Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories about the newest members of the defending Pac-12-champion Stanford football team. Each week, Mark Soltau will profile one or more of the freshman, as they transition to their new surroundings and prepare for the start of the 2013 season.
David Bright and Ryan Burns grew up thousands of miles apart, but have several things in common: both were standout student-athletes in high school, played on successful football teams, and have come to Stanford to further their education and help the Cardinal continue its winning ways.
Bright, a 6-foot-5, 290-pound offensive lineman from Yorba Linda, Calif., played for perennial Southern California powerhouse Mater Dei. The football program has won two national championships, nine CIF titles, 26 league crowns, and produced Heisman Trophy winners John Huarte and Matt Leinert.
Burns, a 6-5, 225-pound quarterback from Leesburg, Va., played for Stone Bridge High. During his four-year career, he led the team to a 51-6 record, as it captured three district and two Northern Region titles, and twice finished as AAA state runner-up.
Bright and Burns both attended Stanford Football Camp, where they made good impressions on the Cardinal coaching staff. The university also made favorable impressions on them.
“It was a choice I always wanted,” said Bright, a four-star recruit and the nation’s 38th-best offensive lineman by PrepStar. “I had to work for it, but I’m glad I did.”
Burns was a five-star recruit by PrepStar, who also ranked him as the nation’s third-best pocket quarterback. As a senior, he threw for a school-record 2,530 yards and 28 touchdowns and rushed for 222 yards and four TDs.
“Early in my high school career, I kind of picked out Stanford as a dream school of mine,” Burns said. “Never really thought it would lead to me getting an offer or going here. That kind of developed over the years.”
Bright has relatives in Wisconsin and gave the Badgers a hard look. But once his scholarship offer arrived, he wasted little time in committing. Needless to say, he was pulling for the Cardinal last January in the Rose Bowl.
“I watched the game on TV and wasn’t torn at all,” he said. “My heart was with Stanford.”
Both players have been on campus almost a month and are attending summer school and football conditioning workouts. Burns and Bright have already bonded with their new teammates.
“The biggest thing about this school – especially the football program – that separates itself is the people on the team,” said Burns. “You go to some other places and there are guys who … there’s something iffy about them. They’re football players, but that’s basically it. Here, it’s just a lot of well-rounded guys, guys you want to be around. It just helps out a lot being here for the next four or five years and really makes you want to come to practice and training every day.”
Added Bright, “There was really no way I was going to pass up Stanford. The type of person I am, this is where I want to be.”
Initially, Burns and Bright feared the combination of summer school and strenuous conditioning might be difficult to balance.
“I heard some horror stories beforehand, but I haven’t really felt anything like that,” Burns said. “It’s been a pretty smooth transition and I love it so far.”
Said Bright, “It’s gone a lot smoother than I thought it would. The older guys are helping me a lot with the plays, a lot of different calls and schemes compared to my high school, even though we ran similar stuff. The training schedule is very intense, but I love it, too. It’s going great.”
Burns knows the rigors of school and football will ramp up once the season and fall quarter begin. But he’s ready for the challenge.
“Honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to college that much, just because it’s really far away from home and I’ve got friends back there that I miss,” he said. “But I’ve actually liked it a lot more than I thought. Nothing has been overwhelming yet, but that will definitely come. You need to go through adversities before you can be successful.”
Bright is very appreciative of Stanford’s willingness to help first-year student-athletes get settled.
“Pretty much everyone has given me a little piece of advice here and there,” he said. “The coaching staff helps us a lot and tells us to stay on top of our academics and go to study hall. Everyone is here for you.”
The Pac-12 and Rose Bowl-champion Cardinal has played in three consecutive BCS games, and hopes are high for another big season. Stanford’s success didn’t hurt in the recruiting process.
“That obviously helps out a lot,” said Burns. “I grew up in high school watching Andrew Luck and he’s probably one of my biggest role models in football right now. Just a few days ago, I see him walking around in the training room and lifting weights, and that’s the coolest feeling, just being at you own school and having your biggest role model walking around, being one of the guys.”
Bright, who loves science and might pursue biology or pre-med, wanted the best of both worlds. Academics have always come first, but the idea of playing for a smash-mouth offense that thrives on running the football was too good to pass up.
“It’s very exciting,” he said. “I knew I wanted to surround myself with the best and play with the best. Stanford, I think, has the best offensive linemen around. To come here was a great opportunity. Running the ball downhill pretty much every play is pretty fun.”