The following is an excerpt from The Daily’s upcoming book, “Rags to Roses: The Rise of Stanford Football,” by Joseph Beyda, George Chen and Sam Fisher. The book will be sold electronically starting on July 15, and today’s installment — our last weekly excerpt — is on the 2011 season. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to sign up for updates on ordering information and read past excerpts.
It was 6 a.m. the morning after the Orange Bowl victory.
Andrew Luck, after staying up and celebrating the entire night, sat in the hot tub at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach Hotel with about a dozen of his teammates. Right then and there, Luck told them that he was returning to Stanford for his senior season.
While some of the players, including defensive end Ben Gardner, were hearing Luck’s decision for the first time in that hot tub, it certainly was not the first time that Luck had mentioned his choice of staying one more year to one of his teammates. In a casual conversation with right guard David DeCastro back in December, Luck had nonchalantly told his classmate — in “typical Andrew” fashion, as DeCastro puts it — about his desire to stay. Luck also told wide receiver Chris Owusu about his decision the week before the Orange Bowl.
“Andrew didn’t make a big deal out of that stuff,” DeCastro says. “I think he wanted to finish out with his guys, he wanted to beat Oregon.”
“He was very connected to his team,” says Delano Howell, a rising senior safety at the time. “Andrew Luck has never been one that just makes decisions for himself. He’s very considerate of others.”
In about a month, the players would start their grueling 6 a.m. winter workouts. But in the early morning following the Cardinal’s first ever BCS bowl victory, there were no sprints, no wrestling matches, no tug-of-war contests, no cone races, no take-the-rope drills and certainly no ice baths — only pure celebration in the hot tub, made all the merrier by Luck’s informal disclosure.
Informal soon turned into formal. On Jan. 6, 2011, two days after the hot tub celebration, Luck officially announced his decision to turn down the NFL Draft and return to the Farm for one last season. In an official statement released to the media, Luck expressed a commitment to earning his degree in architectural design from Stanford. He was truthful in the statement, of course, but he also chose to stay simply because he enjoyed college life.
“I had fun,” Luck says. “I didn’t want to grow up yet. I didn’t want responsibilities yet. I enjoyed my buddies and everything — the culture, the school, everything about Stanford…It was a very easy decision to be honest.”
Luck’s decision came as a surprise to the media. After all, football analysts had almost unanimously projected him to be the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, and it was a foregone conclusion that the Carolina Panthers looked to build around a franchise quarterback in Luck. But for the people within the program, his announcement was not the least bit surprising — they had the feeling that Luck never intended to bolt for the NFL in the first place. Still, the excitement was palpable.
“If this guy is going to come back and give it his all and sacrifice his No. 1 status to be with us and to be with this team, we had to play for him and we had to play for each other,” Owusu says. “And him coming back, what a feeling that was.”
“It was a really exciting transition period for us,” Gardner adds. “We felt like the 2011 season was going to be a big year for us.”
But not everyone would be staying. The elation over Luck’s decision to return soon became mixed with swirling speculations surrounding the fate of Jim Harbaugh. During the celebrations at Sun Life Stadium in the moments immediately following his Orange Bowl victory, the head coach had attempted to move the spotlight away from himself and his future, imploring reporters to instead focus on the players and the monumental task they had just accomplished. As ESPN sideline reporter Michele Tafoya approached Harbaugh for a postgame, on-field interview, he beckoned then-sophomore linebacker Shayne Skov to come over to him. Harbaugh answered Tafoya’s first question for all of four seconds before telling her to talk to Skov and then ducking out. The coach acted similarly while on the podium during the trophy presentation. In front of University President John Hennessy, Athletics Director Bob Bowlsby, the fans and all the players, ESPN’s Rece Davis asked Harbaugh about the timetable he would follow in deciding his coaching future. Harbaugh, who had already been anxious to turn Davis’ attention to Orange Bowl MVP Andrew Luck, completely ignored the question by answering, “I just ask you to respect the game and respect what these players did tonight. It’s all about them. I love you guys. I’m proud of you. You’re champions. That’s what we said when we started this thing: Cardinal campaign to a championship.”
With fists triumphantly raised above his head, Jim Harbaugh exited stage left.
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