Notebook: Pitt

Shaw breaks down stellar class

Notebook: Pitt
David Elkinson/Stanford Athletic

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STANFORD, Calif. – Cleary excited about his 23 new signees, David Shaw and his coaching staff sought talent and versatility while filling positions of need.
 
"I feel great about it," Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, said Wednesday.

The program addressed areas of need and pulled from 12 states.
 
"We had to really get volume on the offensive line," said Shaw, who welcomed Branson Bragg, Jake Hornibrook, Barrett Miller, Drake Nugent and Walter Rouse. "We believe they will develop into a very strong core of our team."
 
Three wide receivers will join the squad, each with his own skill set. Elijah Higgins from Texas is 6-foot-3 and has drawn comparisons to current Cardinal star JJ Arcega-Whiteside and former standout Devon Cajuste. Sure-handed Colby Bowman from Southern California is 6-2 and runs precise routes, reminding some of Stanford senior Trenton Irwin, and athletic Marcus Graham from North Carolina has blazing speed and threw 31 touchdowns passes during his junior season.
 
Additionally, the program landed highly-regarded tight ends Bradley Archer and Wakely Lush, and explosive running backs Austin Jones and Nathaniel Peat.
 
"They get tough yards, but at the same time, have big-play ability," Shaw said of the backs. "Should be a great 1-2 punch for years to come."
 
Defensively, Stanford shored up the secondary with Kyu Blu Kelly, Zahran Manley, Jonathan McGill, Nicolas Toomer, Salim Turner-Muhammad and Brock Jones.
 
"Speed, length and athleticism are all paramount in college football," said Shaw. "We've added young men that fit the bill."
 
The Cardinal bolstered its linebacking corps by signing Aeneas DiCosmo, Joshua Pakola, Tristan Sinclair and Stephen Herron, and will be joined by Levani Damuni, a '17 signee who returns from a church mission. They will provide versatility and the ability to rush the passer.
 
Shaw was also pumped to add punter/kicker Ryan Sanborn from San Diego, who was Mr. Everything for Francis W. Parker School. During his high school career, he passed for nearly 2,000 yards, made 82 tackles, and 66 of 75 kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.
 
Local flavor: Four signees hail from the Bay Area, the most for Stanford in about a decade. They include: Archer (Livermore), Jones (Antioch), Pakola (Newark) and Sinclair (Alamo).

"It says a lot about this area of football right now," said Shaw. "For these young men in particular, they are what we are looking for academically, they are what we are looking for athletically – and, more than anything, they also had the desire to be here. They had to work extremely hard and responded to the challenge."
 
Sinclair's father, Andrew, was a former offensive line standout on The Farm.
 
"When you watch him, you just sit on the edge of your seat," Shaw said of Tristan. "He plays with such passion and energy. He's quick and explosive and he makes tackles all over the field."
 
Doing homework: This marked the second year of early signings, traditionally announced in February. Last year, Stanford signed 16 players and learned a lot during the process.

Stanford did more advance work and so did the applicants to get a better feel for the program and the university.

"We had an opportunity to visit with these guys multiple times, face-to-face," Shaw said. 

That's why he wasn't in his office when the first letter of intent arrived at 4:21 a.m. on Wednesday.
 
"It's borderline anticlimactic," he said. "Ninety-five percent of the time you know who's coming, you know who's not coming. And with this early signing period, for the most part, you know who's going to sign and who's not going to sign."

Shaw was impressed by the maturity and off-field talents of the group. Many communicated through online chats and already have a connection. Bragg plays jazz piano, DiCosmo is learning Mandarin, Peat built houses on a mission trip to Jamaica, Sinclair constructed his first computer in sixth grade, and Rouse is an eagle scout who attended the Perelman School of Medicine Medical and Surgical Program at the University of Pennsylvania and the Physician Scientist Training program for Biomedical Research at SMU. 

"It's great to have these well-rounded young people," he said. "Very grateful to their families because their families are the ones that create an environment that produces these young people," said Shaw. 

He believes his new class is complete but didn't rule out adding someone when the normal signing period begins on February 6.
   
Injury update Earlier in the week, Shaw revealed that a handful of players will not compete in the Hyundai Sun Bowl against Pitt on Dec. 31 in El Paso, Texas. Senior running back Bryce Love, Irwin, sophomore offensive tackle Walker Little and junior offensive guard Nate Herbig are out, along with senior defensive end Dylan Jackson and fifth-year senior cornerback Alameen Murphy.
 
Love aggravated an ankle injury in the regular-season finale against Cal and will rehab to prepare for the NFL Draft in April. Irwin also went down against the Bears.
   
End of an era: Love and Irwin were four-year warriors for the Cardinal.
 
