Photo credit: gostanford.com
By Ana Kieu
Many new faces on defense are expected to make contributions on Saturday when No. 25 Stanford hosts Northwestern at Stanford Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Even before spring practice, the unit began jelling in the film room and during voluntary workouts. New leaders emerged and reminded underclassmen about the program’s high standards.
“Absolutely,” said senior inside linebacker Andrew Pryts. “That’s been a theme of ours. The individuals in our locker room only care about team success. We’ve developed that mentality that we’re all in this together and we’re going to pursue the ball 11 guys at a time.”
Senior free safety Malik Antoine started 11 games in 2018 and is the veteran of the secondary. Voted one of five captains by his peers, Antoine likes the energy and attention to detail he has seen and expects Stanford to surprise people.
“We have a lot of guys emerging, like Kendall Williamson, Noah Williams, J.J. Parson and Stuart Head,” Antoine said. “We spent a lot of time together watching tape and on the field.”
Both contributed to added confidence and communication, which will be critical on Saturday when the No. 25 Cardinal hosts Northwestern in its season opener at 1 p.m. at Stanford Stadium.
“The first game of the year, you really don’t know what will happen,” said Antoine. “That communication serves as the calmness in the game.”
It hasn’t gone unnoticed by David Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football.
“It is loud, it’s clear and it is crisp,” Shaw said. “They are on the same page every single play and I think our team feeds off that.”
Lance Anderson, the Willie Shaw Director of Defense and Associate Head Coach, has been impressed by the grit and unselfishness demonstrated by his entire group.
“There’s a lot of guys who don’t have egos and just want to go out and do their job,” Anderson said. “I think it’s a reflection of the leadership group, especially Casey Toohill and Malik.”
In addition to new starters, many younger players could see action in certain packages and situations. If they impress, it could result in expanded playing time.
“We’re going out to play well,” said Anderson. “I don’t think any of us will be satisfied with anything less. Our expectations haven’t changed.”
Pryts believes Stanford will be ready.
“A lot of less experienced guys have been stepping up and playing good ball throughout camp,” Pryts said. “We’re excited. There are a lot of guys who can’t wait to go out and play.”
Antoine is anxious to see how they respond.
“This could be a four-quarter game,” said Antoine. “I just want to see how we fight.”
RECOGNIZING LUCK: Shaw coached Andrew Luck for four years and watched him throw for 9,430 yards (No. 2 in program history), 82 touchdowns (No. 1) and compile a completion percentage of .670 (No. 1). They visited just before the Cardinal began fall camp and Luck sounded excited to start his eighth season with the Indianapolis Colts.
Like many others, Shaw was surprised when Luck announced his retirement from the NFL last week.
“This guy was going to play the game at the highest level for as long as he could,” Shaw said. “But he’s also going to be one of those guys that wants life after football as much as he wants life with football. He came to that point much earlier than many of us anticipated or wanted, but he came to that point where it was time for him to stop for his health, his family and his future, and I applaud him for it.”
Asked if any memories of Luck stood out during his time on The Farm, Shaw said, “We could spend the next two hours talking about those four years. There’s so many for me, and many are not on the football field. Unbelievably competitive and talented, but also a great leader and a great teammate.”
K.J. Costello grew up a USC fan until he watched Luck play. His star power helped persuade Costello to visit Stanford and eventually commit to the Cardinal.
“I was fortunate enough to have lunch with him about three months ago,” Costello said. “I was huge fan growing up and he’s one of the main reasons why I decided to leave Southern California and come up here. Look at what he did here; nobody is ever going to touch what he did. He won a lot of football games and set the standard.”
ADEBO ISLAND: Cornerback Paulson Adebo had a sensational sophomore season in 2018 as a first-year player. He led the country with 24 passes defended, 20 pass breakups and four interceptions.
Shaw thinks he’s raised his game.
“Regardless of the stats, I think he’s a better football player this year,” Shaw said. “Smart, more versatile, more experienced. He’s been through a lot and loves to be pushed. He’s set his own standards.”
Anderson echoed Shaw’s sentiments.
“For all the individual accolades he gets, he still works harder than anybody,” said Anderson.
BIG SURPRISE: On Monday morning, Shaw surprised former walk-on wide receiver Brycen Tremayne with a scholarship.
“It was overwhelming, for sure,” Tremayne said. “It was just a blessing to get that from Coach Shaw.”
Tremayne made sure to call his parents.
“My mom and dad and sister are my biggest supporters,” said Tremayne. “They’re overjoyed, too.”
Tremayne was caught off guard by the news.
“It was something I was always working for and it was a goal of mine,” said Tremayne. “I tried not to let it in my mind too much and just work as hard as I could.”
Treyman credited his teammates for their support and his improvement.
“They’ve always had my back,” Treyman said. “Coming in here as a walk-on was kind of overwhelming at first. Last year they took me in and they’re all my brothers now. I’m grateful for that.”
NORTHWESTERN NOTES: Last year, the Wildcats (9-5, 8-1) won the Big Ten West Division, and another solid season is expected.
“They’ve got a defensive line coming in that is big, long, physical and they play with relentless effort and great technique,” Shaw said. “They’re very versatile on the offensive side and use different tempos and different schemes. They’ve got two really good quarterbacks and who knows who’s going to start.”
Senior TJ Green appeared in nine games last season, while sophomore Hunter Johnson sat out after transferring from Clemson. In 2016, Johnson was named Mr. Football in Indiana.
Shaw expects both to play.
Isaiah Bowser rushed for 866 yards and six touchdowns last year as a true freshman. Shaw said he breaks tackles, is tough and faster than he looks.
“The biggest thing for us is to concentrate on our assignments, techniques and our effort,” Bowser said.
UPCOMING SCHEDULE: The Cardinal has no breathers in 2019 and has the hardest non-conference slate in the land, playing Northwestern, at UCF and Notre Dame. That’s in addition to nine Pac-12 games.
“I think that’s a question for after the season,” said Shaw. “Right now, we’ve got one game to play. All the schedule stuff for me stopped last week.”
HOME CROWD: As has often been the case, Stanford will play home games before school starts on Sept. 23. That limits student attendance for the season opener, but Antoine hopes a noisy crowd will cheer on the Cardinal against Northwestern and Oregon on Sept. 21.
“We’ve kind of gotten used to that,” Antoine said. “We say we don’t need added motivation and let our play do the talking. At the same time, we love and appreciate our fans and hope they come out in force.”
EXTRA ENTRIES: Running back Trevor Speights and strong safety Stuart Head won’t play Saturday, but Shaw expects everyone else to be available … Freshmen running backs Austin Jones and Nathaniel Peat made good impressions in fall camp and could see action … Freshman Walter Rouse also has a chance to play and is backing up both offensive tackle spots … Freshmen cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly and punter Ryan Sanborn will likely make their college debuts … Stanford will have 22 double numbers this season.
QUOTE: “We’ve got a bunch of guys we’re going to roll out Saturday that haven’t played a lot of college football. We expect them to play hard and play fast, do their jobs, and do them well.” — David Shaw