Editor’s note: This is the first 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. This week, he sat down with wide receiver Francis Owusu from Oxnard, Calif. and outside linebacker Mike Tyler from Brecksville, Ohio.
For a guy who had just completed his first yoga class, Mike Tyler looked surprising fresh. Not that it was a pushover.
“We went with a few veteran players,” he said. “It was really interesting. A lot of flexibility stuff similar to the training we’re doing with Shannon Turley (Sports Performance Coordinator for Football). It was surprisingly difficult.”
Not as tough as learning how to get around the Stanford campus. All 11 Stanford freshman recruits are staying in Governors Corner and are enrolled in summer school. Although they have had two weeks to explore and discover shortcuts – most ride bikes – the majority are still getting lost.
“We have our landmarks,” said Tyler. “Unfortunately, we’re housed in the furthest dorms possible from the football field.”
Even Owusu, whose older brother Chris ’11 had a distinguished playing career with the Cardinal, is still feeling his way.
“It’s definitely tough,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll get adjusted before school starts.”
Tyler said the biggest eye-opener for him is how friendly and outgoing the staff and students have been.
“Honestly, just how nice everyone has been,” said Tyler, whose hometown is about 20 minutes south of Cleveland. “Just how people interact with me. When I go to class, it’s not like, ‘Oh, there’s a football player next to me.’ Everyone is so kind and introduces themselves immediately. The professors are awesome.”
Owusu comes from an athletic family. In addition to Chris, his father ran the 400 meters for the Ghanaian Olympic team (Francis later did, as well); his brother Brian plays football at Harvard; and his sister Crystal plays basketball at Columbia.
Chris, now a wide receiver for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has only given his younger brother two words of advice.
“Every time I ask him he always says the same thing: ‘Time management,’ ” Francis said. “You have to be able to manage your time because football takes a lot of time here, but studies always come first. I’m definitely trying to ingrain that in my head.”
Last year at Brecksville-Broadview Heights High, Tyler set a single-season school record with 18 sacks. All told, he had 89 tackles and forced three fumbles.
“I prided myself in getting to the quarterback and my speed off the edge,” said Tyler.
He will likely play outside linebacker at Stanford, which fielded one of the top defenses in the country last season, leading the nation in sacks (57) and ranked second in tackles for loss (38).
“That was the coolest thing was watching the players on the team and watching where I was going,” Tyler said. “Watching Chase Thomas and a few of the others and watching schemes. Eventually, they sent me the huddle film of the spring game and some of their practices and I’ve been watching them a lot, trying to get down the schemes.”
Owusu played for powerhouse Oaks Christian in Westlake Village, Calif., which runs a no-huddle, spread offense. Last year, he caught 50 passes for 935 yards and 11 touchdowns, and rushed seven times for 206 yards and two scores. At 6-3, 193 pounds, he is a big target, explosive, and wants the ball at crunch time.
“I’d say making the big catch at the end of the game,” he said, when asked about his favorite part of playing football. “I’ve done that a couple times and it’s just a great feeling knowing that you have helped your team to victory.”
Owusu said he had added motivation to produce last year.
“I wanted to prove a point that I was one of the best guys out there,” said Owusu. “I didn’t just want to have my name out there because of Chris. I want to make a name for myself.”
Tyler and Owusu said their decisions to attend Stanford came easily.
“When I came for my visit, I was just amazed at how magnificent and big everything is and how well everything is taken care of,” Tyler said. “It’s been my dream school since I was younger. It’s just the perfect balance between elite football and awesome academics, and has a really good engineering program, too.”
For Owusu, it came down to Stanford and Harvard.
“When I first came here about six years ago during my brother’s junior-year visit, I knew Stanford was the place for me,” he said. “I got to look at the campus and saw Hoover Tower and thought, ‘Wow, I just love this place.’ Chris loved it, too. You can’t beat Stanford.”
How much Owusu and Tyler contribute this year, remains to be seen. Both are working hard in summer conditioning drills to prove they belong and said the returning veterans have gone out of their way to provide advice and encouragement.
“The big thing is just to be ready for the upcoming season,” said Tyler. “Just learning the ropes. What they always say is, ‘The first time you learn, the second time you get better, and the third time you dominate.’ ’’
Added Owusu, “It’s all on me. It’s what I do this year. I have to prove to the coaches that I’m able to help the team. If I’m up to the task, I’ll be in the mix.”