By Sam Fisher
Most senior football players with a year of eligibility left keep their post-college plans close to their chests until season’s end. Even star Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who is widely assumed to be headed to the NFL in April, hasn’t announced his decision yet.
But Stanford senior center Conor McFadden is not most football players, and his plans do not include the NFL Draft.
McFadden, a former walk-on from Sunfish Lake, Minn., put on a uniform for the last time as a member of the Cardinal when he took the field on Jan. 1 for the 100th Rose Bowl Game. A day later, McFadden headed home to Minnesota to begin a very different challenge in his first full-time job: working for his father Mike McFadden’s senate campaign.
“It’s a little bittersweet,” McFadden said. “I’ve been part of such an amazing family here at Stanford, but it’s time to go home; it’s time to help my blood family out for a little while.”
McFadden has been juggling these two responsibilities since his dad announced his candidacy back in May. Anyone walking through the halls of the Arrillaga Family Sports Center might find McFadden on his way to practice or on a conference call with his dad’s campaign team.
And while McFadden may not have the work experience of most people working on senate campaigns, he does have an academic background that will help. McFadden majors in public policy at Stanford — fitting for his new job — but McFadden says he picked that path well before he knew he would be assisting his dad in a senate campaign. That hasn’t stopped him from taking advantage of his resources.
“So many of my professors that I’ve had in Public Policy are just thought leaders, both on the Republican and Democratic sides,” McFadden said. “I’ve been able to have meetings with people who have advised presidents, and they’re advising me on the basics of social security. I’ve got Professor [John] Cogan, [who has] run a Blue-Ribbon Commission for presidents on Social Security, and he’s giving me the basics. What an unbelievable opportunity that wouldn’t be available at any other place other than Stanford.”
With that experience, McFadden does not plan to be just another smiling politician’s kid. Anyone who knows McFadden, the cutting intellectual who is known for his savant-like understanding of the Cardinal’s playbook and school textbooks alike, would not be shocked to see him in the middle of the tough conversations about policy decisions throughout the campaign.
But McFadden’s persona lends itself well to the campaign trail as well. McFadden expects that, especially in the second half of the campaign, he will spend a lot of time on the road interacting with voters. So when McFadden — armed with a booming voice and bubbly personality — steps out on the campaign trail perhaps as early as next week, he will have his best chance to shine.
“I think early [on Jan. 3] I might be in good old Albert Lea, [Minn.,] shaking hands and kissing babies,” McFadden said. “I’m just trying to avoid a Will Ferrell moment [from The Campaign]. No punches will be thrown.”
The 6-foot-3, 289-pound offensive lineman might have some cleaning up to do before kissing babies. With McFadden currently sporting an overgrown beard fit for an offensive lineman, not all of his teammates are convinced that he’s baby-kissing material.
Senior linebacker A.J. Tarpley said that, if he had a baby, he certainly wouldn’t let McFadden kiss it. McFadden’s fellow offensive lineman, senior right tackle Cam Fleming, said he would let McFadden kiss a baby, but only if he shaved first.
“I’d have to let him,” Fleming said. “He’s my roommate. I’d have to let him kiss my baby.”
For the record, head coach David Shaw sided with Fleming to break the tie, but that might not matter if the weather in Minnesota doesn’t improve fast. Recently, the wind chill in Minneapolis dropped to around 60 degrees below zero — only 140 degrees lower than that in Los Angeles.
So for McFadden, the 21-year-old with a game against No. 4 Michigan State behind him and a challenging job in a senate campaign ahead of him, the biggest fear is dealing with the weather.
“It chills everything,” McFadden said. “It doesn’t matter how many layers of clothing you’re wearing: It is cold. I really can’t describe it, especially for somebody out in California. I don’t even know what it feels like anymore … I complain when it’s 50 degrees out nowadays.”
That will make McFadden’s eventual return to Stanford all the more sweet. McFadden has one quarter of school left before graduating. He plans on working for his dad for the next year before returning in either January or April of 2015 to finish out his degree. At that point, his eligibility will have expired — barring injury, student-athletes have five years to play at most four seasons, and McFadden’s five-year clock runs out before the 2015 football season — so the Rose Bowl was McFadden’s last football game.
As the backup center, McFadden may not see game action, but as a College Gameday segment that aired earlier this season showed, he will have an impact. He’ll leave his mark behind the scenes, helping out in any way that he can, as he has for the last four seasons.
So for McFadden, who said his first job in the campaign is to be “Mr. Fix It,” the transition from football to politics may not be as big of a shift as it seems.
Contact Sam Fisher at safisher ‘at’ Stanford.edu.