April 1, 1997
1997 Spring Outlook
Don't expect head coach Tyrone Willingham to join in the pre-season hype and hyperbole about his '97 Cardinal. He'll leave that to others. What you can expect Willingham to say is that he is very optimistic about his club in 1997 and that advancing to a post-season bowl game for the third year in a row - for only the second time in Stanford's 102-year history - is the team's goal.
That credo has remained intact since Willingham's arrival on The Farm in 1995.
"I expect our team to play as hard as it can, for as long as it can and as smart as it can," says Willingham. 'If that happpens every week, then I think everything else will take care of itself. Playing in a 12th game is a goal for the Stanford football program every year. It's something we work towards. That will never change," he says.
But, when talk turns to the 35 returning lettermen and 14 starters back from last year's 7-5 Sun Bowl team, Willingham's optimism shows through.
"We have a chance to be a very good football team this season," he said. "We return several experienced players who have had success and know how to win football games. That's important. We're building a program that expects to win and play in bowl games every year and we're starting to develop that mentality.
"There are several areas on this year's team where we find ourselves with proven, quality players," Willingham said. "On the defensive line, three starters return in Kailee Wong, Carl Hansen and Bryan Werner. If those three can improve in '97, that will make our defense that much tougher. Wong and Hansen are All-America-type players.
"In Chris Draft and Jon Haskins, we feel we have two outstanding inside linebackers," he said. "Both have already proven to be among the best in the league. I'm extremely excited about the four running backs we have back. With Anthony Bookman and Mike Mitchell at halfback and Jon Ritchie and Greg Comella at fullback, we feel very good about that area of our team.
"Then, you have to add Chad Hutchinson, who improved greatly at quarterback over the course of last season. Damon Dunn and Troy Walters are break-away threats at the receiver spots. On the offensive line, we did lose two very good players, but there are still several guys who have played a lot of football for Stanford. We must improve on the offensive line - and we think we can." Willingham said.
In Willingham's first season in '95, Stanford placed fifth in the Pac-10 and advanced to the Liberty Bowl. A year ago, the stakes went up a notch to a third place conference finish and a 38-0 win in the Sun Bowl.
"We've been successful in building the program each of the first two seasons," said Willingham. "We haven't reached our ultimate goals yet. Those are still out there for us to accomplish. This team can be very good. But, are there areas of concern for the coaching staff? You bet there are. Can this team improve on last year's record? If we work together as a unit, focus on the goals at hand and commit ourselves to doing all we can do to make this team better, then the wins and losses will take care of themselves," said Wilingham.
Stanford returns six starters on offense and six on defense along with Kevin Miller, who held down both the placekicking and punting duties. The Cardinal returns five of its front seven players on the defensive unit, which may be the best on The Farm in several years.
Leading the way defensively will be Wong, a First-Team All-Pac-10 selection last season, and Draft, named Second-Team All-Pac-10 in '96. But the talent pool runs much deeper. Hansen and Haskins are also both among the best players in the league, giving the Cardinal perhaps the best front seven it has produced in many years.
Stanford will have to fill three vacancies in the defensive backfield, where only one starter returns. Depth is a concern in the backfield, but look for Alistair White and Corey Hill to man the cornerback positions and Tim Smith to start at free safety.
On the offensive side of the ball, perhaps the team's greatest area of strength is the backfield. In Bookman, Mitchell, Ritchie and Comella, Stanford has a foursome of running backs among the best in the conference. Hutchinson, the Sun Bowl MVP, showed tremendous improvement in 1996 and gave notice of the type of quarterback he can become.
The receiving corps is strong with Dunn and Walters at the forefront. While two starters are gone from the offensive line, several experienced and talented players are back in '97 and the potential is there to have a solid offensive front.
