True Grit: Stanford's Owen Marecic
By Brian Price
Stanford's Owen Marecic is a student-athlete who cracks helmets and books with equal skill.
He was a nominee for the 53rd William V. Campbell award, otherwise known as the academic Heisman. The award is presented annually by the National Football Foundation at a dinner in New York City. Athletes are nominated based on stellar play on the field, commitment to education and community, and excellence in all disciplines.
Marecic is the nation's only starter on both offense (as fullback) and defense (as middle linebacker). Both systems are considered pro-style and Marecic is often seen on campus with a playbook under each arm and book bag on his back. Marecic is working toward a degree in human biology and maintains a 3.47 GPA.
"Players like him are rare," said Archie Manning, NFF Chairman and Hall of Famer. "He's definitely a throwback player starting on both sides of the ball, but his humble nature is really refreshing. He's had a great upbringing, he has a great heart and he's a very impressive young man. My hat is off to him."
Marecic is uncomfortable with individual accolades. Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh has said that the heart of his offense runs through the fullback and that heart of his defense runs through the middle linebacker. Since Marecic starts at both positions, one could say he is the heart of Cardinal football. Marecic disagrees.
"I'm not comfortable with that title. It's about the team. This Stanford team is full of captains and leaders like [quarterback] Andrew [Luck], [wide receiver] Ryan Whalen, and [nose tackle] Simon Fua. I'm not the guy by any means."
On September 25, 2009 Marecic scored two touchdowns in a win over Notre Dame, one on offense and then one on defense within seconds of the first. Such a feat has not been accomplished since 2006.
His offensive touchdown came on a short and goal when Harbaugh called on his fullback to punch it in. Marecic sees it differently.
"Stepfan Taylor had been doing all the work on offense," Marecic said, "But I just finished the last inch of the drive. I wouldn't have had that opportunity had it not been for Stepfan."
Surely some credit is due to Marecic's defensive play when he perfectly jumped his man's rout for a pick-six. Nope.
"[Defensive end] Matt Masifilo got a great jump on the quarterback and [forced the bad pass] and I was just lucky to reap the benefit. Yes, I scored the touchdowns, but I had the easiest job in both instances," Marecic said.
Many have pointed to the dangers that could come with playing nearly every snap at positions that see the most contact. Undoubtedly it takes a tough player to do what Marecic does and much of his approach is dictated by a personal philosophy that impressed his head coach.
Marecic's toughness was showcased throughout 2009, cracking three helmets in collisions with various players. Harbaugh wanted one of them for his office as a reminder of what toughness is and asked Marecic to inscribe it.
"How do you sign something like that?" Marecic chuckled. "So I remembered a saying from my high school days that I thought was applicable: 'Today give it all that you have, for what you keep inside you lose forever.' I thought he'd like that quote and appreciate seeing in his office everyday."
This mindset that has helped Stanford to compile its best record in the Harbaugh era. Coach Harbaugh inherited a 1-11 team and has since led the Cardinals to records of 4-8, 5-7, 8-5 and this season, Stanford is 11-1.
Rivals appreciate Marecic's contribution to the game.
"He's a special young man and must be extremely intelligent to master both sides of the ball on the division-1 level," says Arizona head coach Mike Stoops. "He should be an All-Pac-10 player at either position he plays and I voted for him in both instances. He's perceived around the conference as a true leader."
2009 Heisman runner-up and former Stanford running back Toby Gerhart agrees.
"We'd all do legs in the morning and Owen was always there," Gerhart said. "Then some of us would go back in the afternoon to do the 'pretty muscles,' the pecs and what not, and Owen was there again doing more squats and more sets on the leg press. I was the guy he was clearing lanes for and I couldn't have been more grateful. He's a perfect teammate."
Marecic is poised to end his collegiate career with a win and knows that the Cardinal are in prime position to get their first bowl victory since 1996.
A defensive switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 has made the Cardinal even more effective. In 2009, they gave up an average of 26.5 points to opponents. This season that average is down to 17.8 (11th in the nation). Stanford is also scoring more, accumulating an average of 40.3 points per game (8th in the nation) as opposed to last years 35.5 ppg.
Marecic is quick to credit the coaching staff, especially new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who had previously spent 24 years in the NFL.
"He's a genius. He's patient and knows how to clearly convey what he wants from us. I wouldn't be able to learn two different playbooks without coaches like Coach Fangio."
By the way, that long ponytail he wears?
"I like to grow it out so I can cut it every couple of months and donate it to Locks of Love," Marecic said.
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