Aug. 2, 2011
This is the seventh installment of a 10-part series that will breakdown Stanford by position as the Cardinal prepare for the start of training camp on Monday, August 8. In this segment, we take a look at Stanford's talented group of tight ends, headlined by Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo.
STANFORD, Calif. Seven months later, the memories of the 2011 Orange Bowl remain very vivid. Jeremy Stewart's 60 yard touchdown run in the first quarter, linebacker's Shayne Skov dominating defensive performance and Andrew Luck's precision aerial assault that led to game MVP honors are just some of the indelible marks etched into Stanford's football history.
In a jubilant Stanford locker room following the game, then head coach Jim Harbaugh rhetorically asked his team, "People ask us why recruit so many tight ends? That's why!"
With Fleener and Ertz returning to the fold this season, along with the talented Levine Toilolo, the tight end position figures prominently in Stanford's offensive scheme heading into the 2011 campaign.
"It's a very athletic group," said tight ends coach Ron Crook, who enters his first season on the Stanford staff after an eight-year stay at Harvard. "They are all interested in becoming better blockers. Even thought they have great athleticism, they don't just want to live with that. They all want to become better blockers to be complete tight ends."
With Stanford needing to offset the loss of its two top receivers from a year ago, the tight end trio of Fleener, Ertz and Toilolo figure to give Luck a wide variety of big targets beyond the wide receiver position.
Fleener ranks as Stanford's leading returning receiver after catching a career high 28 passes for 434 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago. He hauled in a career-best six receptions for 173 yards, including three touchdowns, in the Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.
"When you have a performance like that on a national stage, it's going to help your confidence sky-rocket," said Crook. "You can build off a performance like that to become a better all-around player, knowing you were able to perform at a very high level on a big stage."
Ertz caught 16 passes for 190 yards and five touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. His five TD receptions ranked third on the team behind Doug Baldwin (9) and Fleener (7). His confidence grew with every game and by season's end, was a viable option in Stanford's passing game.
"Zach is a prototypical tight end," said Crook. "He is a very good blocker and receiver who is focused on becoming a more physical player this year."
Toilolo was listed atop the depth chart at the start of last season, but was lost for the year after suffering an injury in the second play from scrimmage in the season opener against Sacramento State. At 6-8, 255 lbs. Toilolo brings intriguing size and athleticism to a very deep and talented unit.
"When you have those three guys with different skill sets, but all very good football players, we have a chance to do something special," said Crook.