Below is a position-by-position breakdown of the 1997 Cardinal:
Chad Hutchinson enters his third season in the Cardinal football program as one of the top, young quarterbacks in college football. Hutchinson, a pitcher on the Stanford baseball team, came on strong towards the latter half of the '96 campaign, led the Cardinal to five consecutive wins to close the season and was named the MVP of the Sun Bowl. His performance in the bowl - 22-of-28, 226 yards, one touchdown - culminated a season of learning for Hutchinson. But, by the end of the '96 campaign, the 6-5, 230-pound junior-to-be had proven to everyone that he has all the tools to be a big-time player. He finished the year completing 190-of-312 for 2,134 yards and 10 TDs. For the second straight spring, Hutchinson will not participate in spring football. That's because he is in the starting rotation on Stanford's nationally-ranked baseball team. His backup a year ago was Todd Husak, a 6-3 sophomore from Long Beach who played in four games in 1996 as a true freshman. Husak completed 19-of-39 for 202 yards and one TD. He was impressive when given the opportunity to play, including a 17-of-34 for 173 yards performance vs. Arizona State. Husak will receive all the snaps during spring drills with Hutchinson unavailable.
THE RUNNING BACKS
No question, the strength of the '97 Cardinal is its running backs. Back for their final seasons on The Farm are running backs Anthony Bookman and Mike Mitchell and fullbacks Greg Comella and Jon Ritchie. Together, the foursome is one of the strongest in college football. Mitchell (1,849 career rushing yards) and Bookman (1,723) are fourth and seventh, respectively, on Stanford's all-time rushing list. Last season, Mitchell rushed for a team-leading 809 yards, while in '95, Bookman totalled 872 yards on the ground. Both Comella and Ritchie had injuries slow them in 1996, but when healthy this duo will provide Stanford with a pair of fullbacks matched by few teams in the nation. Comella was limited in '96 due to a knee injury and Ritchie suffered injuries to both hamstrings and was also at less than full strength a year ago. All four backs are experienced veterans who have the ability to be all-conference players in 1997.
THE WIDE RECEIVERS
Stanford has two break-away threats at the wide receivers spots in senior Damon Dunn and junior Troy Walters. Dunn, who also doubles as the team's top kickoff return specialist, was second on the team last year with 35 receptions for a team-leading 452 yards (12.9 ypr) and two touchdowns. He scored touchdowns on a 58-yard pass reception, a 93-yard kickoff return and a 37-yard run on a reverse. He added another TD in the Sun Bowl, this one on a 27-yard reverse. Dunn gives the Cardinal a versatile receiver who can hurt opponents in many ways. He has a career kickoff return average of 26.6 ypr, second best in school history. Walters came on towards the end of last season and showcased his ability to be a big-play receiver. He had three receptions of over 50 yards, two of which went for touchdowns, and one 75-yard punt return for a TD. His 11.2 average as the team's punt returner is among the best single seasons in school history. Others expected to compete for playining time include senior Jeff Allen, sophomores Aaron Focht, DeRonnie Pitts and Jason Willock and senior Jimmie Johnson.
THE TIGHT ENDS
Stanford's group of four tight ends includes seniors Tommy Hanson and Derek Hubbard and sophomores Steve Coughlin and Russell Stewart. Hanson has seen plenty of action the past three years as a reserve, but 1997 may be the year he breaks into the starting lineup. He has solid experience playing in two and three tight end situations. Derek Hubbard transfered to Stanford in 1995, redshirted the '96 season and returns in '97 for his final year. A very athletic player, Hubbard is a good receiver who has shown the ability to run after the catch. Both Hubbard and Hanson should see plenty of playing time this season. Coughlin and Stewart did not play as true freshman last season, but both are highly-regarded players who will compete for playing time in 1997.
