By Sam Fisher
The Flash? The Jet? Slash? X-factor?
All of those nicknames have described game-changing football players at some point or another, but none of them quite fit the role that Stanford football head coach David Shaw sees for junior Kelsey Young.
“On our board which we put where guys are at different positions,” Shaw said, “there’s one space that just says ‘Kelsey.’ It’s not at running back, it’s not at receiver; it’s just ‘Kelsey.’ And it’s our jobs every single day, practice and games, to make sure that we put him in positions to make plays, no matter where that is.”
A variety of different options to get Young into the game plan were on display at Saturday’s open practice. In a session that focused on third downs and short yardage, Young lined up all over the field and got the ball in a few ways, including wide receiver screens and outside sweeps.
And Young and the offense came to play. Junior quarterback Kevin Hogan, whose play Shaw called “phenomenal,” pumped up the crowd with two perfect deep passes early in the scrimmage portion of practice to junior wide receiver Ty Montgomery and sophomore wide receiver Michael Rector. The two speedsters, Stanford’s fastest pure receivers, could be big factors in 2013 if Hogan keeps improving his deep passing game.
Stanford’s defense certainly took notice. According to fifth-year senior outside linebacker Trent Murphy, the defense didn’t have quite the same dominant effort it has come to expect.
“We had a really good performance on Thursday,” Murphy said. “Defense had a great practice [Thursday] and offense came out here [today] with a little extra chip on their shoulder.”
The climax of Saturday’s open practice was a final six-play short-yardage session between the first two units of the offense and the defense.
After five closely contested short-yardage plays, the offense led 3-2 behind the powerful running of fifth-year senior fullback Ryan Hewitt. For the last play, Shaw put the ball on the 1-yard line for a final showdown between the starting offense and starting defense.
Hogan handed to Hewitt, who met a wall of defenders at the goal line and was tackled short of the end zone. But, in a twist of fate reminiscent, yet opposite, of the Notre Dame game, the linesman ran in with his hands in the air to signal that Hewitt had scored.
When asked if he had scored on the close play, Hewitt was noncommittal.
“I don’t know,” Hewitt said. “Apparently, yes. You can’t tell when you’re running the ball.”
Murphy was less sure from his view on the defensive side of the ball.
“Replay might have overturned it,” Murphy said, “but they always say if it’s close or neutral then offense always gets the victory. We’ve gotta put a little more emphasis–[an] exclamation point–on that one.”
In the end, only the judgment of that one referee mattered. And his call gave the offense a 4-2 victory, and perhaps most importantly, a front-row view of the defense’s 20-pushup punishment.
For the team as a whole, the best news may have been that Stanford avoided the injury bug that has plagued some of the Cardinal’s conference rivals, especially USC. Junior running back Remound Wright “got banged up,” according to Shaw, but everyone else is either healthy or on the mend.
Stanford’s spring practice comes to a close Saturday with the Cardinal & White Spring Game at Stanford Stadium. It will be the last time in pads for the squad until preseason camp this summer. Start time is scheduled for 3 p.m.
Contact Sam Fisher at [email protected]