March 29, 2001
RELATED 2001 SEASON INFORMATION
Stanford, CA - There are plenty of returning starters. Plenty of letter-winners who gained significant experience a year ago and plenty of players who have proven themselves to be solid Division I football players. Sixteen starters and 40 lettermen are back.
There is the old clich? that "on paper" the Cardinal should be an improved team in 2001. After all, Stanford finished in fourth place a year ago in a conference that put three teams in the nation's top 10. Four of the Cardinal's six losses were to bowl-bound teams.
But Cardinal head coach Tyrone Willingham will have none of that. "On paper" does not translate to "on the field." Yes, Stanford does return 16 starters and, yes, the Cardinal can be a better team in 2001 than it was in 2000. But for Willingham, the task at hand to challenge his team to play at a higher level in `01, both emotionally and physically.
"We need to realize what we can become," said Willingham, beginning his seventh season at the helm of the Cardinal football program. "We need to realize how close we were last year to having a sound and solid season. If we can realize that and play hungry every week, we have a chance to be a good football team."
Every starter returns on offense with the exception of record-setting receiver DeRonnie Pitts and three-year starting tight end Russell Stewart. All five starters return on the offensive line, both quarterbacks who started a year ago and the team's top three running backs are all back.
Defensively, seven starters return but two large holes still need to be filled: replacing DT Willie Howard, a two-time All-Pac-10 player and spiritual leader of the team, and OLB Riall Johnson, the only player in history to lead the conference in sacks in back-to-back seasons.
"Replacing Howard and Johnson will be very difficult," says Willingham. "But, we feel good about the players we have on defense, especially ILB Coy Wire and FS Tank Williams. These are two young men who have a love and zest for the game of football and play it at a high level both emotionally and physically."
Offensively, there are returning starters and experienced players abound. What concerns Willingham and his staff is the one ingredient missing from last year's club: a big play threat.
"We need to regain the mantle of being and explosive offensive team," he said. "The lack of that ingredient, I believe, effected our overall team play last season. We simply did not have the one or two players who could be counted on to provide that threat. We need to regain that type of player. We need that explosiveness to be a component of our offensive football team."
Quarterbacks Randy Fasani (started eight games in '00) and Chris Lewis (started three games) are both back, as is the backfield trio of RBs Brian Allen and Kerry Carter and FB Casey Moore. All five starters on the line return, led by OG Eric Heitmann, and two quality reserves who will challenge for starting assignments in '01. The receiving corps returns intact, with the exception of Pitts, and this is the group Willingham sees as proving that explosiveness.
"Our disappointment from last season is that we did not get to a bowl game," said Willingham. "and that is the major focus of our team this year. With the Pac-10 being such a tough conference on a national level, if we can improve on our finish from a year ago, then I believe we can put ourselves in position to be one of the better teams in the country."
Following is a position-by-position breakdown of the 2001 Cardinal heading into spring ball:
Senior Randy Fasani begins spring practice as the team's No. 1 quarterback with junior Chris Lewis right behind. Fasani started eight games in 2000, but was slowed by injuries and forced to miss three games and parts of two others. Nevertheless, in his first season in the starting role, he proved to be a capable quarterback with excellent tools and instincts and great potential. He was a threat both by passing and running and his presence in the starting lineup was evident in his eight starts. Fasani completed 93-of-180 for 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns with just six interceptions. Time and again, he would tuck the ball away and take off running, causing a multitude of problems for the defense. He carried the ball 55 times and scored two touchdowns, but a healthy Fasani playing in all 11 games would most certainly have added considerably to those numbers. When Fasani was not able to play, Lewis stepped in and showed himself to be a young quarterback with tremendous athleticism and a bright future. He also showed a flare for the dramatic. Lewis completed touchdown passes in the final minute to beat Texas and on the game's final play to beat USC. He started three games (Arizona, Notre Dame and Oregon State), threw for 1,179 yards and eight touchdowns and gained valuable game experience in 2000. Behind Fasani and Lewis are second-year sophomores Teyo Johnson and Ryan Eklund. Both redshirted last season. Johnson, a two-sport athlete in football and basketball, was a key reserve this past season for Stanford's nationally-ranked basketball team. He will challenge for a starting role in basketball in 2001-02. "Quarterback play will, as always, dictate the success and failures of our football team to a large degree," says Willingham. "In Randy and Chris, we have two players who gained some experience and confidence from last year, but the question now is can they take it to another level. And in taking themselves to another level, can they take our football team to another level."
