Stanford football players already focused on getting better

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By Ana Kieu

Just moments after Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football David Shaw thanked his fifth-year and departing seniors for their fight and leadership–players, coaches and staff applauding twice–fifth-year senior outside linebacker Casey Toohill urged his teammates to let the disappointment of the year fuel them going forward.

“Nobody did enough,” Toohill said passionately.

The message from Toohill resonated after Stanford’s season-ending 45-24 defeat to #15 Notre Dame (10-2) on Saturday at chilly, breezy and sometimes rainy Stanford Stadium. Playing one of the toughest schedules in the country, the Cardinal finished 4-8, the program’s first losing record since 2008.

“Any team that goes through a season like this never wants to feel this way again,” sophomore defensive end Thomas Booker said. “I know I don’t. Whenever I’m lifting or thinking about putting in extra work, it’s going to be on my mind.”

Junior tight end and team captain Colby Parkinson felt the same.

“If you’re able to brush this off, you don’t care,” Parkinson said. “We are all more than football players and we have lives outside of football. At the same time, if you don’t care about the football game you just lost and think about it, you have some issues. I don’t think we have any of those guys in here. Different things didn’t go our way, but we’ll use it as motivation.”

Stanford stated strong again on both sides of the ball against Notre Dame, claiming leads of 7-0 and 17-7. But miscues–including the first blocked punt since 2014–and missed opportunities, did in the Cardinal, who was outscored 24-7 in the second half.

“You can say a lot of things about this year, the injuries and all that,” said Booker. “But that’s not an excuse and we know that. When the offense and defense are clicking, we can get it going and I think the first half showed that. It’s about sustained effort. When we put all that together in the offseason and get it right, it’s going to be a beautiful thing.”

Coming off a close and emotional loss to Cal last week, Parkinson never doubted players would respond on Senior Day.

“If we had packed it in, that would be a big culture change we had to make in the offseason,” Parkinson said. “But we still have guys who are fighters and giving it their best every play. There’s definitely room for growth, but it was good to see some fire in this game.”

Booker praised the seniors for leadership, attention to detail and resiliency.

“Everyone knows this wasn’t the outcome we wanted, but I can’t be more proud of the senior class,” Booker said.

Prior to the game, the following seniors were introduced: inside linebacker Ryan Beecher; wide receiver Isaiah Brandt-Sims; quarterback K.J. Costello; tight end Scooter Harrington; running back Dorian Maddox; long snapper Richard McNitzky; inside linebacker Andrew Pryts; punter/kicker Colin Riccitelli; quarterback Jack Richardson; running back Cameron Scarlett; defensive end Thomas Schaffer; wide receiver Harry Schwartz; wide receiver Donald Stewart; defensive end Jovan Swann; Toohill; outside linebacker Anthony Trinh; and defensive tackle Michael Williams.

Scarlett ran 13 times for 43 yards, but his last carry was memorable. With 3:12 remaining in the game, he broke tackles up the middle and dove into the end zone to complete a nine-yard scoring burst, his seventh touchdown of the season.

“I saw the opening backside and knew my carries were coming to a close, so I wanted to make sure I finished in the end zone one more time,” Scarlett said.

Scarlett and sophomore wide receiver Simi Fehoko had a friendly competition all season on who would score more touchdowns and were tied coming into the contest.

“So it was a good way to end it,” said Scarlett.

Scarlett finished his Stanford career with 1,676 rushing yards, No. 18 on the school’s all-time list. Scarlett now ranks eighth in program history with 24 rushing touchdowns.

“Every game I was bringing my hard hat,” Scarlett said. “Didn’t matter what linemen were playing, weren’t playing, I came in with the mindset I was going to give it my all every game. And that’s something that was instilled in me from players before. Stanford football is really just a bunch of grimy guys who like to get after it and play good football.”

Scarlett predicts big things for the Cardinal next season.

“Next year’s team is going to be so deep,” Scarlett said. “We weren’t really able to showcase everything we had because we had so many injuries and it’s nothing we can complain about. But we were a really dangerous team coming into that first game and it wasn’t in God’s plan for us to all stay healthy.

“Next year I can tell they’re going to be a dominant unit up front once everybody gets healthy. And the run game is going to be nasty with those two young running backs (freshmen Austin Jones and Nathaniel Peat). And then with the pass game, Davis Mills is a special talent and I think he’s going to show if off next year.”

