March 31, 2000
STANFORD, Calif. - The question will be asked time and again before the 2000 football season: what will the Cardinal do for an encore following its Pac-10 championship and Rose Bowl appearance of a year ago?
The answer, says Cardinal head coach Tyrone Willingham, is to appreciate the accomplishments of last year's team, revel in their success, and understand that the efforts of the 2000 club will determine its success. Success, says Willingham, will not come from reflecting on last year's season.
This is 2000 and Willingham is quick to point out that he has a different team with different strengths and weaknesses and different team-chemistry.
"The 1999 season was very special," says Willingham, who begins his sixth season at the helm of the Stanford football program. "It proved to us all that hard work, dedication and commitment can lead to great accomplishments.
"But," he says, "we have a different team this season. We no longer have Todd Husak, Troy Walters, two great offensive lineman (Mike McLaughlin and Jeff Cronshagen) and several of our top defensive players who were the heart and soul of our Rose Bowl team. What we have this season is a new look, new leaders and team-chemistry that has yet to be developed."
Indeed, Willingham must find a way to replace four First-Team All-Pac-10 players who led an offense that broke several school records and became the most prolific unit in school history. Stanford's record-breaking passing game, led by Husak and Walters, is no longer. McLaughlin and Cronshagen led a very talented offensive line and replacing those two veterans will be a key for the Cardinal in 2000.
Defensively, while the Cardinal returns five starters, it still must replace several key players, including SS Tim Smith, NT Andrew Currie, ILB's Marc Stockbauer and Sharcus Steen and CBs Frank Primus and Chris Johnson.
The cupboard, however, is certainly not bare. And Willingham and staff are well aware of the fact that the Cardinal returns 12 starters, both kickers, and a host of young players eager to keep Stanford atop the Pac-10 standings.
"It is a tremendous plus to have won a Pac-10 Championship and played in the Rose Bowl," said Willingham. "It creates a higher level of confidence and expectations both in and around the program.
"This team must develop its make-up and chemistry and create its own identity in 2000. But, we do have players who have demonstrated great ability and we will be looking at them to provide the leadership we need to be successful this season," he said.
Following is a position-by-position breakdown of the 2000 Cardinal:
The task of replacing a two-year starter who finished his career as the school's No. 5 all-time passer is something most teams would find very daunting. Indeed Todd Husak's 6,564 career yards and 41 passing touchdowns are among the best ever on the Farm. But Husak's departure opens the door to three candidates who are all outstanding athletes and capable of being the team's starter. "When we talk about defining our team in 2000," says Willingham, "we're talking about identifying a quarterback and his role. We are fortunate to have three young men who are tremendous athletes and possess the skills necessary to be an outstanding quarterback at this level. It will be very competitive during the spring." The trio of candidates includes senior Joe Borchard (Husak's backup the past two seasons), senior Randy Fasani and sophomore Chris Lewis. Borchard, the erstwhile All-America baseball player, will split time during the spring between baseball and football. He completed 42-of-71 for 747 yards and seven touchdowns last season as the team's No. 2 QB. He was named the National Player of the Week when he came off the bench to complete 15-of-19 for 324 yards and five TDs in leading Stanford to a win over UCLA. Borchard, a junior in baseball, is eligible for the Major League Baseball Draft in June and is a potential high draft pick. He may have to choose between signing a major league baseball contract or returning to Stanford to play football, where he still has two more years of eligibility. Perhaps the team's best overall athlete, Fasani was not only Stanford's No. 3 quarterback in '99, but he also saw playing time at tight end, inside linebacker and on special teams. Lewis came to Stanford a year ago as one of the top prep quarterbacks in the nation and, after redshirting the '99 season, he is now in position to challenge for the starting job.
