By Joseph Beyda
Another year, another draft and another class of Cardinal football players to say goodbye to.
This time last year and the year before, we said goodbye to members of Stanford’s former recruiting class of 2008: a heralded group that included David DeCastro, Jonathan Martin, Chris Owusu, Chase Thomas and, of course, Andrew Luck. Now it’s time to bid adieu to the fifth-year seniors from the former recruiting class of 2009: Shayne Skov, Ben Gardner, Ryan Hewitt, Tyler Gaffney, Trent Murphy and a handful of others.
That ‘08 class will probably be remembered as the best in Cardinal history. But the one that followed it accomplished even more — five straight bowls, four straight BCS appearances and two straight Rose Bowls — and did just as much to build the success of this era of Stanford football as its predecessor did.
For me, this class will be even harder to say goodbye to. This group was so special because of the stories of each of its members during their time on the Farm.
Of course, that’s true to some extent each and every year, but for all of its greatness and all of its personalities, the class of 2008 was short on narratives. Luck came in as the savior of Stanford football and lived up to his reputation. DeCastro and Martin earned starting jobs early in their careers and dominated game after game. Guys like Alex Debniak and Sam Schwartzstein certainly do have amazing stories to tell, but Stanford’s top recruits, at least, will be remembered because of how well they did their jobs — not how they got there.
That’s not the case for the future NFLers in the Card’s 2009 class.
There’s Skov, the sophomore stud turned sidelined junior. What looked like an easy ascent to the helm of the Cardinal defense was derailed in an instant, but Skov battled back, once again becoming the mohawked, eyeblacked leader Stanford needed both on the field and in the locker room.
There’s Gaffney, the guy who realized he loved baseball more until he realized he loved football more. And even after a year split between minor league buses and the outfield grass, Gaffney returned with the second-best rushing season in Stanford history, not to mention a 45-carry night against Oregon.
There’s Gardner, the two-star recruit who didn’t even get a major-college offer until Jack Harbaugh (Jim’s dad) stumbled on his film. Murphy, Stanford’s meanest player on the football field — just ask any Pac-12 quarterback — and its nicest off it. Jarek Lancaster, who went from team-leading tackler to backup and special teams player over the course of a single offseason, but still didn’t flinch.
At least in this age of Cardinal football, there will never be another class that signed on with a losing team. There will never be another class had to overcome quite this much; there will never be another class with as good of a story to tell.
Even the despair Joseph Beyda felt in the pit of his stomach when the Browns scooped up Johnny Manziel last night doesn’t match the emotion he feels about Stanford’s outgoing players. Send your favorite memories of the Cardinal’s Class of 2009 to jbeyda ‘at’ stanford.edu.