There may not be a more daunting task in sports than following greatness. Every legend that has ever graced a sports field leaves at some point, either to join another team or to call it a career. The athletes that replace these legends are charged not only with stepping into an important role for quite possibly their first time but filling the vacant gap left by a superstar and the expectations that come along with it.
Both senior defensive end Henry Anderson and senior inside linebacker A.J. Tarpley have announced that they will not declare for the NFL draft and will instead return for their final year of eligibility at Stanford.
In Saturday morning’s defensive press conference, defensive coordinator Derek Mason and five of the Cardinal’s senior leaders sat down with the media and discussed its Rose Bowl matchup with the Spartan offense as well as some of the behind-the-scenes dynamics that have helped Stanford’s defense continue to assert itself as one of the nation’s best units.
I wrote earlier this year that I would never study abroad during fall quarter because I am a diehard college football fan, and it would kill me to have to watch home games at the crack of dawn via some questionable live-streaming site in some foreign country. And yet, I find myself guilty of not flying back to campus for the Notre Dame game. Trust me, it was painful watching from home, so I got my due punishment.
One thing was clear: The road to the Pac-12 Championship went through Oregon.
No team understood that fact better than Stanford. For two consecutive seasons, the Ducks had denied the Cardinal the conference title and a national championship bid; Andrew Luck ‘12, who only beat the Ducks once in his three-year playing career, had even admitted that Stanford was suffering from an “Oregon problem.” With Luck gone, the Cardinal arrived at Autzen as a 21-point underdog.
There’s just something special about Stanford’s inside linebackers.
For one, a unit that consists of four seniors prides itself on special teams, of all things—and Stanford’s eye-blacked, mohawked Sports Illustrated cover boy is no exception.
When we first heard it, we thought it was just about Kevin Hogan: a unique phrase, for unique circumstances. How often does a redshirt freshman unseat a senior quarterback on a top-15 team, nine games into the season, much less? One week he was a third-stringer, still an afterthought following the preseason competition to replace Andrew Luck; the next week he was tasked with leading Stanford to the Rose Bowl berth Luck never attained. From the outside looking in, at least, there was something uncanny about Hogan’s ascension.