The Running Backs
The Cardinal doubled its rushing output from 1998 to '99 and with the return of every running back from last year's team, Stanford's running game looks like it could emerge as one of the strengths of the team. Back from a year ago are running backs Brian Allen, who led the team with 604 yards on 115 carries (5.3 ypc), Kerry Carter and Coy Wire, who begins the spring listed as both running back and strong safety. At the fullback spot, Casey Moore, Emory Brock and Byron Glaspie return intact. Allen, a 5-10 junior, took over the starting spot in game seven and became the team's top rusher. Carter gained 330 yards and scored a team leading six rushing touchdowns last year as a true freshman. At 6-2, 225, Carter is Stanford's most imposing back. He started four games a year ago and proved that his future is indeed bright on The Farm. Wire has gained 615 yards on the ground the past two seasons and has proven to be an effective runner, receiver and blocker. He will be evaluated at strong safety this spring. At the fullback position, Casey Moore was impressive in his first season as shared the starting spot and became another threat for the vaunted Cardinal offense. He gained 190 yards and scored four touchdowns on just 23 carries (8.3 ypc), including a 94-yard run vs. Cal in The Big Game. Behind Moore, a junior, are seniors Emory Brock and Byron Glaspie, both capable backups and season veterans.
The Offensive Line
The Cardinal must replace two First-Team All-Pac-10 players in C Mike McLaughlin and LT Jeff Cronshagen. Three returning starters include RT Greg Schindler (6-6, 300), RG Eric Heitmann (6-4, 285) and LG Zack Quaccia (6-4, 290), giving the Cardinal a good core of experienced veterans who must now team with young, inexperience players to fill the void. "Mike McLaughlin was like a coach on the field," says Willingham of his starting center who was in the lineup for 46 consecutive games. "Replacing those two players will be critical to our success this season." Heitmann, now a junior, enters the 2000 season as a bona fide honors candidate, a great athlete with the potential to be one of the best in the conference this year. Quaccia, a senior, is the most experienced lineman on the team while Schindler, a junior, begins his second season as a starter. The likely candidate to replace McLaughlin at center is Mike Holman, a 6-3, 290 pound sophomore who received some playing time last season. At the left tackle spot, the candidates include senior Ben Garrison (6-8, 275) junior Paul Weinacht (6-5, 280) and freshman Kirk Chambers (6-6, 295).
The Wide Receivers
The Cardinal's receiving corps has been regarded as one of the best in the nation the past few seasons, largely due to the exploits of Troy Walters, the all-time leading receiver in school and Pac-10 history and the 1999 Biletnikoff Award winner. But, even with Walters' departure, the Cardinal still has the talent and depth to be a dangerous group of receivers. The role of No. 1 receiver goes to senior DeRonnie Pitts, who ranks among Stanford's all-time top ten in receptions (145), receiving yards (2,060) and receiving touchdowns (16). Pitts caught 58 passes a year ago for 853 yards and eight touchdowns and is one of the top receivers in the Pac-10. Along with Pitts, Stanford returns juniors Ryan Wells and Caleb Bowman, senior Jamien McCullum and sophomore Luke Powell. Senior Eddie Gayles will move from running back to wide receiver in 2000 and will also battle for playing time. The Cardinal will be looking for growth in order to develop a solid receiving corps in 2000.
The Tight Ends
Fifth-year senior Russell Stewart has started 25 straight games for the Cardinal and he returns as one of the top tight ends in the Pac-10. Stewart has caught 23 passes for 249 yards (10.8 ypc) and three touchdowns in his career. He is an experienced, seasoned player who will once again hold down the starting spot in 2000. Behind Stewart is senior Matt Wright, who received significant playing time a year ago as a backup and continues to show improvement. Talented sophomores Brett Pierce and Darin Naatjes will also be in the hunt for playing time.
