When looking back at Stanford football’s meteoric rise from a lowly Pac-10 doormat in 2006 to perennial BCS contender, it has become impossible to ignore the contributions of one former player who first led the charge in lifting the Cardinal back into the national spotlight: running back Toby Gerhart ‘10.
After enduring the pains of a 1-11 season his freshman year, Gerhart burst onto the national scene in 2009 under Jim Harbaugh — rushing for 1,871 yards and 28 touchdowns, finishing second in the 2009 Heisman Trophy voting and molding, by example, the team’s new identity as a physical, run-first bully.
As impressive as Gerhart and Stanford were in the 2009 season, he believes that they would probably be no match for the 2013 version of the Cardinal due to the tremendous depth and versatility of this year’s squad.
“They’re dang good,” Gerhart said of the team. “They’re probably a better team then we were. Just the depth that is there at Stanford now is what’s remarkable.
“When we were there, I don’t think we were as complete of a team as they are now, and that’s not just with their starters. … Their defense is unbelievable. I think their defense is the strength of their team whereas I think when I was there it was our offense. They’re definitely just a complete, packaged team.”
In his four seasons in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings, Gerhart has seen sporadic playing time as the backup to All-Pro Adrian Peterson. Nevertheless, Gerhart has enjoyed working with Peterson for his career thus far.
“It’s been great to learn from one of the best ever that’s going to play the game,” Gerhart said. “Now, I’m like his second set of eyes. When he comes off the field, he’ll ask me what I think he should have done differently or what I saw. We have a good work relationship.”
“He’s a monster,” Gerhart continued. “He doesn’t get tired it seems like, and it’s really limited my ability to get on the field, but that’s the nature of the game. … The great thing is I have a role and I’m going out there and enjoying it.”
Life in the NFL has given Gerhart some experiences off the field that he has enjoyed. Gerhart noted the opportunity to play in London this season when the Vikings took on the Pittsburgh Steelers as particularly memorable.
“London was awesome. … I was running around like a tourist in the little off-time that we had trying to see all the sites that I could see.” Gerhart said. “The fans were great. … There was passion for football, and it was just a lot of fun.”
While he certainly enjoys his life in the NFL, Gerhart has never strayed from his Stanford roots. As one of the most famous and beloved members of the Cardinal in recent memory, Gerhart’s name is almost synonymous with Stanford football. Though no longer on the Farm, Gerhart still keeps tabs on the team and watches as many games as he can.
Gerhart also stays in touch with his former coach Jim Harbaugh — who attended Gerhart’s wedding this June — as well as the growing number of Stanford graduates in the NFL.
“It seems like every week our opponent has somebody from Stanford, so I’ll talk to them pregame [and] postgame,” Gerhart said. “It’s good to see a bunch of Stanford guys in the NFL.”
In his professional career, Gerhart has seen the number of Stanford graduates in the professional football grow at a seemingly exponential rate. As a result, he says, there has been a huge shift in the way Stanford players are perceived in the locker room and by the media.
“I think our sheer numbers are growing … guys are coming in and having an impact,” Gerhart said. “In the locker room people would always be trying to bet you. So a guy from USC would say, ‘I’ll bet you that there’s no way you guys beat USC this week.’ And now, nobody wants to take a bet against Stanford.”
Ultimately, the fact that NFL players are scared of putting money down against the Cardinal might be the best indication yet of just how far Stanford has come in recent years.
Jim Harbaugh faced off with one of his former players once again this Sunday as the 49ers took on running back Stepfan Taylor ‘13 and the Arizona Cardinals at Candlestick Park. While Harbaugh’s 49ers prevailed 32-20, Taylor saw the most significant playing time of his rookie season thus far.
Former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck ‘12, perhaps the only Stanford alum in the NFL more beloved on the Farm than Gerhart, could not lead another Indianapolis Colts comeback win against the San Diego Chargers in Luck’s Monday Night Football debut. The Colts fell 19-9 in San Diego.
Contact Vihan Lakshman at vihan‘at’stanford.edu.