STANFORD, Calif. - Luke Kaumatule, Stanford’s starting tight end much of this season, switched to the defensive line this week.
David Shaw, Stanford’s Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, said he approached the sophomore on Monday about the possible change.
“The decision wasn’t made until I talked to Luke,” Shaw said. “If he was against it, we wouldn’t have done it.”
“It sounds like fun,” he told his coach.
The idea came from Derek Mason, the Willie Shaw Director of Defense, who was seeking reinforcement of a defensive line that has missed injured end Henry Anderson. The move seemed logical, given that Kaumatule was recruited as a defensive lineman and that junior Charlie Hopkins has emerged at tight end after missing two seasons with injuries.
“Luke was playing tight end because I asked him to (before the 2012 season),” Shaw said. “We foresaw that Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo were both probably leaving and we knew we had three young tight ends coming in who may or may not be ready to play. Luke was one guy we knew who was big enough and physical enough to at least play the position, and he’s played well.”
The switch is meant to be permanent, but if there are injuries at tight end, Kaumatule is prepared to move back. Kaumatule had caught three passes for 16 yards.
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Coming off the team’s first loss of the season, 27-21 at Utah, Shaw passed along the message of “perspective” to his players.
“Let’s look at how we got here,” Shaw said. “Let’s look at where we’re going. That’s the most important thing. Here we are, we’re 5-1, tied with Oregon State for second place in the Pac-12 North, and we have five straight conference games. It’s going to be hard.
“I think our guys are up to the challenge. They know we need a better performance every week from here on out than we had last Saturday. We just have to play better the rest of the way, to have a chance to do some damage in the postseason.”
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Stanford’s final opportunity to beat Utah came in the final minute when the Cardinal faced a third-and-2 at the Utes’ 6-yard line.
Shaw described the final two plays, which resulted in incomplete passes.
“We were efficient running the ball, but they were really tight,” Shaw said of the Utah defensive alignment, geared to stop the run. “So, we showed them two big personnel groupings, to hopefully inspire them to play tight, and then we tried to bring Ryan Hewitt into the flat. And they jumped it.”
“We tried to come back with a boot, show run, get (quarterback) Kevin (Hogan) on the edge with a run-pass option. The only possibility was to throw the ball high, on the back shoulder to the tight end.”
However, the cornerback disrupted the pattern and Hogan was cut off. Hogan’s pass into the end zone fell incomplete.
On fourth down, “We came back and tried to spread them out. We got four 1-on-1’s, and just tried to bide time and get one of those guys a chance to get the ball.
“Every play call that doesn’t work gets second-guessed. I can’t worry about that. We’ve won a lot of close games here and the ones that we don’t win, the play-calling gets second-guessed.
“I’m not going to lose a bit of sleep over it, because you prepare, and you train your guys for the plays that you believe are going to work. To go back and second guess doesn’t help us, it doesn’t help the players.”
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Special teams ace Joe Hemschoot has seen increased playing time on defense the past two weeks – at nickelback and inside linebacker.
It’s partly to keep starters fresh with an able replacement, and also is a reward for his play.
Hemschoot was on Stanford’s radar largely because of the opening highlight on a recruiting video. On the play, Hemschoot, of Lakewood (Colo.) High, leveled an Aurora Central back looking for the ball on a quick out pattern with such speed and ferocity to demand a double-take.
“I caught a kid looking for the ball on a speed option,” Hemschoot said. “I was looking for my shot. My coach felt it showed good hitting ability and running to the ball, but I don’t think that play alone was enough (to get recruiting attention).
“Just because that hit looks like a big hit, it’s different than someone coming straight on. I would probably say hitting a linemen who was hitting me doesn’t look like as much, but that’s a bigger hit actually.”
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UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley was a first-year starter during Stanford’s two victories over the Bruins last year, including in the Pac-12 championship game. But, coming into Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. (PT) tilt against UCLA at Stanford Stadium, Hundley is simply better than he was a year ago, Shaw said. And he was pretty good last year.
“There’s never a point in any game this year when he looks uncomfortable,” Shaw said. “He’s not a young quarterback anymore. He doesn’t get surprised, he doesn’t get flustered. Even when he gets rushed, you see him escape with composure. He’s very good and he’ll be a starter at the next level.”
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Shaw also spoke highly of UCLA senior outside linebacker Anthony Barr, going as far on a Pac-12 coaches conference call, to say that Barr deserves to be included in the Heisman Trophy conversation.
“The kid is unbelievable,” Shaw said. “As good as he was last year, he’s better, bigger, stronger, faster. He’s not as tall as Jevon Kearse (the former NFL star known as “The Freak”), but he causes the same problems at Jevon.
“He can bullrush a tackle and get to the quarterback. And on pass plays, he can run down the field and cover guys. He’s the best defensive player I’ve seen in this conference the past few years. I don’t think it’s close.”
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In the past two games, junior receiver/returner Ty Montgomery has gained 586 all-purpose yards and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.
Shaw recalled the first time he saw Montgomery play, at St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas.
“In the first half, he caught one ball,” Shaw said. “The QB wasn’t great and the one pass he caught, he spun out of a tackle and jumped over a kid and got barely pushed out of bounds.
“In the second half, he played running back, and rushed for something like 200 yards and ran for five touchdowns, with two called back. It was unbelievable.
“He’s a special player, a difference maker, and it’s the reason why we played him so early (as a freshman). We tried to speed up his process and get him used to college football. This is the kind of player we hoped he was going to be. The funny thing is, he’s still getting better.”
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With former Stanford receiver Cory Booker (D-N.J.) expected to win a seat in the U.S. Senate in a special election Wednesday, Shaw recalled Booker’s speech to the team in 2011. It was the second time Booker had spoken to the team, having also done so in 2008. Booker, a teammate of Shaw’s at Stanford and the longtime mayor of Newark (N.J.), also was the commencement speaker at Stanford in 2012.
“Life for him is unreal,” said Shaw, who most recently spoke to him at a fundraiser at Mark Zuckerberg’s house a few months ago. “He knows he has a standing invitation any time he’s out, to say hi and talk to the team.
“Forget about politics, he’s a great person.”
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On possible future political candidates on his own team, Shaw didn’t take long to name one: All-America safety Ed Reynolds
“I’ve told Ed Reynolds, I’d vote for him for President,” Shaw said. “No question about it. He’s smarter than anybody in the room. Unquestionable character. Extremely hard worker. And from the time I met him when he was 16 years old, he seemed like a 40-year old man.
“We also have a few who might want to run for office, but probably never should.”
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Strong safety Jordan Richards said Montgomery is one of the three fastest players on the team, along with receiver Michael Rector and cornerback Alex Carter.
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Besides his high school video reel, Hemschoot has had a few YouTube moments at Stanford, especially on special teams. Hemschoot said his role model on special teams is teammate Jarek Lancaster.
“Since I got here, he’s been setting the bar on all four main teams,” Hemschoot said. “He’s still attracting double teams on kickoffs. He’s taking the toughest guys on punts. He’s someone I’ve really tried to model my game after.”
Have his massive hits earned him a nickname from teammates?
“Yeah,” Hemschoot replied. “Joe.”
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