By Mark Soltau
STANFORD, Calif. -
When Terrence Stephens walked in for the weekly Stanford football press conference on Tuesday, he was wearing a sport coat and tie.
"Did you dress up just for us?" cracked a writer.
Stephens didn't flinch.
"Actually, I wouldn't want to flatter you," he smiled, drawing laughter from the group. "I had senior pictures."
Don't be fooled by his 6-foot-2, 305-pound frame. Stanford's starting defensive tackle is quick on and off the field. Last week against Oregon State, Stephens recorded a career-high five tackles, including two for loss and a sack.
"Terrence is coming off his best game," said David Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. "He was our defensive player of the game. He really came off the ball."
Stephens was born in Washington, D.C., and is majoring in psychology. Law school lurks in his future.
"He's the classic politician and he loves to play to crowds," said Cardinal defensive line coach Randy Hart. "He'll be able to plead his case with anybody and win."
Teammates call Stephens "The Mayor."
"He's always got his hand in everything that's going and he's got an opinion about everything," said defensive end Ben Gardner. "That's just his personality. He's very outgoing and charismatic."
Despite his Washington roots, Stephens isn't overly excited about delving into politics.
"A lot of people say `the mayor this, the mayor that,'" he said. "But I don't know if I would do too well. I just have an interest in helping people on a more psychological level. I'm a very helpful guy."
Shaw is counting on it Saturday night, when No. 14 Stanford opposes top-ranked Oregon in Eugene. The Ducks boast a potent offense, and their no-huddle attack can make it difficult to catch your breath.
"What they do is very effective and they do it by speed and efficiency," said Stephens. "Kind of just disorienting people. They're an extraordinary team."
Stephens is particularly impressed with shifty running back Kenjon Barner, who has rushed for 1,360 yards and 19 touchdowns. Two weeks ago against USC, he racked up 321 yards and five scores.
"Some of the cuts I've seen this guy make on film ... I've had to rewind it a couple times to see if it was real," Stephens said. "He'll cut across the field and three people will miss him. His vision is ridiculous."
Two years ago at Autzen Stadium, the No. 9 Cardinal quieted the sellout crowd by bolting to a 21-3 lead. No. 4 Oregon stormed back to win, 52-31.
Stephens and his fellow seniors haven't forgotten that game, or last year's 53-30 loss on The Farm. The latter knocked No. 3 Stanford out of contention for the Pac-12 championship, the BCS title game, and the Rose Bowl.
"I wouldn't call it revenge," said Stephens. "Revenge is a strong word. In the game of football, you can't really be revengeful because those emotions take you over. You've got to be focused at the task at hand."
Focus has never been a problem for Stephens. At Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg, Md., he was member of the National Honor Society and was a four-year member of the NAACP Leadership Council. Stephens was selected as a Young African-American Men Coalition winner, and also received an African-American Festival for Academic Excellence Award.
"He's a good man and his heart is in the right place," Hart said. "He's a leader and works well with people. He'll be successful at whatever he wants to do."
Stephens has never ducked a challenge. Earlier this season, sophomore David Parry pushed him for his starting job.
"He's played well all year," said Shaw. "You need to have somebody steady inside. We need him to be physical, right in the middle of the defense, and he's been able to do that."
Stephens, who will make his 20th career start Saturday night, knows he and Parry must make life uncomfortable for Oregon freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota, who is dangerous with his arm and legs.
"It's one of the keys to stopping them," Stephens said. "A lot of people attempt to play side-to-side, and that's where you'll get gashed. They want to hit you vertically and score points. It's important to make sure we get penetration and disrupt that timing."
If Mariota finds his rhythm, it could be a long night.
"You have to make teams pay for making big plays," said Stephens. "That means really hitting everybody. It's going to be a physical game and that's the way we like it."
Gardner thinks Stephens will make his presence felt.
"One thing a lot of people don't know about Terrence is just how powerful he really is," Gardner said. "He's one of the strongest and most explosive guys on our team. A lot of that has to do with his leverage. He's low to the ground, he plays with a good knee bend, and he was a wrestler in high school."
As a sophomore at Quince Orchard, Stephens placed fifth at 285 pounds in the state wrestling championships. As a junior, he was 29-1 and was runner-up in the state meet.
"He uses his hands well and he's physical," said Gardner. "You always know that he's going to be knocking the heck out of somebody next to you and that makes your job easier."
This will be Stephens' second trip to Autzen Stadium and he knows what to expect: a sea of green and noisy fans.
"It's very loud, but it's an invigorating place to be," he said. "You may find yourself many times not being able to hear you own thoughts. But that's the greatest thing about football. You don't need to hear your thoughts. You just need to play the game and trust everybody will do their jobs."