STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — David Shaw could look at it as Stanford and the Pac-12 being behind the rest of the country with a late start to the football season, which will end up a seven-game, all-conference schedule if all goes as planned.
Instead, the Cardinal's 10th-year coach considers the benefits from months of advance preparations his team has had thanks to so many team meetings over Zoom, and positives taken from forming small player groups when athletes returned to campus that forced teammates to get to know each other better than ever.
“We're ahead of where we were last year, by a lot. We've had more meeting time since March than maybe any group in the history of sports, just because we've been meeting on Zoom and going through film and cut ups and talking about footwork and talking about pass protection, and doing a great job of focusing on what we want to run versus what we could run and really streamlining what we do and how we do it,” Shaw said.
The Cardinal had made 10 straight bowl appearances before last season's disappointing miss, and that has players motivated to return to the perennial contender Stanford has long been.
“The fact that we've had so much meeting time on Zoom prior to camp, because we had the late start, definitely helped in some aspects and was weird in others,” junior defensive end Thomas Booker said. “A lot of learning goes on obviously in meetings but a lot of that just gets applied when you actually play.”
BAD TASTE FROM 2019
The Cardinal's 4-8 record last season was something the upperclassmen — and everyone for that matter — would rather forget. Stanford went 3-6 in Pac-12 play.
Leaving a mark in 2020, despite its differences and challenges, would mean a lot.
“It's pretty important to me,” senior offensive tackle Foster Sarell said. “Our recruiting class was very impactful. For some of us it didn't go our way, for some of us it did initially. Now we're finally at this point where last year wasn’t the greatest year in Stanford football history. Now we really have an opportunity as the older group, the leaders, that also have had this amazing platform of being elite high school athletes that came here to really show who we are and what we're all about and that we can impact this program and leave it better than we found it.”
Sophomore left tackle Walter Rouse played in all 12 games and started the final 11 while left guard Barrett Miller appeared in 11 with eight starts as a freshman so they will be key members of an offensive line with a balance of veterans and young players.
Jake Hornibrook is another sophomore and started the final six games.
“We still have some growing pains,” Sarell said. “We've got some newer guys shifting in, just trying to figure out what suits the best five, kind of going through that with everybody, trying to make the best we can of all of it in this whole situation."
Shaw has a long list of capable sophomores who gained valuable experience even if some didn't play and will be called upon to take on bigger roles in their second seasons.
Cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly, safety Jonathan McGill, wide receiver Elijah Higgins and running backs Austin Jones and Nathaniel Peat played in all 12 games. Kelly started the final nine games, McGill made six starts and they both finished with 35 tackles, while Jones finished with 227 yards rushing with one touchdown on 45 carries and also made 14 catches for 108 yards.
Higgins earned one start against rival California in the Big Game.
In addition, kicker Ryan Sanborn was the only true freshman specialist in the country who was a full-time punter and also kicked off at least 20 times (27) and made seven or more field goals. He converted 7 of 9.
“The growth and maturity of this year’s sophomore class is significant to really have multiple guys in the position to help us out,” Shaw said.
In September, left tackle Walker Little opted out to prepare for the 2021 draft instead waiting out the uncertainty of getting to play his senior season, and cornerback Paulson Adebo also decided to declare for the NFL draft and forego his senior season.
Little was projected as one of the top tackles in college last season before going down with a season-ending knee injury in the Cardinal’s opener.
The Cardinal lost out on their trip to South Bend, Indiana, for a game that had been scheduled against Notre Dame for Oct. 10. Now, Stanford instead opens at Oregon on Nov. 7.
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