The Defensive Line
An area that showed marked improvement last season could become one of the team's strengths in 2000. That's because the Cardinal returns three of its four starters and five of its top six from a group of "Trench Dogs" that proved to have the ability to stop the rush and put pressure on the quarterback. The leader of the "Trench Dogs" is, of course, senior tackle Willie Howard. A year ago, Howard was named First-Team All-Pac-10 and was awarded the Morris Trophy as the top defensive lineman in the conference. He will receive All-America recognition in the preseason and be the team's leader both on an off the field. Howard will be joined by fellow starters Sam Benner and Austin Lee at ends. Lee started seven games last year and tallied eight tackles for loss and five sacks among his 27 total tackles. Benner started all 12 games for Stanford and continued to show improvement. The Cardinal's only position to fill in 2000 is at nose tackle, where Andrew Currie has departed. The leading candidates to replace Currie in the starting lineup include junior Trey Freeman and junior transfer Craig Albrecht. Albrecht came to Stanford from Northwestern and was forced to sit out the '99 season. But, he will be in the hunt for a starting role in 2000. There is depth on the line as well. At the end positions, junior Matt Leonard and senior Marcus Hoover provide quality depth while senior Travis Pfeifer has proven to be a capable backup.
Riall Johnson earned Second-Team All-Pac-10 honors last season, his first as an outside linebacker, and will be looked upon in 2000 to be one of the team leaders on defense. Johnson, a 6-3, 240 pound senior, tied for the Pac-10 lead in sacks a year ago with 13 and was among the conference leaders with 17 tackles for loss. Behind Johnson, junior Scott Giles and sophomore Brian Brant will battle for playing time. At the inside linebacker positions, the Cardinal will have two new starters this year as two-year starters Marc Stockbauer and Sharcus Steen have departed. Stanford will look towards a group of young and less experienced players to step in and fill the void. Stockbauer and Steen were the team's top two tacklers in 2000 and their departure leaves the Cardinal with perhaps its biggest question mark heading into the season. The contenders include seniors Matt Friedrichs and Anthony Gabriel, sophomores Brian Gaffney and Jake Covault and senior Mike Burke. Friedrichs has continued to improve as a reserve and special teams player the past two seasons. He registered 28 tackles and two quarterback sacks in 1999 while playing in all 12 games. Gabriel moved from outside to inside linebacker last year and has been a key reserve and special teams player the past two years. Both Gaffney and Covault redshirted the '99 season as a true freshmen and are considered talented young players who may be ready to step in and play a prominent role in 2000.
The Defensive Backs
For the record, Stanford returns just one starter from its secondary in junior FS Tank Williams. But, one must add to that list junior cornerback Ruben Carter, who started just four games a year ago, was among the conference leaders in passes defensed (14) and earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors. The question of depth, however, is still prevalent in the Cardinal's secondary. Gone are veterans Tim Smith at strong safety and cornerbacks Frank Primus and Chris Johnson. Williams has shown flashes of becoming an outstanding free safety and 2000 may the year he makes his mark. Last season, he had 45 tackles and one interception while starting 11 of Stanford's 12 games. Aaron Focht (27 tackles, two interceptions) is back for his senior season and his presence gives the Cardinal a solid veteran who has started 10 games the past two years. Focht can play both free and strong safety. Along with Focht and Williams, other contenders for increased playing time will be senior Simba Hodari and junior Colin Branch. The job of starting alongside Carter at the other cornerback position will be very competitive. Juniors Ryan Fernandez and Brian Taylor return as the most experienced players, but they will be challenged by juniors Jason White, Chijioke Asomugha and Garry Cobb. Coy Wire may also be added at the strong safety position. Wire, a running back the past two seasons, begins the spring at both running back and strong safety.
First-Team All-Pac-10 placekicker Mike Biselli returns after enjoying an outstanding season a year ago. Biselli, in his first season as the team's starter, made 14-of-17 field goals and 49-of-52 PATs and his 91 points ranked fifth on the Cardinal's all-time single season list. Biselli was second in the Pac-10 in scoring (22nd nationally) and field goals (1.27 per game, 28th in the nation). Senior Sean Tolpinrud was the team's starting punter last season, averaging 36.4 yards per punt. He had 16 kicks land inside the 20 and should be able to improve on both marks in 2000.