Photo credit: gostanford.com
By: Ana Kieu
Whether it’s Pop Warner, high school, college or the pros, there’s something special about the first practice of the season.
That was the case Friday afternoon at Elliott Field, where 102 Stanford Cardinal players gathered in shorts, jerseys and helmets under a cloudless, blue sky. It was the first of 24 sessions before the season opener against the Northwestern Wildcats on August 31 and was crisp and fast-paced.
“Absolutely,” said senior defensive end Jovan Swann. “I started playing when I was six years old. After the hard training, just being out there with my guys was a great thing.”
Junior offensive tackle Walker Little, a preseason All-American, also felt the excitement.
“Almost more so now than when I was little in Houston,” Little said. “It was so hot and I knew I was going to be sweating. The game just elevates so much more as you get into it. There are so many more things to think about and so many things I want to get better at.”
Every practice matters.
“You work all offseason and yes it does get you ready for the season, but ultimately, it’s what you do on these days during training camp that gets you ready for the season,” said Little.
Friday’s practice lasted three hours.
“It was really good,” said David Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. “Not everything was perfect. Compared to last year, we looked like a mature football team and that was great to see. Guys played hard, smart, kept teammates off the ground and were still making great effort.”
There are 21 freshmen on scholarship, and many have a chance to make impacts.
“We have adopted the mentality that we can help the young guys right away,” said Swann. “With the four-game (redshirt) rule, they’ll definitely be able to contribute. We’ve got guys who work hard and are willing to fight. We saw that throughout the summer.”
A key theme is starting fast with Northwestern, USC, UCF and Oregon looming on the schedule in the first month. For Stanford to accomplish its goals, starting with a Pac-12 North title, it must set an early tone with focus and execution.
“There is a sense of urgency,” Swann said. “We have guys who have been around and are leading the young guys and they follow suit. It’s top down at every position.”
Said Little, “We know in the back of our minds it’s a brutal little stretch. We’re coming out of the gate swinging and don’t have time to ease into the year.”
Since the end of last season, the coaching staff has stressed maximum effort and accountability.
“We’re trying to finish each play and each practice,” Little said.
Little expects big things from the offensive line.
“This is probably the most cohesion we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Little said. “We’re all comfortable with each other and have played together. There’s been a lot of flipping the last two years because of injuries but we’re pretty solid across the board.”
Specialty units have always been a priority under Shaw. It’s also a great way for underclassmen to get noticed and earn playing time.
“I believe it’s the way for us to win games,” said sophomore inside linebacker Jacob Mangum-Farrar, who didn’t start playing football until his freshman year of high school and saw action in the last four games in 2018.
“Playing last year, it was a great learning experience to get some college-level football in,” Mangum-Farrar said. “This year, in addition to playing my own position, I plan on starting on just about all teams. That’s my mission.”
The preseason college football Coaches Poll was released on Thursday and Stanford ranked No. 23. Cardinal opponents who made the list were No. 9 Notre Dame, No. 12 Washington, No. 13 Oregon, No. 17 UCF, No. 21 Washington State and No. 25 Northwestern.
The Cardinal will don full pads on Tuesday, followed by a non-practice day Wednesday … Stanford’s only open scrimmage is August 11 from 3:15-5:30 p.m. The other open practice is August 18 from 3-5:30 p.m. and features a post-practice Youth Clinic and autograph session … Shaw attended a San Francisco 49ers practice last week … Stanford will wear a uniform patch in the opener to celebrate 150 years of college football and a helmet decal to recognize the 125th year of Stanford football.
“That’s why you come to Stanford. You want to play the best teams around the country. It’s going to test us, but we’re going to see what we’re all about.” — Walker Little on the challenging schedule.