It’s not every day that the head coach of a FBS program makes a public service announcement about wild ducks. On Tuesday morning, however, Stanford head coach David Shaw ’95 did just that.
“We should not feed the ducks in public parks,” Shaw said. “I think that’s what was going on there, because these ducks got very close, thinking that our players were going to feed them.”
This was not a joke at the expense of the mascot of Oregon’s athletic department. This was Shaw recounting one of the peculiarities of moving a college football program on the road, indefinitely.
Under normal circumstances, Stanford conducts its weekly walk-through at Stanford Stadium on a Thursday in the lead up to a game, whether at home or on the road. Last week, wanting to avoid the potential for high-risk contacts associated with taking a bus ride, Stanford at first tried to hold its walk-through in a parking garage outside of the team’s hotel.
The first level of the garage was sparsely occupied. Same story on the second. By the third level, there were no cars at the garage in Downtown Bellevue. Perks of a pandemic. There, Stanford began its walk-through.
Five or 10 minutes later, security guards broke up the fun. Senior quarterback Davis Mills said their reasoning was that Stanford was “loitering or something.”
In any case, Stanford needed a place to complete its walk-through. Enter Bellevue Downtown Park.
Stanford walked across the street to a public park, which presented its own problems. The first was onlookers with cameras, which for anyone who has been confronted by a redcoat at a Stanford practice, was highly ironic. The second was Washington fans, who passed by with a “Go Dawgs.” Those two, and the jokes they invited online, were motivational for the team.
“It puts a chip on the team’s shoulder,” Mills said. “We want to go out and prove everyone wrong.”
The third problem was without a silver lining. The field was muddy. Some players, like sophomore nickelback Jonathan McGill wore old workout shoes he did not even realize he brought on the extended road trip. Others, like junior defensive end Thomas Booker, were not as well prepared. Booker, thinking the walk-through would take place on the third level of a parking garage, brought Jordan 1s. When push came to shove and he was sinking in the mud, the Stanford captain ditched the Jordan’s and went barefoot.
The last problem, of course, were the ducks. Between three and 20 ducks landed on the field at a time. Luckily, the overly-friendly ducks were not too much of a problem.
“They were not a distraction,” Shaw said. “They were a welcome addition to our traveling circus.”
When the circus left Washington on the road to Oregon, there was a whole caravan. Trying to limit exposure, Stanford chartered extra buses for the four to five hour drive through, in junior wide receiver Brycen Trenayne’s words, “the middle of nowhere.”
Tremayne watched film, caught up on Netflix and slept. When he did look out his window, the “master of the difficult catch” was spooked by the fog.
In Corvallis, at a hotel five minutes from campus, the most significant problem has been the WiFi. At least for McGill, that is, who has been limited in his video game playing. Instead, he has been watching the Mandalorian, the love of Star Wars passed on from his father.
As for practices, Stanford has been welcomed into the indoor field at Oregon State. The president of the university, F. King Alexander, stopped by to check on the Cardinal. Sophomore inside linebacker Levani Damuni noted how odd it was to see Saturday’s opponent coming out of meetings as Stanford practices throughout the week. As of Thursday morning, none of the official team practices were in a park.
“Washington didn’t care that we had to practice in a park,” McGill said. “Oregon State isn’t going to care.”
Fifth year free safety Malik Antoine was credited with the quote of the week.
“We’re just starting to have fun,” he told his coach.
The players certainly have relentlessly adapted and are enjoying their hotel stay. The joke at the moment is that the team will be the focus of an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary with its trials this season.
If so, there will certainly be a subplot, or at least B-roll, of FaceTimes with the family. Many of the coaches and staff on the trip are calling back to family to friends. Damuni has been on nightly calls with his wife of six months. McGill has been streaming the services delivered by his parents at Antioch Christian Church.
Until the ESPN camera crew comes, Stanford will occupy itself with meetings, practices and games. The ducks, now, are last week’s problem.
“It’s something none of us thought we would get ourselves into when we committed to Stanford to come play football,” Mills said. “I think the way we’ve dealt with all this as a team just goes to show how great all the kids in our locker room are.”