THE OFFENSIVE LINE
Stanford will have to replace RG Brad Badger and LT Nate Parks from last year's team, but three starters and several player who gained valuable experience in '96 return in 1997. The offensive line suffered numerous injuries last season, allowing some young players to get game experience. Returning veterans include junior C Mike McLaughlin and senior Andrew Kroeker, who both started all 12 games last season, and RT Jeff Cronshagen, a starter in 10 games. Senior Geoff Wilson was expected to start at one tackle spot in 1996, but a pre-season knee injury sidelined him the entire season. He started eight games in 1995 and will be competing for a starting job in '97. Two other tackles who received significant time in the lineup last year are Eli Burriss, a three-game starter, and Brian Donoghue, a starter in two game. While Kroeker will hold down the left guard position, the right guard position is wide open. The leading candidates are juniors Desmond Cook, Matt Motherway and Joe Fairchild.
THE DEFENSIVE LINE
Three starters return to a unit that was much improved in '96 and could be even better in '97. Senior DE Kailee Wong, DT Carl Hansen and DE Bryan Werner will anchor a line was very effective last year. Wong earned First-Team All-Pac-10 honors after recording 21 tackles-for-loss and 12 sacks, Hansen has 14.5 sacks the past two seasons and Werner chipped in with 10 tackles-for-loss and five sacks. The only question on the line is the nose tackle spot, which was vacated by fifth-year senior Pete Swanson. The candidates include senior Anthony Willis, who started three games last season, and sophomores Willie Howard and Dorean Kass. Others in the hunt for playing time include juniors Andrew Currie, Tony Vella and Konti Pelligrin and sophomores Riall Johnson, Jim Telesmanich and Sam Benner.
THE INSIDE LINEBACKERS
Another strength of the '97 Cardinal is its pair of starting inside linebackers. Seniors Chris Draft and Jon Haskins are two quality players who are already recognized as two of the best in the league, if not the country. Draft was a Second-Team All-Pac-10 selection last year after recording 97 tackles. Haskins, in his first season as a starter, led the team with 100 tackles and earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors. Draft has been a starter at inside linebacker the past two seasons and his 200 tackles during that time is among the best in the Pac-10. He enters the season as an All-America candidate. Haskins' first season as a starter last year was most impressive and he, too, is an honors candidate. Behind Haskins and Draft are juniors Sharcus Steen and Marc Stockbauer, who both received playing time in 1996. Others who will compete for playing time include sophomores Byron Glaspie and Dominic Brunetti.
THE OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS
Two-year starter Brian Batson has departed, leaving the position to juniors Donnie Spragan and Brian Toner. Spragan, who transferred to Stanford from UOP in 1996, is the likely starter. He showed signs of possessing all the skills necessary to become a quality outside linebacker. Spragan, who also played special teams last season, had 13 tackles and one quarterback sack in '96. Toner has been an inside linebacker the past two seasons, but he will move to the outside in '97.
THE DEFENSIVE BACKS
With three starters gone from last years team, the defensive backfield is an area of concern for the Cardinal entering the '97 season. Free safety Josh Madsen, strong safety Eliel Swinton and cornerback Leroy Pruitt have all departed, leaving the secondary chores to Alistair White, Corey Hill, Tim Smith and Kadar Hamilton. White and Hill both played significantly last season at cornerback and should be able to man those positions quite well in '97. The Cardinal must develop more depth at cornerback, however. Smith, a converted quarterback, will step in for Madsen at free safety. Smith showed great promise a year ago, made some big plays and will now be handed the responsibility of playing ful-time. Hamilton is in his fourth season at Stanford and is slated to be the starter at strong safety. Once again, the Cardinal will have to develop more depth at the safety positions.
Senior Kevin Miller handled all kicking chores in 1996 and is the likely candidate to do the same in 1997. He has been the team's punter the last two years, averaging 38.9 yards per punt. Last year, he added the placekicking duties to his plate. He was 12-of-19 overall, including nine-of-10 inside the 30. Outside the 30, however, Miller was just three-of-nine with his longest coming from 37-yards out. Junior Patrick Shinnefield will backup Miller in the spring while freshman Mike Biselli will compete for playing time this fall.