Less than a week after 12 high school recruits committed to playing for the Cardinal, Stanford’s football team regained a familiar face for the 2013 season on Monday when running back Tyler Gaffney announced that he would be leaving his professional baseball career with the Pittsburgh Pirates behind and return to school to complete his degree and use his final year of football eligibility.
“This is the ideal time for me to return to the Farm and complete the work toward my degree from Stanford University,” Gaffney said in a statement released Monday morning. “As a freshman at Stanford in 2009, I had three goals: play football and baseball at Stanford and receive my degree. Two of the three have been accomplished; I eagerly look forward to completing the third.
“Additionally, I intend to rejoin my Cardinal football family and play my senior year of college eligibility. As I have grown and matured over the past year, I have come to realize how much I missed my football family at Stanford and how much I missed the game of football,” he said.
Gaffney’s return could pay immediate dividends for Stanford, which needs to fill the hole left behind by graduating senior running back Stepfan Taylor, who leaves the Farm as the all-time leading rusher in program history on the heels of three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Gaffney will be a leading candidate to feature in the backfield alongside Anthony Wilkerson, Remound Wright and Kelsey Young. Head coach David Shaw said Monday that he was quite pleased to welcome back one of his veteran leaders.
“I’m very proud of Tyler Gaffney making the decision to come back and finish his degree, while also rejoining the football team,” Shaw said. “Tyler’s first three years at Stanford, he contributed to a lot of big games and a lot of big wins. He will join a talented and diverse group of running backs, which, as a unit, we believe is as good as any in the nation.”
The San Diego native Gaffney completed his junior season with a career-high 449 yards (6.1 yards/carry) and seven touchdowns on the ground, plus 79 receiving yards and one more touchdown. He ranked second behind Stepfan Taylor among Stanford rushers in 2011 and has rushed for 791 total yards with 12 touchdowns, plus 178 yards and three touchdowns receiving, in three years on the Farm.
After the conclusion of his junior year, Gaffney was selected in the 24th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He signed with the organization and looked to be fitting in nicely with Class-A affiliate State College Spikes, hitting for a .297 average and recording a .483 on-base percentage as the starting center fielder.
That career now appears to be on hold, if not over entirely.
“I am thankful to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization for allowing me the opportunity to play professional baseball,” Gaffney said. “They are a great organization, who permitted me to grow and mature in character. With the benefit of this experience, I will continue to learn about myself and follow the path where my truth will lead me.”
Stanford returns to the practice field for the start of the spring season on Feb. 25, although Gaffney will likely rejoin the team when spring quarter begins on April and he is able to re-enroll in classes.