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Tyler Gaffney puts Pirates career on hold for Stanford football encore

Tyler Gaffney

Senior running back Tyler Gaffney announced Monday that he is delaying his professional baseball career to return to Stanford football. (SIMON WARBY/The Stanford Daily)

In the big breaking sports news of the day Monday, Stanford senior Tyler Gaffney announced that he was taking a year off from his minor league baseball career in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization to rejoin Stanford football.

“It’s been a long process,” Gaffney said on the decision to return to football. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while. A lot of thought went into it.”

By signing with the Pirates last July, Gaffney forfeited his final year of eligibility for Stanford baseball, but maintained one last year of eligibility in football. However, Gaffney’s five-year clock to use that fourth year of eligibility expires at the end of the 2013-14 academic year, making this fall Gaffney’s last chance to play Stanford football.

Gaffney will begin practicing with the team again on April 1, when he enrolls for spring quarter classes. Due to NCAA rules, Gaffney is ineligible to participate during Stanford’s winter quarter practices because he is not enrolled in classes.

“I’ll be training my butt off trying to get better, get back into football shape,” Gaffney said about his plans until April 1. “I feel like I’m in really good shape with all of the work I’ve been doing for baseball so I don’t have that far to come.”

Gaffney is no stranger to bouncing between football and baseball. During his three years at Stanford, Gaffney starred at running back for football and in the outfield for baseball. This year will actually be his first time in spring practice at all, giving the senior an opportunity to work into the running back rotation that will have to replace departing all-time rushing leader Stepfan Taylor.

“I don’t know that I’ll be replacing Stepfan,” Gaffney said. “I hope to contribute to the team in any way that I can.”

While playing alongside Taylor, Gaffney found his niche as the “quarterback” in the Wildcat formation. In his absence, rising senior Anthony Wilkerson took over most Wildcat duties, so Stanford will have options at the position in the fall.

Gaffney’s leaving baseball comes at a surprising time. In his first year in professional baseball, Gaffney shined, hitting just under .300 with an OPS of .925, placing him near the top of rookie ball. Still, the chance to play one more year for the projected national championship contender Stanford football squad was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

“My mom always tells me to live your truth,” Gaffney said. “I feel like that’s what I’m doing.”

If Gaffney has a successful football season, it is possible that he could get drafted into a second professional league: the NFL.

“I’m going to take it one day at a time,” Gaffney said about the possibility of playing professional football. “If that’s an opportunity that presents itself, I’ll take a look at it.”

On the day that ESPN’s Mark Schlabach moved Stanford up to No. 2 in his “Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25,” the Cardinal may have picked up its most impactful recruit for a chance at a BCS National Championship in Gaffney. Though it’s too early to know whether Gaffney gets the bulk of the carries or just rounds out a rotation of running backs, it is safe to assume that Gaffney won’t let his year off from professional baseball go to waste.

Contact Sam Fisher at safisher@stanford.edu.

About Sam Fisher

Sam Fisher is the managing editor of sports for The Stanford Daily's Vol. 244. Sam also does play-by-play for KZSU's coverage of Stanford football, Stanford baseball and Stanford women's basketball. In 2013, Sam co-authored "Rags to Roses: The Rise of Stanford Football," with Joseph Beyda and George Chen.