Stanford football mines knowledge from 49ers and Raiders

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By: Ana Kieu

One of the many benefits of playing football at Stanford is the proximity and relationship the team has with the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders.

David Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, played at Stanford with 49ers general manager John Lynch in the early 90’s and coached with Raiders head coach Jon Gruden from 1997-2001 (the first year with the Philadelphia Eagles).

Last week, Shaw and his staff attended a 49ers practice and they visited the Raiders today for a joint practice with the Los Angeles Rams. It’s a great way to learn, share ideas, and catch up with former players.

On Monday afternoon, Lynch and 49ers kicker Robbie Gould came to a Stanford practice.

“It’s a huge resource for us,” said senior kicker Jet Toner.

Special teams coordinator Pete Alamar met Gould last week and invited him to attend.

“He shot me a text over the weekend and said I have an off-day Monday, is it all right if I come out?” said Alamar. “He’s a football junkie and loves the game. He’s got a lot of years in the game and good knowledge.”

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Gould arrived early.

“We talked about a few things, from the mental side of the game to how much you kick on a certain day,” Alamar said. “It was fun to pick his brain.”

Gould provided pointers to Cardinal kickers and long snappers. One of the most reliable kickers in the NFL, he converted 33 of 34 field goals for San Francisco last season and has hit 82 of 85 the last three years.

“A guy that good — probably the best kicker in the league — it was great to get a few tips and reiterate what Coach Alamar says, especially from someone with so much experience,” said Toner. “It was great having him out there.”

After practice, Toner guided Gould through STRIVR, a virtual reality, immersive learning device the program has used for many years. Former Stanford kicker Derek Belch is the founder and CEO of STRIVR Labs, and the high-tech headsets are now used by many pro and college sports teams and corporations.

“I walked him through my process and how I use it,” said Toner. “He liked it and thought it was an awesome tool. He really was interested in one aspect where we take VR footage of the stadiums we visit, so the night before — even that week — while we’re prepping, we can put ourselves in that setting and sort of find high lines or places to line up the ball.”

The 49ers also use VR, but not the kickers.

“He might look into it,” Toner said of Gould. “He’s also been kicking for a long time, has his own process and knows what works best for him. I don’t know if he will incorporate it into his process.”

PLAYERS COUNCIL: Earlier this year, Cardinal players formed a team council to promote leadership and communication within the program.

“Pretty much every year you have a core of team leaders that are kind of mediators between what the coaches want and what the players want and our goals,” said junior center Drew Dalman. “This year, we formalized that and had a team vote to elect representatives from every position group. If the team wants something done, they can go through the leadership council. It’s kind of an easy way to distribute knowledge so Coach Shaw can text us and we can go to our position groups and talk about it.”

Fifth-year outside linebacker Casey Toohill thinks it has been a good way for players to stay connected.

“It serves as a way for us to have very concise and meaningful dialogue with position group heads, but also for us to serve as leaders of the team,” Toohill said. “And it’s not just us. We take feedback and will add new members at some point.”

Toner added, “I think it has helped improve communication as far as getting the message and making sure it is heard down the line. Just to make sure each guy is on it. We have some great leaders and I think it will be a useful tool.”

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EXTRA MOTIVATION: After last Sunday’s practice, members from The Program LLC addressed the team. The teams consists of world-class former special operations warriors and elite athletes, who share lessons about brotherhood, leadership and sustaining high performance.

Cardinal players spent a day in the spring training with The Program each of the last two years.

“It’s a great opportunity for us,” said Dalman. “They are some of the best leaders around. They’re successful and competitive. They challenge us in different ways that we’re not used to.”

Last year, team-building exercises included carrying logs. This year, players treaded water in a pool.

“They’re great guys and put us through something that got us out of our comfort zone,” Toohill said. “They really gave us an opportunity for leadership to develop. They came here and reminded us about mental toughness. No one feels bad for us. Camp is hard but it’s really not that hard. People have it worse. We love working with them.”

CAMPBELL TROPHY: Toohill has been nominated for the William V. Campbell Trophy, presented by the National Football Foundation to the college player with the best combination of academics, community service and on-field performance. Nominees must be in their final year of eligibility and maintain a 3.20 GPA.

“It’s a huge honor,” said Toohill, who carries a 3.71 GPA in political science. “I love being at a place where you’re not treated differently. You go to class and people may recognize you as an athlete, but when you’re there, you’re expected to perform the same.”

A native of San Diego, Toohill is grateful for his time on The Farm, growing as a person and a student-athlete.

“There are few things in life where you can get the best of both worlds,” Toohill said. “You often have to make choices, but Stanford is not one of them. You can succeed at the highest level academically and in sports. This has been the best experience of my life.”

The Campbell Trophy is named for late Palo Alto businessman Bill Campbell, former Chairman of Intuit, VP of Marketing, board member of Apple Inc., and beloved mentor to many Silicon Valley executives. Campbell graduated from Columbia, where he played football and served as head coach from 1974-79.

PUNTING COMPETITION: Jake Bailey was a weapon for Stanford as a punter and kickoff specialist the last four years. He was adept at changing field position for the Cardinal defense and finished as the school’s career leader in punting average at 43.71 yards per attempt. Now playing for the New England Patriots, Bailey boomed 60 of 72 kickoffs for touchbacks last season.

Early in camp, three players are vying for his punting job: senior Collin Riccitelli, sophomore Alex Gracey and freshman Ryan Sanborn.

“Ryan has done a really good job of coming in quickly and trying to learn fast,” said Alamar. “He possesses a good leg, but it’s different — just the timing and speed of my operation. From high school to college can be up to half-a-second. And to do it without hurrying. He’s also competing for the kickoff job.”

Competition could come down to the final week of training camp.

“The bottom line is what punter gives us the best chance to create positive field position for the defense,” Alamar said.

BUSY SUMMER: Like many Stanford players, Toner interned this summer with a local venture capital firm called UP2398. One of the founders is from Hawaii, where Toner grew up, and attended the same high school (Punahou).

“There’s a big Hawaii connection and the name comes from the number of air miles from San Francisco to Hawaii,” said Toner.

EXTRA POINTS: Of Stanford’s 21 scholarship freshmen, about half have completed summer school classes and the rest will finish in the next 10 days … Fall classes start on Sept. 23 … The team wore full pads for the first time on Tuesday. “It was a hot day,” Shaw said. “Guys had to push through it a little bit but it was good.” … The public is invited to attend the only open scrimmage of camp on August 11 from 3:15-5:30 p.m. at Elliott Field.

QUOTE: “Walker (Little) is practicing at a high level and Foster (Sarell) is practicing the best since he’s been here.” — David Shaw on his junior offensive linemen.

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