An area of strength for the Cardinal in 2001, Stanford returns virtually its entire backfield from last season, including starting running backs Brian Allen and Kerry Carter (Allen started, but they shared the position all season) and fullback Casey Moore. The numbers indicate that the Cardinal returns 1,491 yards, 445 carries and 11 touchdowns from a running back corps that gained 1,528 yards, had 452 carried and scored 12 rushing touchdowns last season. Carter, Allen and Moore, of course, were the major shareholders last year and will be again in '01. Carter led the team with 729 yards and six touchdowns on 179 carries (4.1 ypc) a year ago and has rushed for 1,059 yards and 12 touchdowns the past two seasons. Allen, who has started the last 17 games at running back, has gained 1,218 yards in his career. Moore has been a very effective fullback and since being inserted into the lineup 20 games ago, has scored eight touchdowns, five rushing and three receiving, and averaged 4.5 yards per carry. Depth at the running back position includes junior Justin Faust and second-year sophomores Brandon Royster and Kenneth Tolon. Behind Moore at fullback are juniors Eran Landry and Jared Newberry. "As a group, we're very strong at the running back positions," said Willingham.
All five starters and two top reserves return, giving the Cardinal a talented group of seven lineman with which to choose the starting five. The question on some is not if they will start, but where they will play. The good news is that the corps of seven lineman is very good. The challenge will be to mold them into a cohesive unit. G Eric Heitmann returns for his senior season as the anchor of the line. A second-team All-Pac-10 player last season, Heitmann has started the last 23 games for Stanford at right guard. Senior Zack Quaccia has started 20 games the past two years at left guard and center and he, too, will be one of the team leaders on the offensive line. Quaccia may find himself at either center or guard in 2001. Senior Paul Weinacht started eight games at left guard in 2000 and he is in the mix to compete for a starting role. At center, junior Mike Holman or Quaccia will start here. Holman started six games last year, five at center and one at guard. At the tackle positions, both starters return as does talented second-year sophomore Kwame Harris. Senior Greg Schindler started all games in '00 at right tackle and has been the team's starter at that position in 22 of the last 23 games. Schindler will also be looked at at the guard position this spring. Kirk Chambers returned from a Mormon Mission and, as a true freshman, earned the starting spot at left tackle a year ago. And then there's Harris, one of the prized recruits in the nation last season who earned a letter and continued to impress throughout the season. "We must receive improved productivity from our offensive line to be successful this season," says Willingham. "And I believe we have the talent and experience to be a much improved unit in 2001."
Three-year starter Russell Stewart has graduated, leaving the position wide open for the 2001 season. The three leading candidates all played last season and proved to be quality young players with great potential. Senior Matt Wright is a two-time letter-winner who was Stewart's backup the past two years. But, talented juniors Brett Pierce and Darin Naatjes, who both received their first playing time in 2000, are ready to compete for the starting assignment. Pierce had seven receptions for 41 yards last year while Naatjes had six catches for 65 yards and one TD. Naatjes also plays for Stanford's nationally-ranked baseball team. Sophomore Alex Smith redshirted last season but will be looking for playing time in 2001.
"Over the last two years we've had to replace the two most prolific receivers in Stanford history in Troy Walters and DeRonnie Pitts," says Willingham. "That poses a major challenge to our football team to see if our receiving corps can be one of those areas where we develop a breakaway player. Hopefully, there's a guy in this group who can step out and be this player for us." Indeed, one of Willingham's areas of concerns heading into the '01 season is to find a big play threat, an ingredient that he feels was missing from last year's offense. Several players who have played a lot of football for Stanford are back, including Ryan Wells, Luke Powell, Jamien McCullum and Caleb Bowman. Wells started seven games at wide receiver last year and wound up second on the club in receptions with 19 for 201 yards and two TDs. Powell, as a second-year sophomore in 2000, showed signs of being that breakaway threat Willingham is seeking. In his first season playing for the Cardinal, he had 18 receptions for 502 yards, three touchdowns and an impressive 27.9 yards per catch average. He also returned a punt 51 yards for a touchdown. McCullum caught 14 balls for 250 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner vs. USC on the final play. Bowman added 11 receptions for 155 yards. Depth will be provided by senior Evan Combs and sophomores Nick Sebes and Greg Camarillo.