Love, who will graduate two quarters early with a degree in human biology, rushed for 3,866 yards -- the fourth-most in school history – and 30 touchdowns. Love posted a career average of 6.8 yards per carry. Tough, dynamic and a threat to score from anywhere on the field, the electrifying Love ripped off runs of 50 or more yards in 11 straight games to set an FBS record and was a unanimous All-American in 2017.
 
The sure-handed and versatile Irwin wound up 10th on Stanford's all-time receptions list with 152 for 1,738 yards. He shares the team lead this season with Arcega-Whiteside with 60. Irwin caught at least one pass in his last 40 games and tallied 100-yard receiving games against Utah and UCLA this year.

A meticulous route runner, Irwin was clutch on third down and had a sensational senior season, sparking the Cardinal on and off the field with his passion and work ethic. He was a four-time Pac-12 All-Academic selection.
 
"Heartbroken for both of them," said Shaw. "Both had every intention of playing in the game. Bryce has battled injuries for two years now, and on top of that, has still been one of the best players in all of college football – if not the best human being in all of college football. He's going to work to get as healthy as he can for the next level.

"Trenton Irwin, what he started doing his freshman year … you just can't find a more dependable guy. He has more run after catch and speed then it looks like until you get up on him. He led our receivers once again in broken tackles and yards-after-catch and yards after contact. He's a quarterback's best friend because he knows exactly how he's going to run every single route. If you throw it to him, he's going to catch it."
 
Shaw believes both will thrive on Sundays.
 
"Once they get healthy, if they join an NFL team, they're going to make them extremely happy," he said. "We all know that Bryce Love at 80 percent is better than 80 percent of the people out there. God forbid he gets to 100 percent and look out."
   
Big commitment: Cole Baker, age 13, was an early signee. Flanked by his mother, Elisa and father Jim, he was welcomed by Shaw and many players on Tuesday during a press conference in the Andrew Luck Auditorium. Several players asked questions.
 
"Who is your favorite Stanford player?" said one.
 
"You all seem pretty cool," responded Cole, drawing cheers from the group.
 
Before Baker signed on the dotted line, Shaw called him "tough, smart and a great person."
 
A student at Abbott Middle School in San Mateo, Calif., Baker was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at age 5. He has a "solid-state" tumor in his abdomen.
 
Team Impact, a Boston-based non-profit dedicated to helping children with serious illnesses, reached out to Stanford. Kids are connected with college sports teams to give them a sense of belonging and increase their optimism and confidence. More than 1,700 matches have been made nationally.
 
Baker said his favorite athlete was quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo of the San Francisco 49ers. But by the end of the press conference, his allegiance seemed to shift.
 
"I rooted for them a little bit before," he said of Cardinal players, "but I'm a big fan now."
   
Responding to the challenge: In all his coaching days, Shaw said he has never dealt with so many injuries in a season.
 
"We've been one of the healthiest teams in college football for over 10 years," he said. "Sometimes you have one of these years.
 
"But at the same time, what I love about this football team is our guys haven't batted an eyelash. We don't miss a beat and practices have been great."
 
Shaw praised the play of his freshmen.
 
"A lot of guys got a lot of playing time and really helped save our season," said Shaw. "Our team has responded at every turn."
 
Senior free safety Frank Buncom said players have always embraced the next-man-up mentality.
 
"It has to be," he said. "It's a funny game. The injury rate is about 100 percent. Everybody is going to get nicked up here and there. It's just the nature of the game. You have to cherish each play."
 
Shaw is hopeful senior outside linebacker Casey Toohill, senior inside linebacker Mustafa Branch and junior inside linebacker Andrew Pryts will be available for the bowl game. Junior tight end Kaden Smith and sophomore offensive tackle Foster Sarrell are questionable.
 
Full attention: After a challenging week of final exams, sophomore tight end Colby Parkinson said it has been great to shift back into football mode.
 
"I had a couple of tough engineering classes I had to buckle down for," said Parkinson. "But now that's over and I feel like a professional and can just play football."
 
Parkinson called the loss of Love, Irwin, Little and others "a real bummer. We'll miss those guys, but we'll be ready to go."
 
The passing game helped Stanford finish the regular season with three consecutive wins and Parkinson expects the offense to continue its good play against a stout Pitt defense.
 
"I feel like we're really clicking," he said. "It's exciting going into a game with that chemistry we have with K.J. (Costello). We trust each other and it's fun to go out and play with these guys."
   
Extra points ... Shaw expects sophomore quarterback Davis Mills to participate in spring practice ... Jones also excels as a center fielder in baseball and could play two sports at Stanford. "If the baseball team thinks he can help, we'll find a way," said Shaw. 

Quotable
"I believe the star rankings are just like the preseason rankings. They should just print them on toilet paper so they get some use. Those things mean absolutely nothing." David Shaw 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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