Fifth-year senior defensive end Ben Gardner will miss the remainder of the 2013 season with a torn pectoral muscle suffered in the third quarter against Oregon State Saturday, head coach David Shaw announced Tuesday.
Gardner had been dealing with an arm injury since the Washington game on Oct. 5, but up until Saturday, he had not suffered structural damage that would have caused him to miss extended time. Gardner suffered the injury while reaching his left arm out in an attempt to sack Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion. Gardner has recorded 19 tackles, 7½ tackles for loss, 4½ sacks and a blocked punt this season, bringing his career totals to 106 tackles, 34 tackles for loss and 17½ sacks.
“As a coach you’re not supposed to have favorites,” Shaw said, “but I’ve told Ben and told the team that Ben’s always been one of my favorites.”
Gardner, one of four team captains, has started 34 of Stanford’s last 35 games dating back to the start of the 2011 season. Gardner was named second-team All-Pac-12 in both 2011 and 2012, and the fifth-year senior was expected to gain at least that honor in 2013.
The injury is another blow to Stanford’s already severely depleted defensive line. Senior defensive end Henry Anderson has been out since suffering a knee injury against Army, sophomore defensive tackle Ikenna Nwafor is out with a leg injury and senior defensive tackle David Parry is fighting through an abdominal injury. Anderson has a chance to return against Oregon next Thursday.
“It hurts us a lot as a team,” said senior inside linebacker A.J. Tarpley, “but it hurts more as a friend.”
Even before Gardner’s season-ending injury, the injuries on the defensive line had caused position shifts for the Cardinal. Sophomore Luke Kaumatule moved from tight end to defensive end before Stanford’s game against UCLA, and senior Blake Lueders moved from outside linebacker to defensive end before Utah.
The injury to Gardner could not have come at a worse time, with the No. 2 Oregon Ducks coming to Stanford Stadium on Nov. 7. In the past few games between Stanford and Oregon, the Cardinal has tried to rotate its players on defense as much as possible. Without the emergence of a few younger players and the return of Henry Anderson, Stanford may have to shift more players to defensive line or be forced to keep its starters in for longer periods of time. If that becomes necessary, Gardner will be around to help the younger players along.
“He’s not going anywhere,” Shaw said. “He’ll be here. And the people that take his place on the field need to feel his presence.”
Gardner’s injury is a somber end to a spectacular collegiate career that began with very humble expectations. Thought by many to be too undersized to play defensive end at a high level, Gardner was not offered a scholarship from any AQ-conference school besides Stanford.
Gardner only earned the scholarship offer from Stanford when, late in the recruiting process, then-Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh heard about Gardner through his dad, Jack Harbaugh, who ran across Gardner while working at Marquette. Gardner went to high school in Mequon, Wis., a suburb of Milwaukee where Marquette is located.
After redshirting the 2009 season, Gardner began to impress on special teams as a sophomore in 2010. By the time the 2011 season arrived, Gardner had earned the starting role that he held until today’s announcement.
With the injury ending his collegiate career, Gardner will now turn towards trying to heal quickly in preparation for the 2014 NFL Draft, held in May. Gardner was projected by many to be a mid-round pick in the draft — CBS Sports has him listed as the No. 9 defensive end and gives him a third-round grade — but the injury could affect his draft stock.
Stanford, down one of its four captains, takes on Oregon in one of the most anticipated matchups of the season next Thursday. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.
Contact Sam Fisher at safisher ‘at’ stanford.edu.
The following is the full text of a statement from Gardner to the Stanford community released by Stanford Athletics Tuesday afternoon:
To the Stanford Family:
As my Stanford Football career has come to an abrupt and unexpected close, millions of thoughts are flying through my head. While this is not the way I had imagined my college playing days ending, all I can do is look up and thank God for one heck of a ride. During my five years at Stanford, I was fortunate enough to start 34 games, compete in three BCS Bowl Games, and win a Pac-12 Championship. Along the way, I was able to play with countless NFL stars, learn from dozens of great coaches, and work with a group of men who I consider to be my family on a daily basis. For these reasons, I consider myself one of the luckiest 22-year-old men on the planet. Although this injury will undoubtedly make my transition to professional football more challenging, I have never been one to back down from a challenge, and I like my chances. People have doubted me for my entire career and they will continue to do so, but I trust that my experiences at Stanford have put me in a position where I cannot fail. In the meantime, I will fulfill my duties as a team captain, and I’ll be right there alongside my boys when we finish our journey towards the Pac-12 Championship. What we do here at Stanford is special, and I can’t wait to soak it all in over the next two months with my brothers. The #partyinthebackfield never stops, so let’s beat Oregon and keep this thing rolling. Thank you all for five amazing years.
#49 Ben Gardner