Two starters have graduated, most notably DT Willie Howard. Not only was Howard a two-time First-Team All-Pac-10 performer, but his leadership skills and presence in the locker room will be hard to replace. "What is before us on the defensive line is a challenge," says Willingham. "A challenge to have some players or a player step forward and be a better player than Howard. That is a true challenge to have a player be a better player than Howard. We've got some young men returning who may be able to fill that role. We will miss Howard in a number of ways ,both on and off the field," said Willingham. Three-year letter-winners and fifth-year seniors Austin Lee and Marcus Hoover return as do two-year lettermen Matt Leonard and Travis Pfeifer. Lee and Hoover, who both have starting experience, figure to anchor the defensive end positions. Adding depth will be juniors Drew Caylor and Louis Hobson and sophomores Will Svitek and Scott Scharff. Pfeifer and senior Trey Freeman will battle at nose tackle while Leonard and senior Craig Albrecht will compete for the starting role at tackle. Cooper Blackhurst will move from ILB to end to help add depth on the line.
There is good news at inside linebacker, where Stanford returns its entire group from a year ago, but a big void to fill at outside linebacker, where replacing Riall Johnson will be a key element in the Cardinal's defensive success in 2001. Johnson, a First-Team All-Pac-10 player and Second-Team All-America, is the only player in Pac-10 history to lead the league in sacks in consecutive seasons. He provided the Cardinal with a tremendous outside rush presence. At the inside positions, Coy Wire returns to anchor the middle of Stanford's defense. Wire, in his first season at ILB after two years as a running back, led the team in tackles with 81 and was second to Johnson with 14 tackles for loss and eight sacks. "Coy Wire helped us be a better defensive football team in 2000," says Willingham. "In addition to his play-making abilities, he provided energy and leadership. Having more knowledge of his position will make him even better in 2001." Seniors Anthony Gabriel and Matt Friedrichs, both three-year letter-winners, logged playing time in the starting lineup last year. Gabriel began the year as the starter, but injuries forced him to miss most of the second half of the season. Gabriel can also play outside linebacker. Friedrichs started seven games a year ago. Others who figure to be in the hunt for playing time include juniors Brian Gaffney, Jake Covault and Pat Jacobs and sophomores Cooper Blackhurt and Amon Gordon.
"I'm excited about the secondary," says Willingham. "I think we're getting closer to having better depth in secondary. It should allow us to play at a higher level and increase the competitiveness in practice." The leader of the secondary is senior Tank Williams, a Second-Team All-Pac-10 selection last year. "I think we have the ability with Tank to have one of the better players in the country," said Willingham. Williams started all 11 games at free safety in 2000 and finished with 66 tackles and three interceptions. At the cornerback positions, Stanford returns starters Ruben Carter and Ryan Fernandez, both three-year letter-winners. Carter has started 24 games for the Cardinal the past three years, including nine in 2000, and is the most experienced cornerback on the team. Fernandez was in the starting lineup for all 11 games in '00 and tied for the team lead with three interceptions. Providing depth will be senior Brian Taylor, a three-year letter-winner, seniors Chijioke Asomugha and Garry Cobb, and talented sophomores Stanley Wilson, Leigh Torrence, and O.J. Atogwe. The one position without a returning starter is strong safety, where three-year letter-winner Simba Hodari, two-year letterman Colin Branch and one-year letterman Jim Johnson, all seniors, will do battle during the spring. Senior Jason White will provide depth at the free safety position behind Williams.
Fifth-year senior Mike Biselli begins his third season as the team's top placekicker. He was a First-Team All-Pac-10 performer in 1999, but in 2000 he was also asked to handle the punting chores in six games. He has made 21-of-29 field goal attempts the past two seasons and is among the school's all-time top-10 in field goals and PATs. He averaged 37.2 yards per punt last season. Punting is an area in which the Cardinal must improve. Along with Biselli, junior Eric Johnson spent time as the team's starting punter. He started three games and averaged 34 yards per punt. "We feel very confident with Mike Biselli's ability as our placekicker," says Willingham. "An area we must improve the most in is punting. We think Eric Johnson is poised and ready to assume that responsibility on a full-time basis."