Scarlett didn’t mention Stanford’s receiving group, which came on strong in the second half of the season. Junior Connor Wedington returns, as do sophomores Michael Wilson, Fehoko and Brycen Tremayne and junior Osiris St. Brown.

Wilson caught a career-high 10 passes for 94 yards on Saturday, including a 27-yard touchdown. Fehoko grabbed a personal-best six for 63 and St. Brown caught three.

Fehoko finished with 24 receptions for 566 yards and established a new school record by averaging 23.58 yards per catch, breaking the old mark of 22.93 set by Devon Cajuste in 2013.

Tremayne had three receptions this season and all resulted in touchdowns. He hauled in a 5-yarder from Mills in the first quarter against Notre Dame.

Earlier this season, Tremayne recovered a blocked punt for a score.

In just his sixth collegiate start, Mills completed 28 of 46 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns. The junior started fast, hitting his first six attempts and 10 of his first 12. Mills was also victimized by several drops.

Mills showed good mobility, running seven times for 36 yards.

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Despite the final score, the Stanford defense kept the game within reach until the fourth quarter. In the second and third stanzas, the unit forced three consecutive punts. Notre Dame scored 10 points off turnovers.

“We played great defense in big, long spurts,” said Shaw. “And then a couple of big plays shift the balance. But that’s a really good football team and they made plays at the end of the game.”

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Twenty true freshmen saw game action this season, with 12 playing more than four games and using a year of eligibility.

Counting punter/kicker Ryan Sanborn, eight true freshmen started at least one game, tied for the fourth-most in the country.

In all, 38 Cardinal players started at least one game, 18 for the first time in their college careers.

Once again, three true freshmen–left tackle Walter Rouse, left guard Barrett Miller and right guard Jake Hornibrook–started on the offensive line and held their own against a veteran defensive front.

“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” said junior center Drew Dalman. “I don’t think a lot of people know the mental aspect of the game to kind of get yourself up to speed so you can play in a game like this as an offensive lineman. They got better every week.”

So did Dalman. He was the only offensive lineman to start every game and did an admirable job coordinating the group at the line of scrimmage and tutoring and encouraging the younger players.

Shaw had special praise for the efforts of Rouse, Sanborn and freshman cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly.

“I would be shocked if we didn’t have three first-team freshmen All-Americans,” Shaw said. “What our punter (Sanborn) did this year as a true freshman is unbelievable. What Kyu Kelly did this entire year is unbelievable. What Walter Rouse did, starting at Game 2 at USC and playing the entire season at left tackle; I want to say maybe gave up two sacks on the year? It’s unreal.”

Shaw met with Costello on Friday and they will convene again to discuss his future. Hampered by injuries all season, Costello played in only five games and has one year of eligibility remaining.

“I just told him that I love him,” said Shaw. “And this entire year, I’ve just felt for him. The aspirations that he had, difficult when you can’t attain them. We’ll see how it goes over the next couple weeks. One thing about K.J., you never question his heart.”

The loss snapped a streak of 22 consecutive non-conference home wins and was the first under Shaw (12-1) … The last setback came against Notre Dame in 2007 … Junior strong safety Stuart Head matched his career-high with eight tackles … Stanford recorded eight tackles for loss, 2.5 by junior outside linebacker Gabe Reid … Stanford finished the decade with 98 victories, tied for the eighth-most in college football, and went to nine bowl games … Half of Stanford’s opponents this season finished with seven or more wins … Stanford scored points on its opening possession in eight of 12 games this season (four touchdowns and four field goals) and in seven of its final nine contests … Former Stanford great Toby Gerhart ’10 was recognized as part of the program’s 125-year anniversary of Stanford football. He ran for 3,522 yards, the fifth-most in school history, and his 44 rushing touchdowns rank No. 1. In 2009, Gerhart led the nation in rushing, won the Doak Walker Award and was a unanimous All-American. He played in the NFL for six years and now attends the Stanford Graduate School of Business … Michael McFaul ’86, MA ’86 and a Professor of Political Science at Stanford since 1995, served as the team’s honorary captain. A Rhodes Scholar, he served as Ambassador to Russia for the U.S. State Department from 2012-14 and has been Director of the Freeman Spogli Institute since 2005.

“I can rest easy knowing there are plenty of great leaders.” — Casey Toohill, on the future of the program.

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