Peter Kalambayi had pretty much decided to accept a football scholarship to Stanford University last November, but a trip to Eugene, Ore. convinced him. Kalambayi, a five-star outside linebacker recruit by PrepStar from Matthew, N.C., made two official college visits: Stanford and Oregon.
Coincidentally, the only time he could travel to Eugene was the week of the nationally-televised game between the Cardinal and top-ranked Ducks. He sat in the front row behind the Oregon bench at rowdy Autzen Stadium and watched Stanford orchestrate a stunning 17-14 overtime win.
“It went from the loudest place to quietest place after they kicked the field goal,” he said this week. “It was amazing.”
Afterward, inside the Oregon locker room, Kalambayi said there were many shocked faces.
“They were really mad and disappointed,” said Kalambayi. “They did say that that team (Stanford) fought hard. He (former head coach Chip Kelly) wasn’t really mad at the players. He understood it was a hard-fought game and they came out on the wrong side.”
Stanford’s win cemented Kalambayi’s decision.
“Oregon can’t compete academically,” he said. “And beating them helped, too.”
The 6-foot-3, 236-pound Kalambayi was a tremendous all-around athlete at Butler High School near Charlotte. In football, he helped lead his team to three 4AA state titles and had a monster 2012 season, recording 101 tackles – 13 for loss – seven sacks, forced three fumbles and recovered three fumbles. A finalist for the High School Butkus Award, Kalambayi was named the fourth-best overall prospect in North Carolina by Rivals and the sixth-best middle linebacker in the country by Scout.
“I think I’m very versatile, but my favorite thing to do is rush the passer,” said Kalambayi, who fits right in with the Cardinal defense, who led the nation in sacks last year. “I played both inside and outside in high school, so I know how to do a lot of things.”
The soft-spoken Kalambayi also lettered in basketball, averaging 13 rebounds a game. In the spring, he competed in track and field, and was a member of the 4x100 meter relay team that finished fourth in the state meet. He also earned all-state in the shot put with a personal best 53-5.
“I had a lot of long nights,” Kalambayi said. “I’d come home from a basketball game at 11 o’clock and do homework until 1 a.m., then wakeup at 6. I felt like that would prepare me for college.”
Kalambayi, whose family comes from Trinidad and Tobago, was born in Raleigh, N.C. and never knew his father. His mother, Liselle, a registered nurse, raised he and his younger sister Andrea as a single parent.
“My mom was always there and made sure I could play sports and things like that,” he said. “I had a lot of great coaches coming up that always took care of me and taught me things.”
One of them was Steve Shaunnessy, his defensive coordinator at Butler. Every day, he offered the same advice: “The best ability is accountability,” smiled Kalambayi.
His favorite athlete is Bo Jackson.
“Everything he did was amazing,” Kalambayi said. “I’m not that gifted, but I always think in the back of my mind, ‘If I work hard, I can do things like Bo Jackson.’ ’’
Kalambayi knew Stanford was the right choice when he arrived on campus about a month ago for summer school and football conditioning.
“I liked the academic atmosphere,” said Kalambayi, who is interested in communications and international relations. “When you sit at lunch, you hear people talk about intellectual things, important things that matter in casual conversations.”
What does he miss most about North Carolina?
“That fast food is really good,” he said. “A lot of food that is bad for you. Out there, it’s more prevalent, like every corner. A lot of great, greasy food.”
The cringe you heard is from Shannon Turley, the Kissick Family Director of Football Sports Performance at Stanford. Kalambayi is well on his way to better eating habits.
“He sat the freshman down and gave us a one-hour-long nutrition presentation,” said Kalambayi. “He told us what we needed to eat if we wanted to gain muscle mass or lose weight. He makes us fill out a form so he knows how much sleep we’re getting, what we’re eating, and things like that.”
Not that Kalambayi doesn’t crave a double-cheeseburger now and then.
“I actually like the lack of fast food around Palo Alto,” he said. “There’s less temptation. I know where the In-N-Out Burger is, but it’s kind of far. You can’t just go there between classes.”
Kalambayi said the freshman class has already bonded, and is appreciative to the veterans for helping him adapt to a new system.
“They’re all about hard work, and that’s all I’m about,” said Kalambayi. “I feel like I couldn’t be lazy here if I was surrounded by such hard-working people.”
Players report for fall practice Sunday, with the first workout set Monday. Kalambayi can’t wait.
“I want to play as soon as possible, wherever they put me,” he said. “I believe I can help in the system, if not, on special teams. The defense is very experienced, so I understand it’s going to be hard to get playing time with a bunch of veteran guys. I have great guys to learn from.”
Palo Alto native Mark Soltau has spent his whole life and much of his career around Stanford sports. A sportswriter for 37 years, Soltau spent 16 (1981-97) at the San Francisco Examiner, where he covered not only the Cardinal, but all five 49ers Super Bowl-championship teams. Golf always has been his passion and Soltau served as the sport's beat writer for the Examiner, national golf writer for CBS Sportsline, contributing editor to Golf Digest, and since 1997 has been the editor of tigerwoods.com.