Growing up in Wake Forest, North Carolina, Bryce Love’s fascination with the Rose Bowl began at an early age.
“When I was younger, I thought it was always weird that it would be sunny over there and dark over here.”
Pasadena, for all intents and purposes, felt to be on the other side of the world for Love, but he soon came to appreciate mystique of the Granddaddy of Them All, starting with the 2005 National Championship game between Texas and USC and continuing to Stanford’s recent appearances on college football’s center stage.
“It’s definitely a big deal back home,” Love noted. “For me, it’s a really special opportunity to be here, especially coming from a small town and seeing things like this, it’s really incredible and I’m just happy to be here, happy to be a part of it with this team.”
While Love first learned about the Rose Bowl thousands of miles away, fellow freshman Trenton Irwin will be returning to his roots for what essentially amounts to a home game.
“I grew up 15 minutes from the Rose Bowl and been in that stadium a lot [watching UCLA],” Irwin said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun being back on home turf and just playing around.”
As Love and Irwin find themselves approaching this game from backgrounds separated by the gulf of several time zones, the duo figure to again play a meaningful role in the Cardinal’s game plan and continue the on-field success of a freshman class that David Shaw has called “the most ready to play” group he has ever coached.
Senior safety Kodi Whitfield shared the same sentiment as his head coach.
“The biggest thing is that these guys are competitive and I think that just says what kind of job the coaches do because they always bring in Stanford guys,” Whitfield said, “Guys who are going to give it their all. There’s no vacation, you’ve got to give it your all and treat every day like a work day.”
Amongst all of Stanford’s breakout freshmen, careful preparation has emerged as the unifying thread. Love, whose electrifying skill set has drawn awe and considerable admiration from Stanford fans, acknowledges that the key to bringing his brand of fast to the field has been taking it slow and walking through the plays he later executes at warp speed.
“I definitely feel like I’ve learned a lot since I’ve been here,” Love said. “Coach Taylor, Coach Shaw, Coach Bloom[gren], they’ve taken their time with me, answered all my questions, walked me through things. I always say that because Coach Shaw and everybody believed in me, I was obligated to learn as much as I could to benefit the team.”
Continuing the mantra of preparation at Media Day, freshman nickelback Quenton Meeks utilized the time in between interviews to watch film of the Hawkeyes. Meeks, who cemented his role as the Cardinal’s starting nickelback after a two-interception performance against Washington State, added that putting in this extra work has considerably increased his confidence over the course of the season.
“I feel more comfortable, actually a lot more comfortable, because I’ve prepared that much more,” Meeks noted.
“I’m not going into the game nervous at all. I’m just going to have fun. I’ve made this the hardest week of practice for me. I’ve been gassing myself running to the ball, so when Friday comes, it’s just a game.”
Despite playing in their first bowl game — one that just so happens to be adorned with roses — Stanford’s breakout true freshmen continue to surpass expectations and defy the odds. Irwin, concurring with Meeks, mentioned that he also expects nerves to be a non-factor come game time.
“Coming into college, I always thought I would be really nervous, but in the last 10 or so games it’s been more about playing with my boys and my dudes on my team and playing for each other rather than everyone in the stands,” Irwin said.
But, as with any group of freshmen, the trio also observed that the the voices of the upperclassmen still resonate and loom large, especially the message of knowing the feeling of both winning and losing on New Year’s Day.
“Having been on the winning end and the losing end, I like the feeling of winning it more,” Whitfield said. “[I told the younger guys] the biggest thing is recognizing what kind of work it takes to win a Rose Bowl and just the tremendous effort by everybody out there.”
For a crop of freshmen that already operate with a veteran savviness beyond their years, that message has been taken to heart — and provided Cardinal fans with a very early taste of the future.
“Bowl practice has been unbelievable,” Meeks said. “Next year we should be really good, which is really exciting to see.”
Contact Vihan Lakshman at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.