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John Paye: Passion for Stanford
Courtesy: Stanford Athletics  
Release: 10/17/2013

Editor’s note: John Paye, ’87, grew up in Atherton, California, and was an all-around athlete at Menlo School, starring in football, basketball, and baseball. In 1983, he was admitted to Stanford and became the starting quarterback on the football team and point guard on the basketball team. He led the Cardinal to the Gator Bowl in 1986, but was unable to play due to a shoulder injury. In 1987, Paye was a 10th round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers. He played in the NFL for two seasons, earning a ring in 1988 when the team won Super Bowl XXIII. Following football, he returned to Menlo School and coached the girls’ basketball team, led by his sister Kate, ’95, JD ’02, MBA ’03 (who later played basketball at Stanford and is a current assistant coach), taking the school to three consecutive CIF Division V state championships. Paye continues to coach at Menlo School and also runs a successful business. 

-By John Paye

Even though as a youngster I watched Jim Plunkett, ’70, Claude Terry, ’72, and Rich Kelley, ’75, play football and basketball at Stanford, it was not until 1978, when I was a teenager traveling as a guest of the Buck/Cardinal Club on the Stanford football team's charter flight to Phoenix, that I decided I wanted to be a Stanford student-athlete. I still remember sitting in the middle row between athletic director Joe Ruetz and his wife. We were on our way to Sun Devil Stadium to watch head coach Bill Walsh and the football team take on Frank Kush and the Sun Devils. The Cardinal wound up winning the game 21-14 thanks to the excellent play of quarterback Steve Dils, ’79, and fullback Phil Francis, ‘79.

For the next five years, I attended every Stanford football, basketball, baseball, tennis, and track camp that I could. While staying in dorms like Toyon, Branner, and Rinconada and eating cafeteria food, I learned sports skills from coaches like Rod Dowhower, Paul Wiggin, ’56, MA ’59, Dick DiBiaso, Mark Marquess, ’69, Dick Gould, ’59, MA ’60, and Payton Jordan. I competed against players like Jim Harbaugh, Rick Neuheisel, Todd Lichti, ’89, and Barry Bonds at facilities like “The Fort,” “Wilbur Courts,” and Sunken Diamond. I even got the opportunity to run the bleachers at the old Stanford Stadium.

In 1983, all of my hard work culminated in a dream year for me as a senior at Menlo School in Atherton and then as a freshman Buck/Cardinal Club scholarship student-athlete at Stanford. My highlights included:

  • Winning the first ever USA Today High School Offensive Football Player of the Year Award
  • Signing my national letter of intent to play quarterback at Stanford
  • Along with my Menlo School teammates, winning the California State High School Basketball Division V Championship
  • Working out at Candlestick Park with the San Francisco Giants after being picked by them in the Major League Baseball Draft
  • Throwing my first Stanford touchdown pass in my first game at Stanford Stadium against the Oklahoma Sooners and Barry Switzer
  • Playing in my first Big Game
  • Starting at point guard on the Stanford basketball team—the last NCAA Division I student-athlete to start as a true freshman both in football and basketball—and playing against Michael Jordan and the University of North Carolina at Roscoe Maples Pavilion

Even though all of the above were memorable, the most satisfying moment of 1983 was traveling back to Arizona State University with the rest of the team as a true freshman quarterback and starting my first college football game on October 1. Although it seems like yesterday, it has now been 30 years since I experienced my “Dream Year in Sports.” Since then, I have been very fortunate to stay in athletics full time, as a player, coach, and businessman.

As a player, I eventually earned seven varsity letters at Stanford and then a Super Bowl XXIII ring with the San Francisco 49ers, where my teammates included Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Ronnie Lott.

As a coach, I have worked with countless youth players in AYSO, Pop Warner, and National Junior Basketball. Currently, I coach football, baseball, and basketball at Menlo School, where we have won three Girls California State Basketball Division V Championships.

As a businessman, I have coordinated more than 1,000 charitable events around the United States, from Northern California to Guam, Alaska, Atlantic City, and Hawaii. My company, First Down Productions, has staged benefit golf tournaments, football clinics, and basketball games featuring sports celebrities and has helped raise more than $5 million for various charitable organizationsooking back on my last 30 years in sports, it was my experiences at Stanford as a teenager and undergraduate that influenced me the most in my personal and professional life. If I had to use one word to describe what I learned at Stanford, it would be giving. Wherever I went on campus, I always met professors, coaches, administrators, and alumni who were giving their time, attention, money, commitment, help, encouragement, and support to others. This family atmosphere on the Farm is what makes it such a special place.

Although the Buck/Cardinal Club funded my football scholarship, it was club members like Jack Laird, ’40, John Arrillaga, ’60, Tom Williams, ’58, and Frank Atkinson, ’62, who were always there for me when I needed help or support. In turn, I have tried to provide the same type of giving to all of the young people I have come across in my life.

Thank you again, Mr. and Mrs. Ruetz, for introducing me to the Buck/Cardinal Club. I am very proud to be a member and even prouder to follow our football team and the more than 900 student-athletes at Stanford who strive for success in and out of the classroom.       


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