Head football coach David Shaw, senior quarterback KJ Costello and fifth-year senior linebacker Casey Toohill shared their thoughts on the upcoming season at Pac-12 Football Media Day in Los Angeles on July 24.
Before answering any questions, Shaw made a point to express his excitement for the 2019 season. He attributed his optimism to the high number of returning Stanford players, as well as the team’s positive mentality after a tough 2018 season.
The 2018 season was up and down, as Stanford showed toughness in short-handed wins against conference rivals Oregon and USC, but later lost four of five games midseason — three to ranked teams. Injuries did not help matters, as running back Bryce Love, linebacker Curtis Robinson, and tackle Walker Little were all sidelined at different points of the season.
Shaw said he is relatively unconcerned about similar health struggles this season. But he has been taking measures early this year to prevent further injuries — including hiring new head trainer Nathan Peck.
“For the most part we are looking good, but we are being conservative with a lot of our guys and we did not want to risk it,” Shaw said. “I think being one of the healthiest teams in America for probably a decade, it was kind of our turn [last season]. We just had a lot of things happen to us.”
Even if Stanford is at full health this season, the Cardinal must navigate one of the toughest schedules in college football, including games against the often-powerful Oregon, Washington and USC, as well as non-conference bouts against two teams that went undefeated in the 2018 regular season: UCF and Notre Dame.
“It’s fun when I look at the schedule, but every week we got to make it happen,” Costello said.
Shaw echoed the sentiment of his quarterback.
“You look at the scope of our conference — it is scary every single week,” he said.
As Stanford attempts to hold up against elite opponents, the play of Costello — who Shaw called “one of the best in America” — may well determine the outcome of the Cardinal season.
“Being a fan growing up in the Pac-12, I remember just watching Stanford be insanely dominant,” Costello said. “I think we’re still really dominant.”
Though Stanford stands to make a big leap if Costello improves, Shaw maintained that the focus remains on incremental changes.
“It’s not about making huge gains in his game,” Shaw said. “There are many tiny gains to make. I challenged him to look at all of his interceptions from last year.”
Costello is also looking to fare better against pressure this season.
“That was one of the big emphases last offseason was putting myself in a key position in times of pressure, and how I was able to do that was preparing with Coach [Tavita] Pritchard [quarterbacks coach] … Things like that go a long ways, especially in crucial situations and so hopefully we are able to do that just more and more this year.”
Life without Love?
The Cardinal will perhaps see their biggest changes in the backfield this season, with the departure of running back Bryce Love leaving Cameron Scarlett to take on a wealth of snaps.
“We’re excited about our running back position,” Shaw said. “We still have to look at how many guys we’re going to play, and who’s going to be ready to play.”
A running back committee led by Scarlett, and supplemented by seniors Dorian Maddox and Trevor Speights, will look to replace the steady rushing attack that Love provided, while also lending support to the passing game to elevate the Stanford offense. But, first and foremost, the running backs will need to take care of themselves.
“[We] are looking at having great running backs and not running them into the ground, knowing these guys take a toll,” Shaw said. “These meta-humans that are playing on the NFL level, they’re not like you and I.”
Shaw and his staff still need to decide who will start at some key positions on the field.
“We’ve got a lot of battles all over the place, and it’s one of the things I’m excited about for training camp,” Shaw said. “We’ve got to create an environment where our top players can play at their best while we’re getting other guys ready to play so when we get to the Northwestern game, we’re ready to play across a really good, physical football team.”
Training camp started on Aug. 2, and many season-changing decisions are being made. The Cardinal begin the regular season at home against Northwestern on Aug. 31.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that running back Cameron Scarlett had departed from Stanford’s team. He is in fact returning to the Cardinal this season as a fifth-year player. The Daily regrets this error.
Contact Sunay Sanghani at ssanghani22 ‘at’ gmail.com.