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Roundtable: Who are football’s unsung heroes of the season?

Despite only having 7 receptions for 82 yards on the season, fifth-year senior wide receiver Rollins Stallworth (above) was a strong team leader and a key blocker this year for the Cardinal. The walk-on was put on scholarship this season after working his way up the ranks. (DAVID BERNAL/stanfordphoto.com)

A lot has been said this season about Christian McCaffrey’s record-breaking performances, Josh Garnett’s campaign for the Outland Trophy, Kevin Hogan being one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the nation and Blake Martinez being a tackling machine. But football is a team sport, and in the end, it takes strong efforts from every man — regardless of whether he gets credit or not — for a team to achieve elite status. In that spirit, for our final roundtable of the 2015-16 season, we asked Do-Hyoung Park, Michael Peterson and Vihan Lakshman to choose their favorite unsung heroes of the season.

Do-Hyoung Park: Being a wide receiver at Stanford is probably one of the less glamorous positions in the Pac-12. While all of your wide receiver buddies at Washington State and Cal are putting up video game numbers with their flashy quarterbacks and air raid offenses, you’re out there blocking opposing defensive backs on most of your plays, which is both more physically demanding and less statistically significant for yourself as an individual than going out and catching deep bombs. Chicks dig the long ball.

Guys like Devon Cajuste and Michael Rector at least get their share of moments in the passing game, but my top unsung hero is Rollins Stallworth, who quietly worked his way up the ladder through his five years and finally got consistent time at wide receiver this season… but still only saw 7 catches for 82 yards on the year and spent the vast majority of his snaps quietly setting the edge as Stanford’s lone receiver on most of its heavy packages. Even though he wasn’t catching passes and the numbers on his stat sheet were meager at best, Stallworth kept one of the brightest smiles on the team through all five of his years on The Farm and stepped into a mentor role as one of the elder statesmen of the wide receiving corps, teaching his protégés through his own example about the value of unselfish work in a team sport like football.

Stallworth’s career has been all about his quiet but meaningful contributions, from his run blocking to his stellar hands that made him Stanford’s fade specialist in seasons past and onside kick recovery specialist this year. He embodied everything that makes Stanford football’s team-oriented attitude work so well, and even though Christian McCaffrey was usually the one benefiting from Stallworth’s work, his efforts as a blocker and a leader deserve lots of recognition.

Michael Peterson: Christian McCaffrey will be the first one to tell you that a whole host of players are responsible for his record-breaking season outside of himself — namely the guys blocking for him, his quarterback and the coaches. While Josh Garnett and Kyle Murphy might get the most attention for springing McCaffrey’s long runs with gaping holes on the line, senior right guard Johnny Caspers also played a major role in the stellar play from the Tunnel Workers’ Union.

Caspers started all but one game in 2014, but Shaw and Bloomgren still left the starting job at right guard up for battle heading into training camp. Caspers won the battle and then spent the season showing why, often teaming with Garnett as a pulling guard and when Garnett was the pulling guard to consistently allow McCaffrey to gain substantial yards before contact when running up the middle. He did a great job moving into the second level and providing blocks further down the field as well.

It takes more than just two men to make an elite offensive line, and Caspers — as well as Graham Shuler and Casey Tucker — played at an elite level. He was rewarded by being named an All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention and arguably should have earned higher accommodation. Stanford’s long-favored tendency of running to the left side didn’t always seem quite so pronounced this year — though wherever they did run, they wanted Garnett and Caspers leading the way.

Though the offensive line might be losing Garnett and Murphy, the return of Caspers and Shuler in particular should allow the unit to continue performing at an extremely high level.

Vihan Lakshman: Every hero has an origin story, and this one takes place on a dark, chilly night in Corvallis, Oregon. It was halftime. The Cardinal were up 21-17, but the emotions on the Stanford sideline told a different story. Aziz Shittu had been carted off the field; Brennan Scarlett had also gone down. And, unbeknownst to most viewers and fans in attendance, Kyle Murphy left the game with an injury as well. In stepped junior David Bright at left tackle, delivering a second-half performance so stellar, no one watching knew he was even in the game. It’s one thing to be an unsung hero. It’s another to be completely unnoticed, especially when you step in for an All-Pac-12 left tackle.

All season long, Bright played a key role in opening up holes for Christian McCaffrey and helping Remound Wright get those tough yards as the ogre lineman. It’s no coincidence that his first game with extended playing time, against USC in the Coliseum, coincided with the explosion of a Cardinal offense that would come to dominate the Pac-12. As an extra offensive lineman, Bright never got as much love as he deserved, but he played as important of a role in executing the gameplan as anyone in the starting lineup. Whether wearing his traditional 64 jersey or tackle-eligible 98, Bright played his role beautifully while somehow, at 294 pounds, remaining largely absent from the radar.

 

Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu, Michael Peterson at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu and Vihan Lakshman at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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