The San Francisco 49ers have been a magnet for former Stanford football players for years. After drafting Cardinal tight end Kaden Smith this year, the Niners have four former Cardinal on the roster, more than any other NFL team.
Stanford runs through the Niners building, starting with the main decision maker: general manager (GM) John Lynch ’93.
Lynch played at Stanford from 1989-1992. The Cardinal during Lynch’s first three years could not get over the hump and win many games. However, in his senior year and under Stanford’s then-new coach, the legendary Bill Walsh, Lynch and the Cardinal were able to start winning again.
Now retired after a career in the NFL, Lynch is not too far from where he started his career. He is in charge of running football operations for the Niners.
Since Lynch took over the Niners in 2016, he has drafted a league-high three Cardinal. He’s also added former Stanford stars Richard Sherman and Levine Toilolo through free agency.
Smith sat down with The Daily to talk about his short move and new opportunity with the 49ers.
Smith joins a very talented group of former Cardinal tight ends in the pros. As a result, many Cardinal fans are vying for the title of TightEndU to be applied to Stanford football.
“We have had the most tight-ends in the NFL drafted in the past six, seven years,” Smith said. “We had two pro-bowlers in the league in Zach Ertz and Austin Hooper, so I would say it is fair to call us TightEndU.”
And that could be a testament to the rise of Stanford football since Lynch’s time as a Cardinal. Ever since then, great tight ends such as Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz, Austin Hooper and Dalton Schultz have turned their pro careers into successes.
That group stays close despite the age difference, according to Smith.
“[Ertz] comes down in the offseason to work on cone drills and give [Stanford tight ends] advice to see what we are doing wrong and right,” Smith said. “He wants to help improve our games.”
Smith joins fellow ex-Cardinal Levine Toilolo in the Niners’ tight ends room. Both Smith and Toilolo will serve as backups to George Kittle. Stanford football coach David Shaw ’94 told 49ers.com that he is confident in Smith’s ability to fit in the Niner’s scheme and complement Kittle.
“That feels good to hear,” Smith said. “At Stanford, all tight-ends complement each other and we could really line up anywhere on the field. It is the same thing out here, I’ll enjoy playing anywhere out here to benefit the team.”
Smith will have a huge opportunity to help the offense due to backup tight end Garrett Celek’s injury until Week 6.
Smith also has ties with Niners defensive end and former Cardinal teammate Solomon Thomas.
“The first thing he told me is that it’s football, but also a business, so enjoy it and be prepared,” Smith said. “… It’s cool to come into the locker room and see some familiar faces. The whole locker room is really welcoming to newcomers.”
Smith provided some insight into why Stanford players are so attractive to NFL GMs like John Lynch.
“[Stanford] is different than any other place. I think people know that want the best for ourselves and be successful,” Smith said.
Balancing sports and academics has always been an obstacle for football players at Stanford; they also work to show scouts they have the skills that are deemed necessary to be successful in the NFL.
“We are playing at a really high level,” Smith said. “We play great teams in the Pac-12, but also outside of football we take challenging classes. We have to manage the two schedules. In fact, on a flight to Australia a couple of years ago, we had people taking tests in the plane.”
Stanford has also prepped Smith to learn the playbook.
“The Stanford offense is one of the most complex offenses in college football, and that helps us transition into an NFL offense,” Smith said. “So the Niner’s playbook is somewhat similar to what I have been learning already.”
Smith will not only look to adjust in the locker room but also outside as he gets a more in-depth look at the Bay Area than he did as a Stanford student.
“It’s been a good, short move so far,” he said. “Right now, I’m going back and forth from the team hotel and camp. I’m enjoying the process.”
Smith hopes he and the other ex-Cardinal Niners have a great start to the upcoming NFL season on Sept. 8 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. All of them, including John Lynch, will need to play a role if the Niners want to make a push for the playoffs.
Contact Sunay Sanghani at ssanghani22 ‘at’ gmail.com.