation and the focus were," Lester added. "You are not 60-percent focused on academics 40-percent on running; it's 100-percent in both. I think that sort of mindset is something I'm already invested in and to be able to continue that going forward and join other people who are like-minded in that way is unique, and I think only Stanford has that."

Both Lester and DiDonato were looking at similar schools, which included Harvard, Princeton and UNC. Lester said he also had some interest in Oregon, USC and Georgetown, while DiDonato said the University of Pennsylvania and Duke were also in the mix for him.

"I think they were all great options and I really liked the coaches at all the schools, they were all awesome opportunities. I think Stanford was always that school that I had on my mind, as ... the one that stood above," DiDonato said.

"The ability to balance things and just pursue our athletic goals with the really talented classes above us, I think we're just going to get pulled to greater heights," Lester said.

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