One reason is the array of dizzying possibilities involving Devon Cajuste, the 6-foot-4, 228-pound junior from the Long Island town of Seaford, N.Y.
Cajuste had just one collegiate catch entering the season. But Saturday’s breakthrough performance in Stanford’s season-opening 34-13 victory over San Jose State included a 40-yard catch down the middle to open the scoring and his three total catches for 62 yards.
As Cajuste described it, “I went from a nobody to a somebody.”
Look closer and notice the mismatches he creates, his toughness in shedding man-to-man coverage – “I love press coverage,” he said, “because I get to bull-rush them” – and his speed. Suddenly, Stanford has a real weapon on the outside.
“He’s a freak athlete,” running back Tyler Gaffney said. “We’ve known about it since he stepped on campus.”
Cajuste’s Stanford origins began with a simple demand during the recruiting process. Though he had offers from eight other schools, all wanted him to play tight end. He didn’t.
The draw of playing receiver? “The glory of the big catch,” he said.
His school decision came down to Stanford and Harvard.
“Coach, are you going to move me to tight end?” Cajuste asked David Shaw, Stanford’s Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football.
“Great, I’m coming.”
Even then, Shaw saw the possibilities.
“With his size, most people would say tight end,” Shaw said. “But he runs, and can cut and run like a receiver. He can make plays down the field and make great point-of-attack blocks on run plays downfield.
“What he can do with his size outside – you can’t find that everywhere. A lot of big guys can’t run those routes, and he can. I’ve never had a desire to move him to tight end. He’s right where he should be.”
Cajuste set modest goals upon arrival at Stanford: 1) To become the scout-team player of the week; 2) to be on the field for a play; 3) to catch a touchdown pass.
Now, that he has achieved all of those, Cajuste says he now must set a new goal.
Whatever it is, it should be good.
“He’s a monster right now,” quarterback Kevin Hogan said. “We’re looking forward to seeing what he does this season.”
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Last week, kickoff was at 8:07 p.m. For Saturday’s game at Army, game time is at 9 a.m. (PT). It’s hard to create much of a rhythm with that kind of schedule.
“We’re not going to do much to adjust,” Shaw said. “We have to remember, these kids are 18, 19 years old. They’re a lot more resilient than we are. We’re more worried about the coaches than the players.
“If you don’t make a big deal about it, they won’t make a big deal about it. You tell them when to get ready, and they’ll get ready.”
The team will adjust its schedule 48 hours before the game, and Shaw has encouraged his players not to sleep on the plane, and get their rest Thursday night. However, Hogan doesn’t anticipate that the coaches will militantly enforce the no-sleep-on-the-plane ban.
“We’ll be fine,” Hogan said.
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The Cardinal will have a short bus tour of the U.S. Military Academy’s West Point campus and Shaw said he will take plenty of pictures.
Shaw can appreciate the military and its lifestyle, coming from a family that included a father in the Air Force, a grandfather in the Navy, a cousin currently serving overseas in the Army, and aunts and uncles who are retired military personnel.
David’s father, Willie Shaw, is better known around The Farm for his two assistant coaching stints at Stanford. But after Shaw graduated from high school, he enlisted in the Air Force to learn about electronics and eventually found himself in Vietnam repairing cockpit computers for bombing missions, reaching the rank of sergeant.
Shaw also played inter-service football throughout Southeast Asia before beginning a collegiate playing career and then coaching.
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The East Coast trip serves a couple of purposes. It allows players from the East to play in front of family and friends. It also serves recruiting, by allowing Stanford coaches to visit high schools and see potential recruits on both Thursday and Friday.
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Much is being made of Stanford’s size advantage over Army.
“The problem is, a lot of times when you’re going against smaller guys, the smaller guys are quicker,” Shaw said. “It’s hard sometimes for big guys to get down against guys that are smaller than them. We have to be ready for movement, a lot of slants and twists, and guys moving up front in different combinations.”
Shaw also expects Army to get low and use chop blocks to get Stanford defenders on the ground to slow them down and neutralize the size advantage.
Is there a worry about injuries?
“I’m not worried about that as much getting off those blocks,” Shaw said. “It’s paramount for our guys to learn how to play those cut blocks, use our hands, and sidestep them.”
* * *
From Army coach Rich Ellerson’s weekly press conference:
“My goal for the football team is going to be to lean forward and come out of your shoes at these guys,” he said. “One of the things that helped us in our opener (a 28-12 victory over Morgan State) is that they came out flat footed with their offense and defense, and we played with decisiveness and aggression. (Last week, in a 40-14 loss to Ball State) We took a step back in that regard.
“If anything comes out of this contest, it’s that we have to be coming out of our shoes. We have to have our eyes right, leaning forward and come out on the assault. “
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Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov looked the best he’s been since injuring his knee early in the 2011 season.
“It was great to see Shayne Skov run,” Shaw said. “It was great to see him take off and run like he wanted to be able to all last year, but couldn’t.
“We knew he was back when we saw him take off from the middle of the field and make a tackle on the sidelines. That’s the Shayne Skov of old. It’s great to have him back.”
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Shaw was pleased with Hogan’s performance against San Jose State (17-27-207, 2 TDs, 0 INT), but said the quarterback was not too happy with a couple of passes that overshot their targets.
“It’s excitement,” Shaw said. “Devon’s open in the corner, he got really excited and he launched that thing. Ty Montgomery had a double move and was splitting the safety and the corner, and he launched it. He got so excited.
“Just make the throw. He saw it, he read it, he did everything right until the throw. By coaching standards, he’s still a freshman. He’s only started six games. He hasn’t started 12 games yet. We have to remember, he’s still young.”
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Cajuste found a formula to his pregame routine – act normally.
“I was very calm and relaxed,” he said. “The idea of being overstressed and serious, that’s not how you are in practice. If you’re overly stressed in practice and thinking too much, you make errors. I kept saying to teammates, it’s just practice.”
* * *
Third-string quarterback Dallas Lloyd came in for two plays, taking advantage of his running ability. The package was similar to how Shaw used Hogan early last season.
“There’s a potential role for Dallas,” Shaw said. “Dallas is a versatile athlete. He can play quarterback, he can play running back, he can play receiver if he wanted to. We’re trying to develop a role because we need to put athletes on the field, and Dallas is a great athlete.”
* * *
Receiver Ty Montgomery looked to be a different player from his injury-riddled sophomore season. On several plays, including his 17-yard third-quarter touchdown catch, he looked to bowl over defenders.
“All you have to do is get the ball in his hands, and he turns into a running back,” Hogan said. “He loves delivering blows on the sidelines. You could tell on his touchdown that they don’t want to tackle him.”
* * *
After taking a season off to focus on a professional baseball career, it had been nearly two years since Gaffney felt a blow in a football game.
“My neck and shoulders were pretty sore,” Gaffney said. “It had been a while since I really hit anybody. I was reminded that football is a physical sport.
“The first thing I thought when I went out there and got in my stance, I realized that the last time I hit somebody was a catcher.”
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