STANFORD, Calif. – Greg Taboada chose Stanford over Alabama, and hasn’t looked back.
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound freshman tight end from Atlanta, Ga., was a four-star recruit by ESPN and helped lead Marist High School to the semifinals of the AAAA state playoffs last year.
“Coming in, it’s a lot easier to get used to a team when you can talk to everyone, and everyone is a good person and has their head on straight,” he said. “(Junior wide receiver) Jordan Pratt came up to me and introduced himself. I just asked what he is studying and he’s trying to find more conservative energy sources. If you heard that at a lot of schools, you would say, ‘Alright, well, good luck.’ But here, you have so many resources to be able to produce a product. It’s just interesting to find out you’re playing football for one of the best teams in the country, but you’re also contributing to society.”
Taboada didn’t get involved with football until the seventh grade. His parents, Ignacio and Maria, were born in Madrid, Spain, and he grew up playing soccer and tennis. He credits soccer for improving his footwork in football and posted 20 tackles for loss last year at linebacker.
“My parents moved here about 20 years ago and I grew up with a whole Spanish family, a lot of cousins around me, and a different culture,” said Taboada. “I’ll never regret playing soccer, but I’m glad I switched to football.”
What prompted the change?
“The main thing was I was going to a new school and the thing to do was play football in seventh grade, and meet a bunch of people,” he said. “I played tackle for one year and slowly progressed to linebacker and tight end.”
Taboada’s father is a mortgage banker and Honorary Vice-Consul of Spain, while his mother works in real estate. His older brother Ignacio played tennis at Georgia.
“Even if my parents don’t know too much about football, they’re always there, cheering me on,” said Taboada.
While he has no complaints about the Stanford training table, he misses home cooking.
“One of the harder things coming out here is you’re used to a family dinner every night,” Taboada said. “We never really went out to eat. We’d have paella for about 50 people. It’s a great meal.”
Once Taboada started attracting scholarship offers, he made a mental list of his priorities.
“I still wanted to get a good academic degree,” he said. “Obviously, Stanford has that. Then you see Stanford going to the Rose Bowl, and you have that combination of great football and that degree. Once I got accepted, I was coming here for sure.”
Taboada has followed the Atlanta Falcons and is a big fan of all-pro tight end Tony Gonzalez. It’s no coincidence he will wear No. 88 at Stanford.
Having been on campus for more than a month for summer school and football conditioning, Taboada welcomed the start of fall training camp and feels more comfortable with the offense.
“It felt like an eternity,” said Taboada. “Now that we’re running plays, it’s easier to understand. Coming to an NFL-type offense, they expect a lot out of you, especially at Stanford because they have some different type players that hopefully can pick up plays and learn them. It’s coming together.”
After losing Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo to the NFL, the tight end position is one of the most competitive in camp. Taboada is working hard to prove himself.
“It’s definitely a good pressure,” he said. “The coaches want you to learn as much as possible and see if you can contribute. A bunch of people like Zach Ertz redshirted their first year. They’re going to teach you the same way as everyone else and spoon feed you.”
Following three consecutive BCS appearances, much is expected of Stanford this season. Even at his first conditioning session, Taboada sensed great camaraderie and purpose among the returning players and it has carried over to the rookies.
“You kind of see in the locker room when it’s time, they’re all friendly,” said Taboada. “And when it’s time to work, they really lock it in. The focus is completely on what they are doing. It’s very easy just to follow them and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
-- #goStanford --
Palo Alto native Mark Soltau has spent his 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.