Road to the Rose Bowl: Day 6 | Tomorrow is Everything
Dec. 31, 2012
LOS ANGELES - Behind each Rose Bowl player are the individuals who got them there – the mentors, parents, coaches, and role models, who supported and challenged each one to reach their potential.
As Stanford prepared for its ultimate game, players and even a coach described the individuals who were influential in getting them to this point – at the cusp of taking the field in the Granddaddy of Them All:
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The junior inside linebacker from Plymouth, Minn., was mentored by his older brother of one year, Matt, who was a walk-on wide receiver at Ole Miss. He provided some advice that continues to drive A.J. to this day.
“In high school, he told me that if you miss one workout, you’ll never know how good you can be,” Tarpley said. “Because you can’t get that back.
“He’s one of my role models. I want to work just as hard as he has, and he’s helped me get to where I am.”
Tarpley feels fortunate that his Stanford teammates share the same drive that his brother instilled in him.
“We’re blest to be in this position and we want to come out and work as hard as we can in every practice and every play,” Tarpley said. “We don’t want to waste that opportunity.”
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The life of Stanford’s tight ends/offensive tackles coach changed when he met his wife Stacy. He was an assistant coach at Glenville State College in rural Glenville, W.Va., and she was on staff there when they met. They’ve been married for 11 years.
“Like most people, when I was young and single I was making a lot of poor decisions,” Crook said. “After we met, I kind of straightened my life out and started attending church on a regular basis, and became a lot more family-oriented than I was before.
“She’s a person who had her head on straight and was going the right direction. She knew where she wanted to go and helped me see things the same way. There’s no question she’s been a huge influence on me and my career.”
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Rollins Stallworth III:
The sophomore wide receiver from Reno looks no further than his father, Rollins Stallworth Jr., for an example of the man he aspires to become.
His father coached at Reno’s Procter Hug High School for 25 years, including 17 as head coach. Stallworth fielded playoff teams even though the school did not receive the support of wealthier competitors or have as many players, turning down more fashionable coaching opportunities to look after kids who often had no other advocates, even at home.
“My dad is the biggest and best role model in my life,” said the Stanford receiver. “He’s well-known in the Reno area as a head football coach, but more than that, a mentor and a father to a lot of inner-city kids.
“He’s always trying to help people. He doesn’t even care if he gets the reward, or the thank you. At Hug, it’s not just being a coach, it’s being a father, being a mentor, it’s having to get one of your players out of trouble when you need to. You’re always on call.
“He’s way more than a coach, and I’ve always respected that about him.”
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The senior inside linebacker from Helotes, Texas, drew inspiration from NFL stars Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis.
“On the field, they’re some of the nastiest guys you’ll ever see,” Lancaster said. “Watching them play sideline to sideline is what I try to model myself after.
“I’ve always wanted to be someone like them, who is feared between the lines. To be a linebacker of that caliber, you need to have something that makes people fear going across the middle. Without that, you’re just another guy.”
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The senior outside linebacker from Mesa, Ariz., played on a defense at Brophy College Prep in Phoenix that called itself the "Junkyard Dogs." The players grew close partly because of the practices they endured together under defensive coordinator and strength coach Gary Galante.
"I'm not sure if he watched one too many Navy SEAL videos or what," Murphy once said. "His whole thing was to make us tougher or break us."
Galante would challenge his charges not to let the scout team gain even one yard. To do so meant halting practice to run sprints in the blazing desert heat.
"It made us tougher and better men," Murphy said.
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The junior offensive tackle from Houston admitted he was once “a pretty soft kid.”
That’s why his father, Kem, determined that Cameron needed to toughen himself up and signed him up for football, over Cameron’s objections.
“It turned out for the best,” Fleming said. “It really helped me in the long run.”
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The freshman tight end from Honolulu felt fortunate to have the guidance of James Kakos, a dean, teacher, and assistant coach at Punahou School, where Kaumatule transferred as a junior.
“He took it upon himself to help me,” Kaumatule said.
Kakos not only coached him, but helped with his academics, found tutors, and kept abreast on Kaumatule’s home life. But Kakos also provided what Kaumatule needed most – an ear to listen. They met once a week with no agenda, but just to talk. Kaumatule was able to get things off his chest and felt free to discuss what he didn’t feel comfortable bringing up to anyone else.
“He was always there,” Kaumatule said. “He always helped me through anything. He was a good friend to have.”
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The junior offensive guard from Highlands Ranch, Colo., was so involved in sports – football, hockey, and baseball – that his parents, Glenn and Zilla, were willing to center their lives around the constant whirl of practices and games. Summer vacations were trips to baseball tournaments.
“I was playing sports before I could walk,” said Bonnell, who played in a youth national championship baseball game against Puerto Rico at age 6.
“Sports is something we’ve always done as a family,” he said.
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The senior tight end from Long Beach was raised in a home of educators. His father, Jerome, is a middle school teacher, and his mother, Marvie, works with deaf and hearing-impaired students from kindergarten through high school.
“School was pretty important,” Roberts said. “My parents have worked to be the best teachers they can be and instilled that drive in me. I had the understanding that if I wasn’t doing as well as I could, they said, ‘You can do better than this.’ They were always challenging and encouraging me to do better.”
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The junior inside linebacker from Lakewood, Colo., learned an overriding lesson from his parents, Paul and Tess.
It was about “finishing your commitments,” he said. “They kept me focused when I didn’t want to do things.”
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The sophomore strong safety from Folsom, Calif., knew he would be off the field if he slipped academically.
“Basically, there was no football if I didn’t have the grades,” Richards said. “That was my motivation. My mom and dad (Sharon and Terrence) taught me to be the very best in the classroom and on the football field. They provided me with opportunities and the work ethic I needed to succeed.”
Did he ever fail to achieve the standards his parents set?
“I never did,” he said. “But the threat was always there.”
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The junior kicker from Austin, Texas, would not have played football without the influence of Anthony Wood, the varsity football coach at Austin’s Westwood High.
Williamson had hoped to play soccer in college, but that changed when he was persuaded to join the football team by Wood, who even brought Williamson up to the varsity as a freshman. Most high school teams are reluctant to try extra-points, much less field goals. But Wood was not that way.
“He was a huge supporter of kickers,” Williamson said. “He always supported me and threw me out there for long attempts – the amount of long-distance field goals he let us attempt was amazing. Probably 60 percent of my field goals were 40 yards.”
Wood remains a big part of Williamson’s kicking career, offering counsel before or after every game.
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The senior tight end from La Mesa, Calif., is the son of Raymond Toilolo, an assistant pastor at a Christian church and the founder of Gridiron Ministries, a platform to witness to youth who are attracted by the speed, power, and conditioning training the ministry provides.
In a 2009 interview on the blog, People With Purpose, Raymond described the reason for his mission.
“Coaches and Athletes are so influential in today’s society, but the wrong message is given to our young athletes of today, with the many arrests, deaths, drugs and alcohol,” he said. “The character of an athlete is not positive.”
Raymond sought to change that perception and Levine, and other members of their extended family of gifted athletes, have benefited, both in training and in providing community service.
“That’s where my foundation in sports came from,” Toilolo said. “That’s what got me here today.”
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics